From euthanasia and Nazi analogies to the re-introduction of thalidomide

From euthanasia and Nazi analogies to the re-introduction of thalidomide

How influential has the Nazi analogy been in recent medical debates on euthanasia? Is the history of eugenics being revived in modern genetic technologies? And what does the tragic history of thalidomide and its recent reintroduction for new medical treatments tell us about how governments solve ethical dilemmas?

These are among topical issues of importance to researchers from the humanities and medical sciences, addressed in a new book, which will be launched at the University of Wollongong (UOW) Library tomorrow (Tuesday 8 April), entitled Bioethics in Historical Perspective.

Its author is Associate Professor Sarah Ferber who researches in two fields of cultural history – early modern European religion and contemporary bioethics. She is also Chair of the UOW and Health District Human Research Ethics Committee (Health and Medical).

The book highlights that in modern ‘culture wars’, bioethics is a political minefield. How does the involvement of medical industries affect research directions, for example? And how important are religion and the abortion debate for modern medical ethics?

The new book, published by Palgrave MacMillan, presents an extensively documented set of case studies in biomedical ethics exploring the important role played by history in thinking about modern medical practice and policy.

Bioethics in Historical Perspective will be launched by historian and ARC Future Fellow Professor Vera Mackie of UOW’s School of Humanities and Social Inquiry. MC for the launch will be Professor Colin Thomson from UOW’s School of Medicine who is a major figure in Australian medical research ethics having chaired the Australian Health Ethics Committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) from 2006-2009.

Chapters in Bioethics in Historical Perspective focus on bioethics as scholarship; language, narrative and rhetoric in bioethics; euthanasia, the Nazi analogy and the 'slippery slope' argument (such as the case made by opponents of President Barack Obama’s ‘America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009’ who claimed it would lead to a revival of Hitler’s euthanasia killing program); heredity, genes and reproductive politics; human experimentation; and thalidomide. Thalidomide was a drug introduced in 1957 as a sedative and for the treatment of morning sickness which ultimately left 8,000-12,000 children with only partially formed limbs as well as other major health problems. However, researchers have now identified potential new uses for thalidomide and have sought special permission to use it.

Media contact: Associate Professor Sarah Ferber on +61 2 4221 3704.

Time and venue for book launch: 5.30pm on Tuesday 8 April in the Panizzi Room of the UOW Library.