MSt in Practical Ethics

Applications are now open for September 2021 entry to the MSt in Practical Ethics, taught by the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics.

Deadlines:
12:00 midday UK time on:

Friday 22 January 2021
Latest deadline for most Oxford scholarships

Tuesday 2 March 2021
Final application deadline for entry in 2021-22

Applications for the modules as standalone courses are also available.

This flexible, part -time course consists of six modules and a dissertation. The MSt in Practical Ethics is a part-time course consisting of six taught modules and a dissertation. Modules may also be taken as standalone courses. Continue reading

Are Immunity Passports a Human Rights Issue?

Written by Julian Savulescu

A shorter version of this post appears in The Telegraph

Imagine you are about to board a plane (remember that…) Authorities have reason to believe you are carrying a loaded gun. They are entitled to detain you. But they are obliged to investigate whether you have a gun. And if you are not carrying a gun, they are obliged to free you and allow you to board your plane. To continue to detain you without just cause would be false imprisonment.

Having COVID is like carrying a loaded gun that can accidentally go off at any time. The main ground for restricting people’s liberty is if they risk harming other people. This is the justification for quarantine, isolation, lockdown and other coercive measures in the pandemic. But if they are not a risk to other people, they should be free.

The ‘loaded gun’ analogy fails to acknowledge that most who are infected are significantly less harmed than gunshot victims: most recover swiftly and fully. However, in a pandemic, there is a second reason to restrict liberty: to decrease the number who fall ill and “save the NHS”. A person becoming ill not only threatens to harm others who become infected, but also increases the strain on the NHS themselves.

While research on immunity and transmission is ongoing, typically, immunity (natural or via a vaccine) both protects the individual from getting ill and reduces transmission to others. The Federal Drug Administration in the US has admitted as much. A recent study by Public Health England showed natural infection confers similar immunity vaccination (the SIREN study). There are also reasons to believe natural immunity might reduce transmission (by specific antibodies in the airways, called IgA).

An immunity passport would record a past infection (or presence of antibodies) or vaccination. It could be a bracelet, an app on the phone, or a certificate. An immunity passport would constitute evidence that a person was no longer a threat to herself or others. Because people have a human right of freedom of movement, they should be released from current lockdown if they are known not to be threats. There is no ethical basis to imprison people who are not a threat.

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Ethical Considerations For The Second Phase Of Vaccine Prioritisation

By Jonathan Pugh and Julian Savulescu

 

As the first phase of vaccine distribution continues to proceed, a heated debate has begun about the second phase of vaccine prioritisation, particularly with respect to the question of whether certain occupations, such as teachers and police officers amongst others, should be prioritised in the second phase. Indeed, the health secretary has stated that the government will look “very carefully” at prioritising shop workers – as well as teachers and police officers – for COVID vaccines. In this article, we will discuss moral and scientific reasons for and against different prioritisation strategies.

The first phase of the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI)’s guidance on vaccine prioritisation outlined 9 priority groups. Together, these groups accommodated all individuals over the age of 50, frontline health and social care workers, care home residents and carers, clinically extremely vulnerable individuals, and individuals with pre-existing health conditions that put them at higher risk of disease and mortality. These individuals represent 99% of preventable mortality from COVID-19. Prioritising these groups for vaccination will mean that the distribution of vaccines in a period of scarcity will save the greatest number of lives possible.

In their initial guidance, the JCVI also suggested that a key focus for the second phase of vaccination could be on further preventing hospitalisation, and that this may require prioritising those in certain occupations. However, they also note that the occupations that should be prioritised for vaccination are considered an issue of policy, rather than an issue that the JCVI should advise on.

We shall suggest that the input of the JCVI is absolutely crucial to making an informed and balanced policy decision on this matter. But what policy should be pursued? Here, we outline some of the ethical considerations that bear on this policy decision.

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Vaccines and Ventilators: Need, Outcome or a Right to a Fair Go?

Written by Julian Savulescu and Jonathan Pugh

The current UK approach to allocating limited life-saving resources is on the basis of need. Guidance issued by The General Medical Council states that all doctors must “Make sure that decisions about setting priorities that affect patients are fair and based on clinical need and the likely effectiveness of treatments”

This is most vividly illustrated in the JCVI’s strategy for vaccination: the prioritization order recommended by JVIC and that the UK Government is intentioned to follow is:

“1. older adults’ resident in a care home and care home workers

  1. all those 80 years of age and over and health and social care workers
  2. all those 75 years of age and over”

and then younger age groups in descending order.

