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Press Statement: He Jiankui

The response  to reckless human experimentation has to go way beyond Dr He’s dismissal. This is not merely a failure of compliance, Dr He failed to grasp the ethical principles and concepts he was vigorously espousing.  There will undoubtedly be more guidelines and laws on gene editing but we also need basic education of the next generation of scientists in what ethics is and why this kind of behaviour is wrong. This was not a failure of science, or even regulation, but ethics.

More important than He’s fate is the future for those victims affected. The couples and babies will need world class medical management and counselling. The second couple carrying a gene edited pregnancy should have already been fully informed of and understood the risks to their fetus and given the free choice to continue or terminate their pregnancy.

Prof Julian Savulescu
Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics
Director Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics
University of Oxford

Visiting Professorial Fellow
Murdoch Children’s Research Institute
And University of Melbourne

 

A third MRT-baby is on its way

Written by César Palacios-González

It has been recently reported (link in Spanish) that a 32 year old Greek woman is 27 weeks pregnant with a child who was conceived after a mitochondrial replacement technique (MRT) – in this case Maternal Spindle Transfer (MST). If true this is really big news in terms of reproductive medicine and biotechnology, we are still waiting for data to be published. If successful, this would be just the third birth following a reproductive technique that mixes the DNA of three people (you will probably remember the big media buzz a couple of years ago about ‘three parent babies’). This newest feat was achieved by a group of Spanish and Greek scientists; the clinical trial was carried out in Greece due to the fact that in Spain MRTs are not on the list of authorised reproductive techniques.

Before discussing what I consider to be the main ethical issue with this case, let us talk a bit about mitochondria and MRTs. Every human egg contains thousands upon thousands of mitochondrion. These tiny organelles have the really important task of producing the energy (in the form of ATP) that first the egg, then the developing embryo, and finally the human adult need to adequately function. It is thus not strange that when mitochondria do not work as they should the human body ‘malfunctions’. And it is also not strange that mitochondrial dysfunction more significantly affects the organs that require the most energy, for example the brain and the muscles.

To understand, broadly, what can go wrong with mitochondria, we need to bear in mind two of their characteristics: a) that they have their own DNA, and b) that they are mostly solely maternally transmitted. Regarding the former, inside every nucleated human cell there is nuclear DNA (nDNA) and there is mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).

 

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Cross Post: Biased Algorithms: Here’s a More Radical Approach to Creating Fairness

Written by Dr Tom Douglas

File 20190116 163283 1s61b5v.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Our lives are increasingly affected by algorithms. People may be denied loans, jobs, insurance policies, or even parole on the basis of risk scores that they produce.

Yet algorithms are notoriously prone to biases. For example, algorithms used to assess the risk of criminal recidivism often have higher error rates in minority ethic groups. As ProPublica found, the COMPAS algorithm – widely used to predict re-offending in the US criminal justice system – had a higher false positive rate in black than in white people; black people were more likely to be wrongly predicted to re-offend.

Corrupt code.
Vintage Tone/Shutterstock

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Cross Post: Philosophy Can Make the Previously Unthinkable Thinkable

Written by Dr Rebecca Brown

In the mid-1990s, Joseph Overton, a researcher at the US think tank the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, proposed the idea of a ‘window’ of socially acceptable policies within any given domain. This came to be known as the Overton window of political possibilities. The job of think tanks, Overton proposed, was not directly to advocate particular policies, but to shift the window of possibilities so that previously unthinkable policy ideas – those shocking to the sensibilities of the time – become mainstream and part of the debate.

Overton’s insight was that there is little point advocating policies that are publicly unacceptable, since (almost) no politician will support them. Efforts are better spent, he argued, in shifting the debate so that such policies seem less radical and become more likely to receive support from sympathetic politicians. For instance, working to increase awareness of climate change might make future proposals to restrict the use of diesel cars more palatable, and ultimately more effective, than directly lobbying for a ban on such vehicles. Continue reading

Cross Post: Fresh Urgency in Mapping Out Ethics of Brain Organoid Research

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Written by Julian Koplin, University of Melbourne and

Julian Savulescu, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 

Researchers have grown groups of brain cells in the lab –
known as ‘organoids’ – that produce brain waves resembling
those found in premature infants.
from www.shutterstock.com

 

Scientists have become increasingly adept at creating brain organoids – which are essentially miniature human brains grown in the laboratory from stem cells.

