Category: George Annas

Debating Compassionate Access To Experimental Drugs For The Terminally Ill

May 14th, 2015 in 2015, George Annas, Newsmakers, School of Public Health, WBUR 0 comments

annas11-150x150WBUR “Radio Boston”
George Annas, School of Public Health

There is a wrenching debate that affects people who are desperately ill and running out of options…

Listen to audio of expert George Annas 

Experts Media Alert – Discharge proceedings against Navy Nurse for Refusing to Force-Feed at Gitmo Dropped

May 13th, 2015 in 2015, Experts Media Alert, George Annas, News Releases, School of Public Health 0 comments

annas11-150x150The U.S. Navy announced that a Naval nurse who refused to force-feed prisoners at Guantanamo will not face discharge proceedings and can now return to work. George Annas, Chair and Professor of Health Law, Bioethics & Human Rights at Boston University’s School of Public Health, offers the following comments on the decision:

Ever since 9/11, the US military and the CIA have used at least some physicians to perform unethical acts on prisoners, including interrogations, torture, and force-feeding. There is no record of physicians or nurses refusing to obey orders to participate in these actions, and it was only in 2014 that the first recorded instance of a health professional refusing occurred when a senior Navy nurse refused to force feed competent hunger strikers at Guantanamo because the nurse concluded that such force feeding violated basic principles of medical ethics. The nurse was, I believe, correct in his assessment, and it was disgraceful that he was faced with a possible court martial, and ultimately discharge proceedings. Today it was announced that the Navy has decided not to institute discharge proceedings against the nurse. This is the right decision. As my colleague Dr. Sondra Crosby put it:

“The decision by the Navy to drop discharge proceedings against a Navy nurse who had refused to force feed hunger-striking prisoners at Guantanamo demonstrates strong leadership in a post 9/11 era that has been plagued by lapses in health care professional guidance and behavior.”

The Defense Health Board has also recently made a formal recommendation to the US Department of Defense that in all branches of the military services, not just the Navy, that all policies should support the proposition that “the military heath professional’s first ethical obligation is to the patient.” This is absolutely correct, although because of the post 9/11 abuses, especially in military prisons (as well as in CIA black sites—although the military had no real authority in them), better wording would be to add the word “always” and to make specific reference to military prisons, so that the directive would read:

“All military policies, guidance and instructions must ensure that the military health care professional’s first ethical obligation is always to the patient, even in military prisons like Guantanamo.”

As Dr. Crosby and I put it two years ago: “Military physicians [and nurses] are no more entitled to betray medical ethics than military lawyers are to betray the Constitution or military chaplains are to betray their religion.”

The decision not to pursue charges against the ethical Navy nurse who refused to participate in unethical conduct detrimental to patients presents an opportunity to reform in military medical ethics. Ethical physicians and nurses, whose first obligation is to their patients, are the backbone not only of a good medical force, but of a strong military medical force.

Contact Annas at 617-638-4626 or

In Their Own Words – George Annas

May 1st, 2015 in 2015, George Annas, In Their Own Words, News Releases, School of Public Health 0 comments

annas11-150x150Israeli Airlift of “Surrogate Babies” from Nepal Raises Ethical Concerns

By George Annas

The earthquake in Nepal has exposed not only the poverty of the country, but a form of human trafficking encouraged by poverty and sex discrimination: the so-called surrogate mother business. In this business, men from wealthy countries, such as Israel, are put in contact with women from poor countries (such as India and Nepal), who will agree to carry a pregnancy using an embryo created from the father’s sperm and an egg donor unrelated to the “surrogate mother” for a fee.

This model has been called “gestational surrogacy” and is generally distinguished from “traditional surrogacy,” in which the gestational mother is also the genetic mother, having been inseminated with the father’s sperm. The method has been disfavored since the famous New Jersey “Baby M” case, in which the New Jersey Supreme Court decided that the mother had equal rights with the father over the resulting child. After the California courts decided that the “intended parents” to a commercial transaction with a gestational surrogate could legally be consider the child’s “real” parents, the gestational mother, who had signed a contract to give birth to the child and then surrender it to contracting parents, could be considered simply a “carrier” or a “viable vehicle” to help the couple have a child genetically related to at least one of them. This model has made a fetish of male genes, at the expense of the lives and pregnancy of real women. And on the international level, commercialization of so-called surrogate motherhood has become an acceptable form of human trafficking, at a time when most of the world is trying to limit or abolish such trafficking.

