How to Read the Newspaper


Many of you rely on us for bioethics news and analysis, and last week, you heard me mention the top bioethics stories of 2012. While ethical analysis can be challenging, identifying bioethics news is something you can do. Bioethics stories are all around us.

Let me walk you through a recent Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune.

On the front page is the headline: “Our most fragile. Parents fear cutoff of children’s home nursing services.”[1] This feature is about medically fragile children who depend on medical technology for daily living. Lots of photos and first person stories from the families. A proposed change to a Medicaid waiver program could jeopardize their care. In fact, two of the families said they might have to divorce in order to qualify for Medicaid services.

I suspect you see some bioethical questions. There’s the issue of the use of public resources for home nursing care for disabled children versus hospital or institutional care. When state budgets are collapsing, is this one of the programs that should be cut? If so, who could, or should, pick up the slack?

Just a few pages later, I see the headline, “Nurse battles flu shot on principle. More hospitals give staff a choice: Get vaccine or get fired.”[2] You might immediately think about autonomy and our right to refuse unwanted medical treatment. There are the issues of the safety and efficacy of flu vaccines. Then, there is the issue of coercion, where a hospital worker could lose her job for refusing to get the shot. You might even wonder, “If an employer can require flu shots today, what’s next?”

On the other hand, there is the public health concern of infected medical workers passing along disease to vulnerable patients. Then there is the issue of the rights and responsibilities of doctors and nurses. Should healthcare workers be held to a higher standard?

Lots of ethical issues for discussing over a cup of coffee.

Back to the rest of the newspaper. On page 15, there’s a kidney transplant story. “Illegal immigrant’s kidney wait is over. Loyola covers transplant expense, but he frets over medication cost.”[3]  Jorge Mariscal was provided a kidney by his mother, and a free operation by Loyola University Medical Center. Now he needs $10,000 per year for the rest of his life to pay for anti-rejection drugs. Mariscal says “Health care should be a human right, not a privilege.”

What do you say? Is this the kind of lifesaving healthcare that we should provide, regardless of the person’s status? Does a Christian perspective change anything?

Maybe you don’t read a print newspaper. Bioethics stories are everywhere: online, in blogs, in the movies, on TV news and talk shows. Let me give you a handy shortcut: If you’d like a weekly summary of bioethics stories, sign up for “Bioethics Weekly” at[4]

Make 2013 a year where you notice bioethics stories, and think about them.


[1] Deborah L. Shelton, “Our Most Fragile: Parents Fear Cutoff of Children’s Home Nursing Services,” Chicago Tribune, December 9, 2012.

[2] Robert McCoppin, “Nurse Battles Flu Shot on Principle,” Chicago Tribune, December 9, 2012.

[3] Michael Holtz, “Illegal Immigrant’s Kidney Wait is Over,” Chicago Tribune, December 9, 2012.


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