Archive for October, 2012

According to a new article in the New York Times, some states have recently passed laws that require clinics that perform mammograms to tell patients if they have dense breast tissue, and that it may hide tumors and increase risk of breast cancer, so the patients can/should ask for addition screening. The article goes on to talk about how these laws are causing tension between the patients and doctors. As I continued to read the article it became clear that there are some serious ethical questions relating to this issue that are similar to some of the issues we have discussed in class.

The issue of patient right to disclosure is the most obvious ethical question here. Immediately I thought of the men in the Tuskegee study. I believe we all pretty much agreed that those men had the right to know they had a disease, and many of us were dumbfounded that the researchers didn’t automatically consider disclosure a right of the patient. So if it is true that dense breast tissue can increase risk of breast cancer, shouldn’t we have learned from history by now that patients have the right to know? Obviously the states that have passed this law agree with my logic, so why is there tension? Well, the doctors have a different perspective. They believe the additional tests and screenings will not be that useful, and may in fact do more harm than good. For example, those additional tests may be unnecessary, costing more money. Also, some are saying the information will confuse and scare women. To these points I reply: ARE YOU KIDDING? At what time did we paternalize the “doctor” so much that he/she has the right to withhold information on the pretense that our feminine sensibilities wouldn’t be able to handle the stress? These laws are simply protecting the right of the patient to the knowledge that the doctor already has.

The second big issue here is the government regulation of what doctors MUST tell their patients. Dr. Otis Brawley is quoted in the article as saying “doctors should have a conversation” with their patients about dense breast tissue, but he “objects to legislation that says” they have to. So should politicians be able to legislate the medical conversation? I personally think that if legislation is needed to protect the patient’s rights, then by all means, lets legislate! On the other hand, I would hope we would hold our doctors to a higher moral and ethical standard, without having government enforcement. This is similar, in my opinion, to our discussions about holding scientists to a higher standard of ethics. But, as we’ve discussed, despite our titles, we are all human and subject to human mistakes and error. So perhaps protective legislation is necessary not to force the “doctor” but to force the human to do the right thing.

The final issue that I recognized in this article was the risk of further testing over the benefit of potentially finding more tumors. I briefly mentioned this in my first point, but setting aside the issue of right to disclosure now; should additional tests be suggested, if the benefit (number of tumors found) is minimal? I think it is important that women are made aware of the possible risks or harm in additional testing. Then, as a capable individual, the patient can weigh the risk of a hidden tumor versus the risk of the testing. For example, if a patient is aware that she has dense breast tissue, she may be more likely look into her family history for signs that she may be more at risk, or maybe more likely to watch out for other symptoms of tumors and breast cancer, or maybe she will insist on every test possible done to rule out that possibility. Regardless of what she chooses, it is her choice and it is the doctor’s responsibility to make her aware of the choices, not make the choice for her.

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In honor of World Animal’s Day, I decided to write this blog. I have never understood the importance of human beings over any other. We are animals, in all scientific purposes. We are classified as primates, and moreover, as placental mammals, which I certainly cannot argue against. It seems too obvious. So what puts us humans on a higher level than animals (or rather ALL OTHER animals?) The first time I shared my views on this in 2005, (where I went so far as to compare humans to worms in having SOME OF the same components that all living beings share) I was laughed at. But at least this cartoon- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1329673/ -shows that I am not the only person who shares this opinion.

So, in my class, we were taught about the “Plutonium Files”, a book about how around the time of the Cold War, soon after the first explosions of the world’s first atomic and Hydrogen bombs, doctors across the U.S.A. experimented on human subjects to know the effects of various radioactive substances on the human body. The subjects were sometimes expected to die, and needless to say, some substances caused irreversible damages to the body. So the point of this story was that the scientists should have not experimented on the humans knowing from all the data they had gotten through experimenting on animals. And the premise that, before experimenting something on people, it SHOULD be tested on animals bothered me.

I am not saying that i encourage human experiments. I am just asking why humans are so different from animals.