Although brain organoid research might seem outlandish, it serves an important moral purpose. Among other benefits, it promises to help us understand early brain development and neurodevelopmental disorders such as microcephaly, autism and schizophrenia.

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Cross Post: What If Banks Were the Main Protectors of Customers’ Private Data?

Written by Carissa Véliz

Dr Carissa Véliz, Oxford Uehiro Centre research fellow, has recently published a provocative article in the Harvard Business Review:

The ability to collect and exploit consumers’ personal data has long been a source of competitive advantage in the digital economy. It is their control and use of this data that has enabled the likes of Google, Amazon, Alibaba, and Facebook to dominate online markets.

But consumers are increasingly concerned about the vulnerability that comes with surrendering data. A growing number of cyberattacks — the 2017 hacking of credit watch company Experian being a case in point, not to mention the likely interference by Russian government sponsored hackers in the 2016 US Presidential elections — have triggered something of a “techlash”.

Even without these scandals, it is likely that sooner or later every netizen will have suffered at some point from a bad data experience: from their credit card number being stolen, to their account getting hacked, or their personal details getting exposed; from suffering embarrassment from an inappropriate ad while at work, to realizing that their favorite airline is charging them more than they charge others for the same flight.

See here for the full article, and to join in the conversation.

Announcement: Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Graduate and undergraduate students currently enrolled at the University of Oxford in any subject are invited to enter the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics by submitting an essay of up to 2000 words on any topic relevant to practical ethics.  Eligibility includes visiting students who are registered as recognized students, and paying fees, but does not include informal visitors.  Two undergraduate papers and two graduate papers will be shortlisted from those submitted to go forward to a public presentation and discussion, where the winner of each category will be selected. 

The winner from each category will receive £300, and the runner up £100. Revised versions of the two winning essays will be considered for publication in the Journal of Practical Ethics, though publication is not guaranteed.

To enter, please submit your written papers by the end of 6th February 2019 to rocci.wilkinson@philosophy.ox.ac.uk. Finalists will be notified in mid February. The public presentation will take place in 8th Week, Hilary term 2019, on Tuesday 5th March. Please save this presentation date, as you will need to attend if selected as a finalist. 

Detailed instructions 

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Response from David S. Oderberg to “Against Conscientious Objection In Health Care: A Counterdeclaration And Reply To Oderberg”

I am grateful to Prof. Savulescu and Dr Giubilini for taking the time and care to respond in detail to my Declaration in Support of Conscientious Objection in Health Care. I also thank Prof. Savulescu for giving me the opportunity to reply to their lengthy analysis. The authors make a series of important criticisms and observations, all of which I will face directly. The topic of freedom of conscience in medicine is both contentious and likely to become increasingly urgent in the future, so it is as well to dispel misunderstandings, clarify assertions and respond to objections as thoroughly as possible. That said, I hope I do not try the reader’s patience by discussing Giubilini and Savulescu’s objections point by point, in the order in which they raise them.

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Lecture and Book Launch: Ethics, Conflict and Medical Treatment for Children – From Disagreement to Dissensus

Watch the lecture by Professors Dominic Wilkinson and Julian Savulescu at the book launch for ‘Ethics, Conflict and Medical Treatment for Children’, which took place on 4 October at the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford.

 

In Defence of Trashing

Written by University of Oxford DPhil student, Tena Thau

Prior to this year’s final exams, Oxford University announced a crackdown on “trashing,” the post-exam tradition of dousing finalists in champagne, ‘silly string,’ confetti, and the like.   In conjunction with this announcement, the University released a memo outlining its objections to trashing.

In Part I of this post, I will present a point-by-point refutation of the arguments made in this memo. In Part II, I will sketch out what I think is the central moral concern with trashing: that it is an expression of elitism.  I will conclude that this ‘elitism objection’ to trashing should be rejected, showing why it is not trashing – but rather, the campaign against it – that is guilty of elitism. Continue reading

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