Ethical Discourse about the Modification of Food for Therapeutic Purposes: How Patients with Gastrointestinal Diseases View the Good, the Bad, and the Healthy

Krista L. Harrison, Gail Geller, Patricia Marshall, Jon Tilburt, Mary Beth Mercer, Margaret A. Brinich, Janelle Highland, Ruth M. Farrell, Richard R. Sharp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: Researchers have the potential to utilize genetic modification (GM) technologies to create a hybrid of "food" and "medicine" that may challenge traditional understandings of what is "natural." Moral and ethical concerns are likely to arise in any discussion of these therapeutic foods and will affect the integration of products into clinical care and daily life. This study examined how patients with chronic gastrointestinal (GI) diseases view probiotics as future bioengineered therapeutic foods. Methods: A multisite qualitative study consisting of focus groups with chronic GI diseases was conducted at Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, and Johns Hopkins University. Results: We conducted 22 focus groups with 136 patients with major GI diseases between March and August 2009. GI patients associated the term "natural" with concepts of diminished risk and morally "good"; conversely, patients associated the term "unnatural" with things that are "risky," "foreign," and morally "bad." Readily available unmodified probiotics were more commonly described as "natural," while genetically modified probiotics were more commonly labeled as "unnatural" and "risky." However, patients acknowledged that not all natural products are safe, nor are unnatural products always harmful. Conclusions: If GI patient perspectives are indicative of public perceptions of therapeutic foods, our findings suggest that the potential benefits and risks of clinical and public health initiatives employing therapeutic foods will be understood in moralistic terms. Bioethicists and others should be sensitive to the implicit normative appeals that are often embedded in the language of what is "natural" and "unnatural.".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-20
Number of pages9
JournalAJOB Primary Research
Volume3
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2012

Keywords

  • bioethics
  • empirical research
  • metagenomics
  • probiotics
  • qualitative research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Ethical Discourse about the Modification of Food for Therapeutic Purposes: How Patients with Gastrointestinal Diseases View the Good, the Bad, and the Healthy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this