Something that should be kept in mind is the fact that this was right after WW II, the days of Hitler and gassing Jewish people, and the holocausts and Captain America and Magneto. While knowledge of WW II is comparatively new to me, I recognize that Jewish people were innocent and did not deserve the genocide that they had to suffer or the sadistic experimentations on them. But my question is, why then should animals deserve that? Isn’t a chimpanzee or a dog, or even a rat, (heck, an EARTHWORM) who has no legal representation or recognized voice, in the same situation as a Jew living in Germany during the regime of the Nazi?

I would like to present to you, to invite you to follow me on, my argument, or rather, my simple train of thought.

Now obviously, I wouldn’t like anything horrible like decaying limbs or kidneys or half my face melting to happen to ME. And it’s understandable that some patient would be highly unsatisfied about some side effect a drug has caused, that has been recommended to them by a doctor. It would be the doctor’s fault. There would be no way to know without testing it on something. But how close could you get to the truth by testing on animals? Some animals carry certain diseases without being affected by them. Lions are known to be immune to AIDS, though it’s not the same virus and therefore cannot be compared like that. There are certain wild animals immune to rabies (for some reason i used to think only humans and their pets were susceptive, and bats and foxes were not) though not the regulars used in lab experiments. But this still shows that human anatomy cannot be compared with all animals. If it can be applied to humans and cats, then we could probably say that about rodents too right? Right. According to this, http://personalcaretruth.com/2011/04/rats-test-results-that-dont-apply-to-humans/ they handle such mundane ailments as cholesterol, which is a big problem and therefore I assume, should be an important area of biological research. Same with cancer. So, if you really want to help humans, test it on humans. Of course, there are procedures to limit the harm in laboratory human experiments, with rats and primates taking the initial bullets still it is recommended for testing on people.

Where would you find these test subjects? Of course, it’s not something completely unheard of. Human experiments may happen legally and in public without causing uproar when it’s to measure their heart rate or the distribution of their weight over their feet. But, what about a fatal experiment? Ideally, these people would have no significance or voice. No one should notice that they were missing. People who have as much worth “as a stray dog”? For the benefit of those who can afford it and will pay a great price, would you sacrifice those people who lived on the streets? Then let us return to one of the points (not mentioned above) in the Plutonium Files; using orphans to test as subjects. Better an orphan, who has less people of importance to care about them, than your own children, right? Or consider organs on the black market. How is one man’s life more important than another’s? What entity is to decide on which side of a coin a human being’s luck should fall on; would he be born as the nephew of Bill Gates? Or would he be born as Oliver Twist? Where is the fairness in this?

Let’s consider the ethics of using animals to benefit animals.
To better the lives of dogs or other pets owned by good families or rich people, some people would encourage using the testing of nutrients or possibly extracting a vital organ from a healthy, but less fortunate counterpart for the animal, so that the more wealthier owner’s cherished pet, (who is possibly unhealthy and/or already very old,) could live a few more years, not entirely out of its own will but of the owners’. Some industries maybe built on such things, and I remember an example of this sort when a renowned Veterinarian in my country had been exposed for using stray dogs in an experiment, where he was performing a study on the longevity of survival of animals with some vital organs taken out of them. I can’t remember if the study was on the survival period of the animal or it’s organs, but he argued that the knowledge was needed. The animals didn’t necessarily have to be strays either, they could have been pets owned by other people, but there would be no telling of what had happened to the pet. This is an intra-species form of the example.

A case in N. America that I found while exploring was the eradication of screw flies. Scientists used sentinel sheep with wounds on them to act as decoys to make sure screw flies (which lay eggs on open wounds in living livestock and wild animals). There was also, though not one of animals being used as experiments here, the case of healthier diets for dogs backed by science, (where the worth of the dog was argued through their usefulness to mankind, of course, so indirectly, they use pig ears to feed these dogs, so they can live better to serve our children better)http://www.gibdogpetsuppliesblog.com/category/healthy-dog-treats-2/pig-ears/ Then I’d also like to recall bore holes in agriculture, where they bore a hole into the stomachs of cattle, so we can understand the bovine digestive process, from the inside. This benefits cattle too, but ultimately for our goals. These examples are seen as inter-species and even as ones that cross through families and orders.

