Ethics of Gluten-Free

Currently the only available treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. It may seem simple. If I have celiac disease, then I cannot consume gluten. End of story, right?

Not quite. Researchers are working on a pharmaceutical treatment, which unveils a few ethical questions that might not generally be given the limelight.

1) Why study something that can be treated with a lifestyle change?

It might be argued that the money being put toward researching a pharmaceutical treatment for celiac disease, which can be treated with a lifestyle change, is money that would be better used elsewhere.

However, those who must follow a gluten-free diet for medical reasons are at the mercy of manufacturers, restaurants, waiters, etc. There is a constant risk of cross-contamination, which can be detrimental to those diagnosed with celiac disease.

2) Without a pharmaceutical treatment, who would be responsible for cross-contamination and gluten-related illness?

Celiac disease can develop into cancer, epilepsy, and other serious long-term health issues. And for women, those issues can come in the form of fertility issuesincluding stillbirths.

Could a lack of funding for research to develop a pharmaceutical drug be said to contribute to the deaths of unborn children?

That is, if a woman were to be glutened despite her efforts to remain gluten-free, and she gives birth to a stillborn child, should the production facilities that are not dedicated gluten-free be held accountable? Or perhaps restaurants that don’t educate their waiters about celiac disease and serve her contaminated food? Perhaps it is the fault of those who chose to fund different types of research because celiac research didn’t seem as important.

Or does the lack of funding put it into a category of “I didn’t touch this, I had nothing to do with it, so I’m in the clear.” Isn’t doing nothing a choice?

3) Should celiac disease research be part of the money allocated for mental illness research?

Celiac disease has been linked to an array of mental issues, including depression. Ninety percent of the body’s serotonin, which is responsible for mood elevation, and fifty percent of the body’s dopamine, which is important for motivation and attention, lies in our gut. If the gut is unhappy, the brain is unhappy.

These are not questions that can be answered in 500 words. Why bother to publish questions that don’t come packaged with answers? Sometimes answers are hidden within unbegun conversations. Logical discussions. Asking questions and listening are just as important as proposing answers.

I’m not here to tell what is and isn’t ethical. I may be the one with the mic, but I’m listening.

– Kaitlin Puccio