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Concept: Ethics


Altruism has long been taken to be the guiding principle of ethical organ donation in the UK, and has been used as justification for rejecting or allowing certain types of donation. We argue that, despite this prominent role, altruism has been poorly defined in policy and position documents, and used confusingly and inconsistently. Looking at how the term has been used over recent years allows us to define ‘organ donation altruism’, and comparing this with accounts in the philosophical literature highlights its theoretical shortcomings. The recent report from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics reaffirmed the importance of altruism in organ donation, and offered a clearer definition. This definition is, however, more permissive than that of altruism previously seen in UK policy, and as a result allows some donations that previously have been considered unacceptable. We argue that while altruistic motivation may be desirable, it is not necessary.

Concepts: Definition, Philosophy of language, Extensional definition, Ethics, Bioethics, Altruism, Empathy-altruism, Philosophical Investigations


BACKGROUNDGenetic testing of preimplantation embryos has been used for preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and preimplantation genetic screening (PGS). Microarray technology is being introduced in both these contexts, and whole genome sequencing of blastomeres is also expeted to become possible soon. The amount of extra information such tests will yield may prove to be beneficial for embryo selection, will also raise various ethical issues. We present an overview of the developments and an agenda-setting exploration of the ethical issues.METHODSThe paper is a joint endeavour by the presenters at an explorative ‘campus meeting’ organized by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in cooperation with the department of Health, Ethics & Society of the Maastricht University (The Netherlands).RESULTSThe increasing amount and detail of information that new screening techniques such as microarrays and whole genome sequencing offer does not automatically coincide with an increasing understanding of the prospects of an embryo. From a technical point of view, the future of comprehensive embryo testing may go together with developments in preconception carrier screening. From an ethical point of view, the increasing complexity and amount of information yielded by comprehensive testing techniques will lead to challenges to the principle of reproductive autonomy and the right of the child to an open future, and may imply a possible larger responsibility of the clinician towards the welfare of the future child. Combinations of preconception carrier testing and embryo testing may solve some of these ethical questions but could introduce others.CONCLUSIONSAs comprehensive testing techniques are entering the IVF clinic, there is a need for a thorough rethinking of traditional ethical paradigms regarding medically assisted reproduction.

Concepts: In vitro fertilisation, Ethics, Assisted reproductive technology, Preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Prenatal diagnosis, Medical genetics, Embryo transfer, Gattaca


BACKGROUND: Due to the important role of depression in major illnesses, screening measures for depression are commonly used in medical research. The protocol for managing participants with positive screens is unclear and raises ethical concerns. The aim of this article is to identify and critically discuss the ethical issues that arise when a positive screen for depression is detected, and offer some guidance on managing these issues. DISCUSSION: Deciding on whether to report positive screens to healthcare practitioners is both an ethical and a pragmatic dilemma. Evidence suggests that reporting positive depression screens should only be considered in the context of collaborative care. Possible adverse effects, such as the impact of false-positive results, potentially inappropriate labelling, and potentially inappropriate treatment also need to be considered. If possible, the psychometric properties of the selected screening measure should be determined in the target population, and a threshold for depression that minimises the rate of false-positive results should be chosen. It should be clearly communicated to practitioners that screening scores are not diagnostic for depression, and they should be informed about the diagnostic accuracy of the measure. Research participants need to be made aware of the consequences of the detection of high scores on screening measures, and to be fully informed about the implications of the research protocol. SUMMARY: Further research is needed and the experiences of researchers, participants, and practitioners need to be collated before the value of reporting positive screens for depression can be ascertained. In developing research protocols, the ethical challenges highlighted should be considered. Participants must be agreeable to the agreed protocol and efforts should be made to minimise potentially adverse effects.

Concepts: Ethics, Morality, Business ethics, Moral psychology


Bioethics abolished the prevailing Hippocratic tenet instructing physicians to make treatment decisions, replacing it with autonomy through informed consent. Informed consent allows the patient to choose treatment after options are explained by the physician. The appearance of bioethics in 1970 coincided with the introduction of electronic fetal monitoring (EFM), which evolved to become the fetal surveillance modality of choice for virtually all women in labor. Autonomy rapidly pervaded all medical procedures, but there was a clear exemption for EFM. Even today, EFM remains immune to the doctrine of informed consent despite continually mounting evidence which proves the procedure is nothing more than myth, illusion and junk science that subjects mothers and babies alike to increased risks of morbidity and mortality. And ethicists have remained utterly silent through a half century of EFM misuse. Our article explores this egregious ethical failure by reviewing EFM’s lack of clinical efficacy, discussing the EFM related harm to mothers and babies, and focusing on the reasons that this obstetrical procedure eluded the revolutionary change from the Hippocratic tradition to autonomy through informed consent.