Now to the final premise,

So we wouldn’t feel comfortable, knowing that another man, another human being, had been used for “science” in a way that it could help another human, (would we honestly?) It is partly because human beings are of the same kind. And yet, we may sacrifice animals for other animals; stray animals for owned ones. Less commercially valuable ones for more commercially valuable ones, that in the end would benefit us again. Some in the same species, but some very different. So, we can sacrifice a sheep, or a rat or a cat to save a cow, or a lizard to save a cat (most of these are hypothetical but possible) Yet one human is not more important than another, (and in the same way, one cat should not be more important than another) and even though a species is usually a naturally recognizable tier and many orders and classes are apparent as they should be classified that way, don’t we all, as living breathing creatures, have things we share? Isn’t the blood we bleed the same that a rabbit or a rodent bleeds? If we prick a dog or a monkey, can we not expect them both to emit sounds in pain, as we do? So how can we not say for sure that they feel pain? And if so, how can HARMFUL animal testing and experimenting be justified?

We stand on two legs, we have opposable thumbs which enable us to grasp things physically in a way no other animal can, we have binocular vision that we share with other animals. So what? Bats can fly. Elephants can hear infra sound waves. So can frogs. We have a larger, more developed frontal lobe that saves more information for a longer time, enabling us to repeat fewer mistakes, and through external reservoirs like books and computers, to transfer that knowledge to our future generations. And this enables us to rearrange our environment to suit us rather than adapting to it. We unite and build societies that protect our kind; we surround ourselves with the illusion of safety and progress, even though we know that it may all disappear in a matter of days. So what? Bees, ants, termites and naked mole rats can be Eusocial, and can construct complex “cities”. Roaches as we know can survive much devastation that we can’t, and may well be the dominant species/genetic stock right now, if judged on a set of criteria that we could come up with. In fact, considering how the most likely to survive a mass extinction event is the least adapted, the life forms we CONSIDER to be “lower” may be the strongest in a hierarchy. So what differentiates us from the rest of the animal kingdom and leaves us at an almost divine position?

Is it our ego? Or is it a cowardly, selfish and flawed nature that we have to assert our dominance and capabilities over all other animals? The same will that a hunter has in collecting trophies of all animals he has hunted over the world? Is that perhaps one reason we build forest and wild life conversation laws on? I do not want to associate religion with this topic, but is it the belief in scriptures that everything on the planet including animals are our property and resources for humanity to use as they please? What makes the human the favored child of any spiritual or extra dimensional entity? Is it the fact that as the ruling species of this era, that we could protect our own kind and be ruthless to any other?

So as far as Animal vs. Human experimentation goes… my opinion is that either there should be testing on all levels of taxonomy and evolutionary hierarchy or at no level at all. If fatal or harmful testing on a rat who has no conviction is allowed, then similar testing, the same experiments with the SAME risks on a human should be allowed. Or if harmful testing on a human should be looked down upon and discouraged, and we know it SHOULD, then the same should be applied to animals, of all sorts. Maybe I’m just a rambling eco-anarchist who prays that the lamb can lay next to the lion, in peace. But i just don’t see the justice in abusing a certain creature, a living being, to serve another. These ideas of universal compassion, or of weakness, depending on which point of view you may take, are not completely irrelevant. For what if… there was a split in Hominid evolution and one version could be considered slightly smarter than the other? (And this HAS happened before, as we have discussed the Nazi in this blog) What if these Hominid varieties were vastly different physically? Or what if a super powerful alien race invades the Earth? Or what if Apes took over, had their own presidents and used us as slaves? And what if in some way we, Humans, were replaced as the last link of the food chain? What if the dominant species then, treated us in the same way as scientists in neuro-science laboratories in Californian Universities treat their animals…? Do as to others, as you would wish to be done to YOU.

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