R. Alta Charo

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“Duty” to use human tissue?

Robbins smoking fetal researchWe should at least have as much care for the donation of tissue from aborted human fetuses and embryos as we do for the donation of organs from those killed by capital punishment. Both scenarios involve purposeful intervention to cause death and the collection of tissues, at least, must be carried out by licensed and regulated medical personnel.

Robin Alta Charo (a law and ethics professor at the University of Wisconsin) has an opinion piece in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine, “Fetal Tissue Fallout.” in which she claims that society has a “duty” to use tissues harvested after elective, intentional abortions.

I object to the idea that society has a “duty” to make use of the end products of either procedure. Both scenarios involve purposeful intervention to cause death by licensed and regulated medical personnel, making those of us who vote for the legislators who write laws complicit in the actions, at least remotely. Under a strict philosophy of ethics based on the protection of inalienable rights, each act should be weighed individually and should only be carried out when the one killed is a proven danger to the life or lives of others.

Robin justifies her elevation of the use of fetal tissues after elective abortion to that of a “duty” by citing past benefits of research using fetal tissues. She is more political and names past Republican supporters in an earlier op-ed, published in the Washington Post on August 4th.

Yes, society has benefited from these tissues.  However,  that picture at the side of this post depicts Dr. Frederick Robbins, one of the scientists who utilized fetal tissue in the 1950’s development of the Salk polio vaccine. Dr. Robbins is depicted smoking at work in the laboratory, while handling test tubes without gloves. We know better than that, now.  Isn’t it time that science and medicine researchers catch up with our knowledge that the human fetus is a human being from the moment of fertilization?

Where are the Ethics Review Boards that monitor for the unethical behavior we’re hearing about in the videos from the Center for Medical Progress?

In 2013, the science journal, Nature, published an article covering the history and evolution of informed consent and compensation for donors of human tissues, including the fetal tissue culture, WI-28.  Ms. Charo was quoted as supporting monetary compensation:

But, says Charo, “if we continue to debate it entirely in legal terms, it feels like we’re missing the emotional centre of the story”. It could be argued, she says, “that if somebody else is making a fortune off of this, they ought to share the wealth. It’s not a legal judgment. It’s a judgement about morality.”

Yes, “It’s not a legal judgment. It’s a judgement about morality.”

Another reason to vote Romney

Robin Alta Charo, the lawyer/ethicist-for-hire, one time Clinton advisor turned Obama transition advisor then FDA consultant, has been appointed to 2 new positions at the National Institutes of Health.

In her new role, Charo will advise on ethical and regulatory issues raised by translational research, such as privacy and civil rights concerns raised by research using human tissues residing in large biobanks or public health implications of deploying genetics and personalized medicine to target drug development toward narrower segments of the population. She will also participate in overseeing the peer review process for research proposals submitted to NCATS.

Ms. Charo, the inventor of the “Endarkenment,” supports sex-selection abortion, believes cloning will finally prove there’s no God, and frequently writes op-eds for the New England Journal of Medicine, specializing in her opposition to conscience rights. She likens Medicine to a “public utility, obligated to provide service to all who seek it. Claiming an unfettered right to personal autonomy while holding monopolistic control over a public good constitutes an abuse of the public trust — all the worse if it is not in fact a personal act of conscience but, rather, an attempt at cultural conquest.”

First Amendment on Life Support

“More sparingly should this praise be allowed to a government, where a man’s religious rights are violated by penalties, or fettered by tests, or taxed by a hierarchy. Conscience is the most sacred of all property.” John Madison, “Property,” National Gazette, March 29, 1792.

“In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.” Hippocratic Oath, approximately 400 BC.

“Refusals based on moral disapprobation, however, are not typical of medical ethics” R. Alta Charo, ”Health Care Provider Refusals to Treat, Prescribe, Refer or Inform: Professionalism and Conscience.” February, 2007.

Fully enjoying the protections of the First Amendment themselves, the New England Journal of Medicine has published yet another editorial, “Warning: Contraceptive Drugs May Cause Political Headaches,”  by Robin Alta Charo, J.D., denouncing conscience and those of us who abide by ours. I suppose that she thought it was the right thing to do.

The Journal does not offer background on Ms. Charo’s previous editorials on the subject, including the notorious 2005 “The Celestial Fire of Conscience.” The editors don’t include any  note – any “warning’ – that she was part of the political Obama transition team. Ms. Charo did not mention any of these possible conflicts of interest in her “disclosure form,” available online.

Charo’s entire argument relies on readers’ agreement that the argument is about “public policy and contraception.” It is vital to her argument since, as she quotes Georgetown University theologian Tom Reese, “If the argument is over religious liberty, the bishops win.” Because, if we understand that the issue relates to “an establishment of religion,” Congress cannot legitimately pass, and the Executive Branch may not enforce, any law that infringes on the free exercise of religion.

Charo would instead have us focus on “public institutions, public places, and public duties.” Although hospitals and universities serve the public by providing healthcare and education, they are still owned by private, religious entities. In addition, the Obama Administration’s “accommodation” – the suggestion that the institution’s insurance company provide contraception free of charge to the ensured who want it – becomes much more complicated in light of the fact that most large religious hospitals and universities privately self-insure rather than enter into the market to buy first dollar coverage from a third party insurance company.

Charo’s essay is political appeal to emotion and half-truths, full of the “partisan sound bites and slogans” she denounces. However, not even the lie about mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds compares with her earlier error of logic in warning that the institutions could withhold “ordinary salary.” I don’t know of any religious organization that considers agreed-upon salary for agreed-upon service as inherently sinful. Keeping a promise, like that in the First Amendment or a contract with an employee is sacred to those of us with a conscience.

The Constitution demands that Congress “shall make no law” limiting religious freedom. The attempt by the Obama Administration to write regulations that require religious institutions to engage in acts that are contrary to long-standing, organized tenets of that religion goes directly against the First Amendment and cannot be justified.

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