The aim of this scheme is to address the greatest need and possibly also to save the greatest number of lives. Indeed, the JCVI state that their priority groups represent 99% of preventable mortality from COVID-19.[1] The downside of this strategy is that people in each lower tier will predictably and avoidably die as they wait for the tier above to be vaccinated.

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Pandemic Ethics: Saving Lives and Replaceability

Written by Roger Crisp

Imagine two worlds quite different from our own. In Non-intervention, if a person becomes ill with some life-threatening condition, though their pain may be alleviated, no attempt is made to save their lives. In Maximal-intervention, everything possible is done to save the lives of those with life-threatening conditions. Continue reading

Guest Post: Why Philosophers Should Write More Accessibly: Towards A New Kind of Epistemic (In)justice

Written by University of Oxford student Brian Wong

Philosophy should, to some extent, be a publicly oriented activity: we hope to make sense of first-order questions concerning how we ought to live, what existence is, what we know, and also deeper questions concerning our methodologies and ways of thinking. Yet philosophical writing has long been panned by some for its inaccessibility to the public.

I’ll take ‘accessibility’ here to mean understandability to the layperson – this metric is by no means uncontroversial, but I take it that at least a healthy number of us write with the public being among the potential beneficiaries of our scholarship. In moving from the claim that the public should benefit from our scholarship to the claim that they should be able to access our scholarship, I aim to establish that academics have a pro tanto (to a certain, limited extent) duty, to make their writing more accessible. Continue reading

Lessons for Philosophers and Scientists from Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown

By Charles Foster

Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate has issued proceedings, complaining that Enola Holmes,  a recently released film about Sherlock Holmes’ sister, portrays the great detective as too emotional.

Sherlock Holmes was famously suspicious of emotions. 1 ‘ [L]ove is an emotional thing’, he icily observed, ‘and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things. ‘2  “I am a brain’, he told Watson. ‘The rest of me is a mere appendix’.3

I can imagine that many professional scientists and philosophers would feel affronted if they were accused of being emotional animals. Holmes is a model for them. He’s rigorous, empirical, and relies on induction.

But here’s the thing. He’s not actually very good. Mere brains might be good at anticipating the behaviour of mere brains, but they’re not good for much else. In particular Holmes is not a patch on his rival, Chesterton’s Father Brown, a Roman Catholic priest. Gramsci writes that Brown ‘totally defeats Sherlock Holmes, makes him look like a pretentious little boy, shows up his narrowness and pettiness.’ 4 Brown is faster, more efficient, and, for the criminal, deadlier. This is because, not despite, his use of his emotions. Continue reading

PRESS RELEASE: Racial Justice Requires Ending Drug War, Say Leading Bioethicists

PRESS RELEASE: Free all non-violent criminals jailed on minor drug offences, say experts

Non-violent offenders serving time for drug use or possession should be freed immediately and their convictions erased, according to research published in the peer-reviewed The American Journal of Bioethics.

More than 60 international experts including world-leading bioethicists, psychologists and drug experts have joined forces to call for an end to the war on drugs which they argue feeds racism.

All drugs currently deemed illicit – even crack cocaine and heroin – should be decriminalized as a matter of urgency, according to this new alliance. Legalisation and regulation should then follow with restrictions on age, advertising and licensing, they say.

They have analysed evidence from over 150 studies and reports, concluding that prohibition unfairly affects Black and Hispanic people, damages communities, and violates the right to life as illustrated by the killing of medical worker Breonna Taylor in March last year.

“The ‘war on drugs’ has explicitly racist roots and continues to disproportionately target certain communities of color,” say lead study authors Brian D. Earp from Yale University and the University of Oxford and Jonathan Lewis from Dublin City University.

“Drug prohibition and criminalization have been costly and ineffective since their inception. It’s time for these failed policies to end.

“The first step is to decriminalize the personal use and possession of small amounts of all drugs currently deemed to be illicit, and to legalize and regulate cannabis. Policymakers should pursue these changes without further delay.”

Their research adds to growing calls for drug policy reform at a time of renewed focus on injustices faced by Black people, and cannabis legalisation for recreational use by a growing list of US states.

The study is based on evidence from existing research into how drug prohibition affects users, communities and human rights, and the impact of decriminalisation by governments.

