National electronic health record initiatives are in progress in many countries around the world but the debate about the ethical issues and how they are to be addressed remains overshadowed by other issues. The discourse to which all others are answerable is a technical discourse, even where matters of privacy and consent are concerned. Yet a focus on technical issues and a failure to think about ethics are cited as factors in the failure of the UK health record system. In (...) this paper, while the prime concern is the Australian Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR), the discussion is relevant to and informed by the international context. The authors draw attention to ethical and conceptual issues that have implications for the success or failure of electronic health records systems. Important ethical issues to consider as Australia moves towards a PCEHR system include: issues of equity that arise in the context of personal control, who benefits and who should pay, what are the legitimate uses of PCEHRs, and how we should implement privacy. The authors identify specific questions that need addressing. (shrink)
Alderson critiques our recent book on the basis that it overlooks children’s own views about their medical treatment. In this response, we discuss the complexity of the paediatric clinical context and the value of diverse approaches to investigating paediatric ethics. Our book focuses on a specific problem: entrenched disagreements between doctors and parents about a child’s medical treatment in the context of a paediatric hospital. As clinical ethicists, our research question arose from clinicians’ concerns in practice: What should a clinician (...) do when he or she thinks that parents are choosing a treatment pathway that does not serve the child’s best interests? Alderson’s work, in contrast, focuses on the much broader issue of children’s role in decision-making about treatment and research. We argue that these different types of work are zooming in on different aspects of paediatric ethics, with its complex mix of agents, issues and relationships. Paediatric ethics overall needs a rich mix of approaches,... (shrink)
Is Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery for an adolescent with Body Dysmorphic Disorder ever ethically justified? Cosmetic genital surgery for adolescent girls is one of the most ethically controversial forms of cosmetic surgery and Body Dysmorphic Disorder is typically seen as a contraindication for cosmetic surgery. Two key ethical concerns are that Body Dysmorphic Disorder undermines whatever capacity for autonomy the adolescent has; and even if there is valid parental consent, the presence of Body Dysmorphic Disorder means that cosmetic surgery will (...) fail in its aims. In this article, we challenge, in an evidence-based way, the standard view that Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a contraindication for genital cosmetic surgery in adolescents. Our argument gathers together and unifies a substantial amount of disparate research in the context of an ethical argument. We focus on empirical questions about benefit and harm, because these are ethically significant. Answers to these questions affect the answer to the ethical question. We question the claim that there would be no benefit from surgery in this situation, and we consider possible harms that might be done if treatment is refused. For an adolescent with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, the most important thing may be to avoid harm. We find ourselves arguing for the ethical justifiability of cosmetic labioplasty for an adolescent with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, even though we recognize that it is a counter intuitive position. We explain how we reached our conclusion. (shrink)
Ethics education is recognized as an integral component of health professionals’ education and has been occurring in various guises in the curricula of health professional training in many countries since at least the 1970s. However, there are a number of different aims and approaches adopted by individual educators, programs, and, importantly, different health professions that may be characterized according to strands or trends in ethics education.
When the benefits of surgery do not outweigh the harms or where they do not clearly do so, surgical interventions become morally contested. Cutting to the Core examines a number of such surgeries, including infant male circumcision and cutting the genitals of female children, the separation of conjoined twins, surgical sex assignment of intersex children and the surgical re-assignment of transsexuals, limb and face transplantation, cosmetic surgery, and placebo surgery.
