Elder abuse awareness

It has been a tumultuous week for the world, with rallies and riots over Black Lives Matter. But also for bioethicists and medical journals. Suddenly events compelled them to acknowledge the impact of racism, conscious and unconscious, personal and systemic. Thousands of researchers and some leading scientific organizations around the globe stopped work on June 10 to protest anti-Black racism in science.

Not that this wasn't important before, but suddenly racism appeared to trump all other considerations. Below we feature excerpts from editorials in the leading science and medical journals about this astonishingly rapid shift in priorities. 

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Queen’s birthday

After the brutal killing of black man George Floyd in Minneapolis by police on May 25, demonstrations with tens of thousands of people have erupted across the United States and around the world, from Berlin to Sydney. A common sentiment reported in the American media is that “black people are dying in twin epidemics of coronavirus and racism”. 

Whether #BlackLivesMatter or public health should be prioritised is sure to be the most consequential bioethics issue of the year. My guess is that hundreds, if not thousands, of lives are at stake. What do you think? 

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Monkeying around with coronavirus

The number and range of articles about Covid-19 in the bioethics arena alone is staggering. However, the topic of privacy and confidentiality has not been high on the agenda. Perhaps they should be, as there are risks.

A reader drew to my attention to news from India which raises some questions. A band of monkeys attacked a lab technician and spirited away blood samples of humans who had tested positive for coronavirus. The incident took place on the campus of a medical college in Meerut, in Uttar Pradesh.

Much remains to be known about Covid-19, but it appears that monkeys are not susceptible. So it is a mystery as to what the thieves intended to do with the blood samples. I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if they were stolen for research. But you never know. We’ll keep you informed.

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Immunity passports controversy

The coronavirus pandemic should have been an Iwo Jima moment for utilitarian bioethicists with their flag fluttering proudly on a blood-soaked hilltop. After all, the emergency seemed quite propitious for calculating the greatest good of the greatest number. However, as Oxford medical ethicist Charles Foster wryly observes, politicians everywhere embraced a "crude vitalism" instead. 

This was best expressed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in March. He told the media -- and voters: “My mother is not expendable. And your mother is not expandable…We’re not going to accept a premise that human life is disposable. We’re not going to put a dollar figure on human life." Out the window went utilitarian policies. 

Is the same dynamic being played out in the simmering debate over immunity passports? Read below. 

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Conspiracy theories

If I receive an email which begins: "The World Deserves the Truth…. Please brace yourself for the following information I’m about to share with you", I am not inclined to believe it. 

However, this particular one is so creative that it deserves to be shared. Apparently NASA and the Vatican Observatory learned in November that an asteroid was about to hit our planet. Soon afterwards, a top-secret UN meeting was convoked to develop a strategy to keep the world calm and give governments the best possible chance of maintaining public order. So they came up with the idea of releasing a coronavirus. Everyone would have to shelter at home. So that's why we are all washing out hands.... and waiting for annihilation. 

That does sound a bit far-fetched, but how do you deal with other conspiracy theories? The most popular one at the moment is Plandemic, a movie whose teaser has been censored by Google and Facebook. But is censorship the best strategy? 

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Covid-19 issues

Now that most countries are thinking of slowing lifting lockdowns and relaxing social distancing restrictions, the issue of coronavirus 'passports' is emerging as the next big ethical issue for epidemiologists. Should people get a stamp on identity cards (what identity cards?) confirming that they are 'clean'? Sounds sensible -- at first. See the articles below. 

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Nursing homes in the pandemic

Like rivets popping on a sinking ship, the stresses of the pandemic are showing the weakness in our societies. Suddenly we realise how much we depend on humble workers who provide essential services, how much we depend on supply chains, how vulnerable the elderly are, and so on. And everyone has become an epidemiologist. 

One statistic that caught my eye was the number of over-65s in care per thousand of population. This came up as part of Donald Trump's boast that the per capita death rate in the United States is far lower than the highest nation, which was Belgium. There's a reason for that -- Belgium is counting many deaths in nursing homes as deaths from coronavirus, even if the people had not been tested. 

But a chart in the BBC story showed that Belgium also has the the third highest proportion of people in nursing homes in Europe, 71 per thousand. Even higher were the Netherlands (75) and Luxembourg (82). Is it a coincidence that these three countries have also legalised euthanasia? What does that figure say about their social structure? After the pandemic has passed, it would be good to follow this up. 

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Wild theories

I'm not sure who was the first to say, "“Never let a good crisis go to waste". But lots of people are taking this wisdom to heart in the Covid-19 pandemic. It's a time when unconventional ideas will get a warmer welcome than usual because of the fear and the sense of urgency in the air. Perhaps that's why organ donation euthanasia sounds a bit more plausible if Covid-19 victims are doing the donating. See the report below.  

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Coronavirus pandemic continues

It takes a strong character not to get a bit dejected at the current situation. If you're not sick, you're probably in isolation. Still worse, you could be in isolation and jobless. You need some cheering up, so my advice is to watch this video about hand-washing from Uganda. The artist is H.E. Bobi Wine, an extraordinary character who is a local pop star and a candidate for president in upcoming elections. 

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More about coronavirus

One of the saddest stories from the coronavirus pandemic comes from Iran. As of Friday, there had been 53,000 cases and 3,300 deaths. But, adding to the country's misery, hundreds of people have died after drinking methanol as a “remedy”. It illustrates the danger of a panicked response to the virus. Most of our other stories revolve around the crisis as well.

We'll be taking a break next week for the Easter holiday. See you later in the month. 

Michael Cook  
Editor, BioEdge 

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