Concepts: Medicine, Pregnancy, Clinical trial, Informed consent, Physician, Autonomy, Ethics, Bioethics


Current strategies for preventing the transmission of mitochondrial disease to offspring include techniques known as mitochondrial replacement and mitochondrial gene editing. This technology has already been applied in humans on several occasions, and the first baby with donor mitochondria has already been born. However, these techniques raise several ethical concerns, among which is the fact that they entail genetic modification of the germline, as well as presenting safety problems in relation to a possible mismatch between the nuclear and mitochondrial DNA, maternal mitochondrial DNA carryover, and the “reversion” phenomenon. In this essay, we discuss these questions, highlighting the advantages of some techniques over others from an ethical point of view, and we conclude that none of these are ready to be safely applied in humans.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cell, Bacteria, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Ethics, Mitochondrial disease


In Italy, Law 413/1993 states that public and private Italian Institutions, including academic faculties, are obliged to fully inform workers and students about their right to conscientious objection to scientific or educational activities involving animals, hereafter written as “animal CO”. However, little monitoring on the faculties' compliance with this law has been performed either by the government or other institutional bodies. Based on this premise, the authors have critically reviewed the existing data and compared them with those emerging from their own investigation to discuss limitations and inconsistencies. The results of this investigation revealed that less than half of Italian academic faculties comply with their duty to inform on animal CO. Non-compliance may substantially affect the right of students to make ethical choices in the field of animal ethics and undermines the fundamental right to express their own freedom of thought. The Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research, ethics committees and animal welfare bodies should cooperate to make faculties respect this law. Further research is needed to better understand the reasons for the current trend, as well as to promote the enforcement of Law 413/1993 with particular regard to information on animal CO.

Concepts: Law, University, Ethics, Aristotle, Institution, Animal rights, Conscientious objector, Palazzo della Farnesina


Tiered formularies, in which patients pay copays or coinsurance out-of-pocket (OOP), are used to manage costs and encourage more efficient health care resource use. Formulary tiers are typically based on the cost of treatment rather than the medical appropriateness for the patient. Cost sharing may have unintended consequences on treatment adherence and health outcomes. Use of higher-cost, higher-tier medications can be due to a variety of factors, including unsuccessful treatment because of lack of efficacy or side effects, patient clinical or genetic characteristics, patient preferences to avoid potential side effects, or patient preferences based on the route of administration. For example, patients with rheumatoid arthritis may be required to fail low-cost generic treatments before obtaining coverage for a higher-tier tumor necrosis factor alpha inhibitor for which they would have a larger financial burden. Little is known about stakeholders' views on the acceptability of greater patient cost sharing if the individual patient characteristics lead to the higher-cost treatments.

Concepts: Health care provider, Pharmacology, Medicine, Patient, Illness, Ethics, Cost, Tumor necrosis factor-alpha


Are people more moral in the morning than in the afternoon? We propose that the normal, unremarkable experiences associated with everyday living can deplete one’s capacity to resist moral temptations. In a series of four experiments, both undergraduate students and a sample of U.S. adults engaged in less unethical behavior (e.g., less lying and cheating) on tasks performed in the morning than on the same tasks performed in the afternoon. This morning morality effect was mediated by decreases in moral awareness and self-control in the afternoon. Furthermore, the effect of time of day on unethical behavior was found to be stronger for people with a lower propensity to morally disengage. These findings highlight a simple yet pervasive factor (i.e., the time of day) that has important implications for moral behavior.

Concepts: Ethics, Morality, Immanuel Kant, Moral, Moral psychology


Philosophers and legal scholars have long theorized about how intentionality serves as a critical input for morality and culpability, but the emerging field of experimental philosophy has revealed a puzzling asymmetry. People judge actions leading to negative consequences as being more intentional than those leading to positive ones. The implications of this asymmetry remain unclear because there is no consensus regarding the underlying mechanism. Based on converging behavioral and neural evidence, we demonstrate that there is no single underlying mechanism. Instead, two distinct mechanisms together generate the asymmetry. Emotion drives ascriptions of intentionality for negative consequences, while the consideration of statistical norms leads to the denial of intentionality for positive consequences. We employ this novel two-mechanism model to illustrate that morality can paradoxically shape judgments of intentionality. This is consequential for mens rea in legal practice and arguments in moral philosophy pertaining to terror bombing, abortion, and euthanasia among others.

Concepts: Psychology, Sociology, Law, Intentionality, Philosophy, Ethics, Morality, Intention


Inappropriate sexual behavior (ISB) is a relatively common and potentially disruptive form of behavior in people with dementia. It can cause considerable distress and put placements and people at risk. Yet it is poorly researched and understood. In addition to non-pharmacological approaches to management, a wide range of classes of medication has been used in ISB, and the results have been reported as single cases or short series, though none has been the subject of a randomized clinical trial, in part because of the lack of a well-defined method of observing and measuring ISB, as well as the significant ethical considerations. Pharmacological treatments for which there is low-level evidence of efficacy in the literature include antidepressants, antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, cholinesterase inhibitors, hormonal agents, and beta-blockers. None of the drugs discussed here is licensed for use in ISB, and elderly people, particularly those with dementia, are at high risk of adverse effects. Caution is advised before using medication in this group of people. It is important to consider alternative non-pharmacological treatments, as well as discussing issues of ethics and consent with those involved, before initiating treatment. It is helpful to identify and monitor target symptoms. Pharmacological treatments should be started at low dose and titrated up slowly and carefully. Nevertheless, in some situations, medication may provide a useful part of a management plan for ISB.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Therapeutic effect, Pharmacology, Sexual intercourse, Clinical trial, Randomized controlled trial, Drug, Ethics