Inside the Ethics Committee

Inside the Ethics Committee

United Kingdom

Joan Bakewell is joined by a panel of experts to wrestle with the ethics arising from a real-life medical case.


Sharing Genetic Information  

Andrew is just 33 when he develops bowel cancer. Genetic tests reveal he has a genetic condition called Lynch Syndrome. Lynch Syndrome has previously been diagnosed in a relative, but Andrew was never told that put him at risk. If he'd known, his cancer might have been spotted sooner and treated. In a separate case, Lucy discovers that her father has Huntington's disease. She wonders whether to get tested for the gene herself. Unlike Lynch Syndrome the disease can't be treated or prevented so she is unsure whether there is any benefit to knowing. Lucy's also concerned about what this means for her young son. If she had known about Huntington's sooner she could have chosen not to pass on the gene. But now it's too late - could he carry the Huntington's gene too? How and when should she break that news to him? Joan Bakewell and her panel of experts discuss the ethics of sharing genetic information. Do doctors have a duty of care only to their patient or also to the wider family? How do they balance their patient's right to privacy with the wider family's right to information that could save their lives? Producer: Lorna Stewart Photo Credit: Serge Noel / Getty Images.

Growth Restriction in Pregnancy  

Today pregnancy brings a whole battery of tests and scans to check on the baby's development. But what happens when tests reveal that the fetus isn't growing? There is very little that can be done to treat or prevent what's called fetal growth restriction. So doctors monitor the pregnancy closely in the hope that the fetus will be able to stay in the womb long enough to grow to size where it can survive outside. Sometimes, it's not safe for the pregnancy to continue - either for the woman, if she becomes gravely ill, or for the fetus if it stops growing entirely. But what happens when the baby is still so tiny that it's difficult to predict whether it will survive outside the womb or not? And if the baby does survive, he or she may go on to have development disabilities. Is it ethical to try to resuscitate it? Survivors often spend months in intensive care, where they have to endure invasive painful procedures. When is it ethical to stop keeping them alive? These dilemmas wouldn't arise for these growth-restricted babies if there was a way to treat or prevent the problem in the womb. But, as Professor Anna David explains, trialling untested medicines in pregnant women is seen as particularly ethically challenging. It's a challenge that she has taken on. She's involved in two clinical trials in pregnant women to find out if the interventions improve fetal growth in the womb. Producer: Beth Eastwood Photo Credit: Yarinca / Getty Images.

Permanent Vegetative State: Withdrawing Nutrition and Hydration  

A young man, Ben, is critically injured in a road traffic accident and is left in a coma. The family are desperate to save him but, despite the efforts of his medical team, he doesn't recover. He emerges from a coma into a vegetative state. He fluctuates between periods of sleep and wakefulness but is completely unaware of his surroundings. After a year, the vegetative state he is in is deemed to be permanent. Unable to articulate his wishes himself, Ben's family consider what is in his best interests. They believe he would find his day-to-day existence intolerable. He can breathe for himself so the only treatment keeping him alive is the nutrition and hydration that he receives through a feeding tube into his stomach. With no prospect of recovery, is it ethical to withdraw the nutrition and hydration that is keeping him alive? Producer: Beth Eastwood Photo Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images.

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