Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Is it ever okay to experiment on people if they know the risks and the risks are low?

I watched a movie the other day called Extreme Measures.  *movie spoiler alert*  A famous doctor was taking homeless people and performing experiments on them to find a procedure to allow parapalegics to walk again.  The ethical delimna was whether he should sacrifice these few homeless people in order to help thousands of people who are unable to walk.

It made me think about the issue.  Science sacrifices animals all the time to determine if a medicine or medical procedure is safe and can then be used on humans.  The animals cannot be asked if they wish to be part of the experiments.  But humans can.  The doctor in the movie was obviously wrong in using people without their knowledge.  In the movie, he states that he is rather old and doesn't have time to wait years for experiments on rats and monkeys.

Is it ever okay to experiment on people when the odds of survival are slim to none?

Obviously, taking people, homeless or not, is unethical.  But what if you asked for volunteers?  If you spelled everything out to people and showed them the risks and benefits, to them and humanity, would that be okay?  I am of the mind that if people are in control of their mental faculties, they can make any decision they wish.  If someone asks for volunteers and someone steps forward, they can all sign the appropriate paperwork (and maybe be overseen by a 'oversight committee') then the doctor and volunteer can proceed.  I can imagine there would be a few people who would want to do this.  There are always a few individuals who will volunteer for anything.  But would they get the right kind of people?  Would they get volunteers who fit the criteria they needed?

But what if they can't get enough volunteers?  Maybe the odds of success are too low.  Would it be okay to pay for volunteers?  If people were offered a substantial amount of money, would it be appropriate?  I can certainly see more volunteers stepping forward.  Money can be a strong motivator.  And even if the odds of success are low, the money could be given to their family.  If the volunteer was of sound mind, would this be okay?

I am of the opinion, that if someone is capable of making decisions for themselves, then they can volunteer for any and all procedures that are offered.  But money should probably not enter the equation (maybe living expenses?).  It makes the reasons for volunteering more difficult to ascertain.  And I like the idea of an oversight committee.  A group of medical professionals (and laypersons?) who make sure that what the scientist/doctor is doing needs volunteers and that the volunteers are not being coerced.

The needs of the many outweight the needs of the few, or the one.  As long as that one understands the risks involved.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bless you! Gesundheit! Salute! Na zdravlje!

Someone next to you sneezes.  What do you do?

  1. Stare at them.
  2. Run for your life.
  3. Ignore them.
  4. Say "Bless You" or "Gesundheit".
The usual answer by people is #4.  I have several family and friends who always, always say "Bless you" (to your health).  They can't conceive of someone sneezing and NOT say it.

Why do we say Bless You (or Gesundheit or Salute or Na zdravlge or others)?

In 'olden times' people would say God Bless You to ward off evil spirts when someone sneezed.  Some thought that a sneeze released the spirt monentarily and evil spirits might make off with it.  Or that the sneeze got rid of evil spirits and they Blessed you in the hopes the evil spirits would not return to your body.

During the Black Death, some thought sneezing was a sign the person was sick, so they Blessed them, wishing them a speedy recovery.

Other thoughts were that the heart stopped when a person sneezed, and someone would Bless you in hopes your heart would start back up.

Bless You in other languages would be Gesundheit (German) or Salute (Italian) or Na zdravlje (Croation).

Contemporary responses

As noted above, many, many people still say Bless You when someone sneezes.  But not everyone.  The office that I now work in used to say it when I first joined them.  Now, only one or two people do it, and it is subdued.  Once in a while NO one says anything.  And while I haven't said Bless You in years, it still feels like something is missing.  The tradition still lingers.

I am not a superstitious person.  I don't believe in astrology, numerology, fate, destiny, or bad luck from black cats crossing my path or breaking mirrors.  A few years ago, I looked up Bless You and the reasons for using it, and found the superstitions listed above.  So I stopped Blessing anyone.  Sometimes, depending on the company I am with, I might say 'geez' or some little something, because I feel like I have to say SOMEthing.  I grew up around some family and friends who not only said it themselves, but expected to hear it when they sneezed.  So I haven't completely given up saything something yet.

I like traditions, in general.  I send birthday cards to family and friends.  Presents are opened on Christmas Day, not Christmas Eve.  I go to the local fireworks display every Independence Day.

But I no longer Bless Anyone.