The early news coverage of Israeli men trapped in Nepal with their genetically-related newborns provides an illustration of how quickly men from rich countries have accepted the exploitation of women from poor countries to accomplish their ends of having genetically-related babies to rear. An article in the Daily Mail, for example, describing infants “resting peacefully in their carriers,” does not refer to their mothers—who were not invited to come to Israel (nor were the more the 100 pregnant “surrogate mothers,” only their discharged cargo). While it seems to have become acceptable journalism to describe the birth mothers of these children as “surrogate mothers,” it is equally disturbing to see their children described as “surrogate babies”—a step toward seeing them simply as commercial products that buyers can treat as they see fit (subject to child abuse laws, but not to human trafficking laws). I’m all for rescuing the babies—but it is discouraging that we have no plans to rescue their mothers—probably because it would expose a practice that many people would find repulsive.

Governments have consistently looked the other way while the business of baby-making has flourished on the exploitation of the young women who give birth to children and pretend they have no relationship to them. This unregulated practice is bad for women and children, and privileges the male sperm donor – at least sperm donors with money to spend for their “own” babies.

Annas is Chair and Professor of Health Law, Bioethics & Human Rights at BU’s School of Public Health and is available to comment on the ethics of surrogate parenting.

He can be reached at 617-638-4626 or

Vergara Lawsuit Raises Ethical Questions About Frozen Embryos

April 30th, 2015 in 2015, George Annas, Newsmakers, School of Public Health, WBZ-TV 0 comments

George Annas, School of Public Health

The former fiancé of Sofia Vergara is suing the high profile actress to protect two frozen embryos they made together…

Expert quote:

“Both people have to agree. If they don’t agree the courts maintain the status quo to keep the embryos frozen. It’s not his embryo it’s their embryo.”

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Chinese researchers alter embryo DNA: Do results cross ethical tripwires?

April 26th, 2015 in 2015, Christian Science Monitor, George Annas, Newsmakers, School of Public Health 0 comments

annas11-150x150Christian Science Monitor
George Annas, School of Public Health

For the first time, scientists have altered genes in human embryos and allowed them to briefly develop…

Expert quote:

“If we keep waiting until it can be done, is that too late? It would be nice if we could all agree on a line we don’t want to cross, knowing that when we get to that line, we’ll revisit it again.”

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Why the Vaccine Debate Is Unlikely to Land in the Courtroom

February 7th, 2015 in 2015,, George Annas, Newsmakers, School of Public Health 0 comments
George Annas, School of Public Health

As the measles virus spreads along with the tension over whether parents should vaccinate their children, it’s unlikely any confrontations will extend beyond the playground and into the courtroom, lawyers say…

Expert quote:

“I think you could make an argument that you have a moral responsibility, but it would be extremely difficult to argue this as a tort case. As long as you’re following state law, it’s almost inconceivable that any court would say you’re responsible for something that has been sanctioned by your state.”

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CIA report describes medical personnel’s intimate role in harsh interrogations

December 14th, 2014 in 2014, George Annas, Newsmakers, School of Public Health, Washington Post 0 comments

annas11-150x150Washington Post
George Annas, School of Public Health

As the tempo of harsh CIA interrogation of terrorism suspects increased in early 2003, an agency medical officer observed to a colleague that their role of providing an “institutional conscience and the limiting factor” for the program had clearly changed…

Expert quote:

“The medical community can do damn little except say this is a bad thing to do, because you don’t know who these people are.”

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Drug windfall raises questions for foundations

November 20th, 2014 in 2014, George Annas, Marketplace, Newsmakers, School of Public Health 0 comments

George Annas, School of Public Health

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation made a blockbuster announcement Wednesday: It’s receiving $3.3 billion for selling its royalty rights for a drug manufactured by Vertex Pharmaceuticals

Expert quote:

“On the big picture, it’s very similar to what almost all disease foundations do. Most of them fund research by academics, but it’s not a big leap to fund research by a biotech company on the theory that they are more likely to actually translate their research into a product.”

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Nurse’s ordeal reveals uncoordinated state, federal Ebola policies

October 28th, 2014 in 2014, Al Jazeera America, Ebola, George Annas, Newsmakers, School of Public Health 0 comments

annas11-150x150Al Jazeera America
George Annas, School of Public Health

The first public protests by a U.S. citizen forcibly quarantined over Ebola fears has highlighted how politics is complicating the response of state and federal authorities to the deadly virus, say public health experts and civil rights advocates…

Expert quote:

“I think the politicians panicked, and they became frightened that something might happen that might cost them an election.”

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US gives safety steps on Ebola

October 28th, 2014 in 2014, Boston Globe, Ebola, George Annas, Newsmakers, School of Public Health 0 comments

annas11-150x150Boston Globe (subscription required)
George Annas, School of Public Health

New federal guidelines for preventing the spread of Ebola recommend tougher restrictions for those at greatest risk of infection, but stop short of the strict quarantines that several states imposed in recent days…

Expert quote:

“They were nervous that if something happened they wouldn’t be seen as doing everything possible. . . . The public is remarkably calm, and always is.”

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