PRESS RELEASE 4-5-2018: New in the Hastings Center Report: March-April 2018

Daniel Callahan on Steven Pinker’s new book, rethinking the right to know incidental findings, mental illness and gun control, and more in the March-April 2018 issue.

Progress: Its Glories and Pitfalls

Daniel Callahan

In his new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, Stephen Pinker, a cognitive psychologist and linguist at Harvard, argues that a commitment to scientific progress will continue to improve human life. But he writes that such progress could happen even more quickly if bioethicists did not insist that work be evaluated for long-term implications in ways that impede its pace. Daniel Callahan, a cofounder and a president emeritus of The Hastings Center, responds. Progress does not unilaterally improve well-being, he writes. It can also generate serious long- and short-term damage. Drawing on historical examples of technological innovation like the atom bomb, Callahan argues that it is necessary for bioethicists to consider the consequences of new technologies ahead of their creation, even if it means delaying the development of new advancements.

The Right to Know: A Revised Standard for Reporting Incidental Finding

Owen Schaefer and Julian Savulescu

            During the course of clinical research, investigators may discover additional information about subjects—like a physical abnormality, genetic markers for disease, or even misattributed paternity. Many believe that such incidental findings should be reported only if doing so could provide a medical benefit or if the patient can make health or reproductive decisions differently with the new information. G. Owen Schaefer and Julian Savulescu propose a new standard for disclosing incidental findings: based on whether the research participant can comprehend the information, not necessarily if the findings are medically actionable. Doing so, they argue, shows greater respect for the research subject’s right to know and mitigates paternalistic withholding of information by the study team. G. Owen Shaefer is a research assistant professor at the Centre for Biomedical Ethics in the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore. Julian Savulescu, a Hastings Center fellow, is the Uehiro chair in practical ethics and the director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford.

Mass Shootings, Mental Illness, and Gun Control

Sean Philpott-Jones

In the wake of the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, as following other mass shootings, Republican and Democratic leaders remain sharply divided in their responses: the right suggesting that gun violence is the result of mental illness rather than gun control, and the left insisting that the sheer number of guns owned by Americans, particularly military-style weapons, is the central problem. Sean Philpott-Jones, an associate professor and the chair of the Department of Bioethics at Clarkson University, believes both sides are wrong. Mass shootings are partially a mental health problem, he argues, but concrete policy measures need to be taken, including universal background checks, restrictions on the sale of firearms to violent criminals and those with serious mental illness, and bans on military-style assault weapons. Further, lawmakers need to repeal legislation that prohibits federal agencies from conducting research on gun violence.

Also in this issue:

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