2022 Bioethics Project – Global Bioethics: Small World, Big Challenges

Every year, twelve students are selected to participate in the year-long Bioethics Project course. The course culminates in each student writing an extensive research paper on a topic of their choosing and participating in the Bioethics Symposium. Below are a few of the abstracts for the students’ research papers. You can read more about the Bioethics Project, including this year’s symposium presentations, on the Bioethics Project Website.

Planet Under Pressure: The Ethical Implications of the Hydraulic Fracturing Industry by Sophia B. ’24

Image by Terry McGraw from Pixabay

Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as “fracking”, is a process utilizing drilling technology for extracting oil, natural gas, geothermal energy, or water from deep underground. The first facility opened for operation in the United States in 1947. Today over 1.7 million wells are used in the fracking process, with 7 billion barrels of oil and 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas having been extracted in the last 70 years. However, with these high quantities of natural resources extracted from the shale sites, many environmental and health concerns have arisen. Studies have shown contamination in water and soil as a result of the chemicals used while drilling into the ground. These chemicals are leading to many heath complications including various forms of cancer and asthma. Even with these growing concerns, officials insist there is benefit to the hydraulic fracturing process. This debate has initiated the ethic conversation in recent years. This paper will focus on the various components to the fracking debate and the ethical implications of the fracking process through a consequentialist lens using the values of safety, security, justice, and responsibility.

Rewarding Reciprocity: The Ethical Implications of Organ Allocation by Sophia B. ’24

In 1954, the first successful human organ transplant was carried out at a hospital in the United States of America. Now, there are hundreds of organ transplants around the world every day. However, the number of needed transplants has long exceeded the number of available organs. For this reason, each country has developed policies pertaining to who gets priority in receiving an organ. When dealing with such a scarce resource, all countries aim to increase utility, while maintaining a fair and equitable process. In the United States of America, those deemed to be the sickest are prioritized on the organ transplant waiting list. Other factors, such as geography and compatibility of the donor organ and recipient, are also taken into account. On the other hand, in multiple countries including Israel, those who have been registered organ donors, living organ donors, or have a relative who was a deceased organ donor receive extra priority points. This is a system of reciprocal altruism, where people help others in society while helping themselves. There are flaws within each of these systems, though, such as the fact that it is difficult to rank patients based on level of sickness, as well as issues with justice and equity in Israel’s prioritization system. Both systems attempt to balance utility, justice, and equity. However, the application of these values looks different in each country, as the system in the U.S. does this by giving an equal evaluation of all transplant candidates, and Israel awards priority points to individuals who donate or are willing to donate their organs.

Defying Death: The Ethical Implications of Cellular Reprogramming to Cure Aging by Katie T. ’24

Cell reprogramming is the process of turning specialized (somatic) cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). This process was developed by scientist Shinya Yamanaka in 2006. The introduction of four specific genes (oct4, sox2, klf4, and c-myc), known as Yamanaka factors, can create iPSC. As cells age, epigenetic markers evolve and change the expression of genes in cells. The epigenetic model of aging includes changes in DNA methylation, histone modification, and chromatin remodeling; the decrease in DNA methylation, increase in active histones, and chromatin remodeling lead to the hallmarks of aging. Cellular reprogramming can rejuvenate cells which could promote life extension by preventing aging in humans. This raises ethical concerns around integrity and responsibility while also requiring the evaluation of consequences of prolonged human lifespan on society. This paper will attempt to answer the question, is it ethical to extend human lifespans by “curing” aging.

Sterile and Sinister: The Ethics of Plastics in Healthcare by Lily T. ’24

‘Single-use plastics are the cleanest, most efficient way’ to facilitate health and hygiene in hospitals” (Gibbens). This is taken from a fact sheet by the American Chemistry Council, a plastic trade group. Plastics began revolutionizing healthcare during the mid 20th century, dominating metals through its cheap, durable, easily sealed, sterile and supposedly disposable qualities. However, the effect that pollution has on human health is disastrous, continually threatening millions of people’s clean water supply. Microplastics make their way into ocean life and the food web, where the effects that they have on humans still are not fully identified. In addition to these health risks, the amount of water used to make plastic is excessive, and the greenhouse gases released during production pose an additional health risk. These health issues that are more frequently presenting themselves in humans are the same ones that hospitals are being faced with today.