The authors found that prohibition creates conditions for individuals to commit offences such as burglaries to fund their habit. This lowers life expectancy because people end up in prison, and triggers a ‘multitude’ of health-related costs from unsafe drug use.

Communities are damaged by illicit markets which undermine drug purity, with Black and Hispanic men more likely to end up in the criminal justice system. The war on drugs makes people more vulnerable to violations of their rights including what they choose to put in their bodies.

In contrast, the study highlights the liberal approach of countries such as Portugal where drug-related deaths have fallen and where users are encouraged to seek treatment.

An estimated £43.5bn ($58bn) could be generated in federal, state and local tax revenues through the legalization of drugs, according to the findings. This compares with an annual federal, state and local spend of more than £35bn ($47bn) on prohibition.

The authors stress that non-violent prisoners found with a small amount of illegal substances should be released.

Further Information

The study’s senior author Carl L. Hart was Columbia University’s first tenured African American professor of sciences. He is open about the fact he uses recreational drugs and his book Drug Use for Grown Ups is set for publication in January 2021.

For an interview, please contact:

Brian D. Earp (brian.earp@yale.edu), Jonathan Lewis (Jonathan.Lewis@dcu.ie), or Carl L. Hart (c.hart@columbia.edu)

For a copy of the paper, visit: https://newsroom.taylorandfrancisgroup.com/embargoed-releases/ 

For a copy of the journal article, please contact:
Simon Wesson, Press & Media Relations Executive
Email: newsroom@taylorandfrancis.com
Tel.: +44 (0)20 701 74468
Follow us on Twitter: @tandfnewsroom

The article will be freely available once the embargo has lifted via the following link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15265161.2020.1861364

This Machine Kills Viruses

Written by Stephen Rainey

If we had a machine that could eradicate coronavirus at the press of a button, there would likely be a queue to do the honours. Rather than having such a device, we have a science-policy interface, and a general context of democratic legitimacy. This isn’t a push-button, but a complex of socio-political liberties and privations. We can’t push the button, but we can learn how to use the technology we do have – by collectively following policies like staying inside, wearing masks outside, and keeping distance from others.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic a novel form of this scientific research, technological application, and influence or control of nature (including humans) is emerging. In this case, the application is public policy, as based on multitudes of scientific advice. That over which control is sought is twofold: the virus, and people. Control of the virus is not really possible without some control over the people. Likewise, control of the people becomes harder where the virus is not controlled. Public trust in tough policies wanes if there is no end in sight, or no clear rationale in place. Continue reading

Even Though Mass Testing For COVID Isn’t Always Accurate, It Could Still Be Useful – Here’s Why

By Jonathan Pugh

This article was originally published here by the Conversation, on 22nd Dec 2020

 

The mass testing of asymptomatic people for COVID-19 in the UK was thrown into question by a recent study. In a pilot in Liverpool, over half the cases weren’t picked up, leading some to question whether using tests that perform poorly is the best use of resources.

The tests involved in this study were antigen tests. These see whether someone is infected with SARS-CoV-2 by identifying structures on the outside of the virus, known as antigens, using antibodies. If the coronavirus is present in a sample, the antibodies in the test bind with the virus’s antigens and highlight an infection.

Antigen tests are cheap and provide results quickly. However, they are not always accurate. But what do we mean when we say that a test is inaccurate? And is it really the case that “an unreliable test is worse than no test”? Continue reading

Selectively Saving Christmas?

Written by Ben Davies and Gabriel De Marco

The UK governments in Westminster and the devolved nations (Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) have made a recent about-turn regarding Christmas. Where there were previously plans to relax Covid-related restrictions for five days, they will now be relaxed for only Christmas itself, and not at all in some parts of the country.

The planned relaxations were extensive. And even following the recent changes, Christmas is being treated in a way that is considerably different to other major religious festivals: no relaxation of lockdown was seen for Sikh festival Vaisakhi, Muslim celebration Eid (where more extensive lockdowns were announced just the day before), Jewish Hanukkah, or Hindu Diwali.

Although it has not explicitly been posed as such, it seems reasonable to think that saving Christmas has been a long-term plan.  The timing of the recent ‘second lockdown’ in England is also suggestive. In order to avoid many going into Christmas with infections, and many leaving with new infections, the thought may have been that we needed this “circuit-breaker”; indeed, when Johnson announced the lockdown at the end of October, one hope he expressed was that “taking action” at that point would make Christmas gatherings more likely. And even amid the recent reversal, communal worship can continue even in the new ‘Tier 4’ locations.

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