Labiaplasty is a form of genital surgery to reduce large or protruding labia minora. Internationally, the rates of this surgery among women and girls is increasing and is viewed as a worrying trend. Currently, the main clinical strategy is to reassure adolescents that they are normal by talking about the variation of labia size and appearance and showing pictures demonstrating the wide range of normal female genital appearance. For the most part, policy documents recommend against labiaplasty in adolescents, claiming that (...) it is medically non-essential surgery. In this paper, we contrast findings from our interviews with clinicians with the existing literature and policy documents and we point out areas needing more thought. This is qualitative research using semi-structured interviews. We set out to find out on what basis clinicians decide how to treat or manage adolescent patients seeking labiaplasty. We interviewed clinicians who are likely to be approached by under-eighteens requesting labiaplasty. We use interpretive content analysis and thematic analysis to analyse the data. Our findings support the emphasis on education and reassurance as the first step for all patients, but other issues that have not figured previously in the literature that would alter clinical strategies for managing patients emerge as well. Key findings are that reassurance does not always work and that the distinction between functional and appearance concerns is not a solid foundation in itself for deciding whether surgery is ethically appropriate. We conclude that the distinction between functional and appearance concerns is not ethically relevant. It is open to different interpretations and is not regarded by all clinicians as the definitive factor in relation to surgery. The focus of clinicians should be on relieving distress whatever the cause. Appearance reasons may sometimes justify surgery but, also, functional reasons may sometimes not be sufficient justification for surgery. (shrink)
Child co-research has become popular in social research involving children. This is attributed to the emphasis on children’s rights and is seen as a way to promote children’s agency and voice. It is a way of putting into practice the philosophy, common amongst childhood researchers, that children are experts on childhood. In this article, we discuss ethical complexities of involving children as co-researchers, beginning with an analysis of the literature, then drawing on data from interviews with researchers who conduct child (...) co-research. We identify six ethical complexities, some of which are new findings which have not been mentioned before in this context. In light of these possible ethical complexities, a key finding is for researchers to be reflexive – to reflect on how the research may affect child co-researchers and participants before the research starts. A separate overriding message that came out in responses from the researchers we interviewed was the need for support and training for child co-... (shrink)
Excluding women from participating in clinical drug trials might seem like a good thing. It may seem like a good way to protect women from the risks of being a research subject and a way to prevent fetal harm. However, the exclusion or inadequate representation of women in clinical trials may actually cause harm. Excluding women from clinical trials does not rule out the possibility of damage to offspring. Nor does it guarantee researchers or institutions freedom from legal liability. The (...) issue of women’s exclusion has received substantial attention in the USA but very little in Australia. (shrink)
Social networking sites such as MySpace and virtual communities such as on-line support groups can be a rich source of data for researchers. These sites can be an effective way of reaching and researching young people in order to address their particular health needs. Internet-based research is also potentially risky and exploitative. There is some guidance for conducting research online, but there are no detailed or universally accepted ethics guidelines for research of webspaces such as MySpace or virtual communities in (...) which young people participate. One question that arises is — If MySpace is a public webspace, can research be done without consent? In this paper I investigate ethical issues surrounding young people’s consent in cyber research. I identify issues that help determine whether consent is needed, offer suggestions for dealing with consent in cyberspace and add my voice to the call for a resource of case studies — indispensible in the development of guidelines and the education of researchers and research ethics committees. (shrink)
The Kennedy Krieger lead paint study is a landmark case in human experimentation and a classic case in research ethics. In this paper I use the lead paint study to assist in the analysis of the ethics of research on less expensive, less effective interventions. I critically evaluate an argument by Buchanan and Miller who defend both the Kennedy Krieger lead paint study and public health research on less expensive, less effective interventions. I conclude that Buchanan and Miller’s argument is (...) flawed but that does not mean that research designed to find less effective interventions cannot be justified in some situations. Based on my analysis, I suggest questions to ask when considering such research and I offer some principles to guide us. In the process, light is shed on the various debates and issues raised by the lead paint study; e.g. standards of care, researchers’ responsibilities to research subjects, the distinction between treatment and research and the question of what it is that legitimizes public health research. (shrink)
This article deals with the prospect of genetically enhancing intelligence. We identify and contrast social attitudes to the use of future genetic technology with social attitudes for environmental methods of enhancing intelligence. Using various forms of the argument that the means by which enhancement is achieved has moral significance, we look for differences that could justify the different attitudes. We find that the different attitudes cannot be ethically justified. We predict that the lack of ethical justification for distinguishing between means (...) of enhancement is likely to result in the eventual acceptance of genetic enhancement of intelligence. (shrink)
A notable feature of the COVID-19 pandemic is that children are less at risk of becoming infected or, if infected, less likely to become seriously unwell, so ethical discussions have consequently focused on the adult healthcare setting. However, despite a lower risk of children becoming acutely ill with COVID-19, there nevertheless may be significant and potentially sustained effects of COVID-19 on the physical, psychological, and emotional health and well-being of children. Focusing on the context of children’s cancer care, and specifically (...) bone marrow transplant, we describe some of these effects and then address one specific ethical challenge that arises. That is the question of what and how much to tell children whose cancer treatment has been changed because of COVID-19. Drawing on our previous work on the ethical reasons for telling the truth to younger children we link different ethical reasons to the different types of information that could be given to children in this context. We argue that children should be given an explanation of the changes that they will directly experience, including some changes to the process of their actual medical treatment; but not about increased risk associated with these changes, unless they specifically ask for this information. (shrink)