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Helping Friends

Guest post: Valerie Tiberius, University of Minnesota. Read the related paper: How Theories of Well-being Can Help Us Help in the latest issue of the Journal of Practical Ethics.

I have a friend I’ll call Liam who is ruining his life.  Liam is marrying the wrong man:  someone controlling and unappreciative who seems to all the world to be making Liam unhappy and stressed.  What should I do for Liam?  I think it’s very unclear.  If you have ever wanted to help a friend or a family member who is in trouble, you know that helping isn’t as easy as it sounds.  There are lots of ways to go wrong – your “help” may be perceived as insulting, condescending, paternalistic, insensitive, or just plain unhelpful.

Can philosophy help? You might think that theories of well-being would be useful here.  Such theories aim to tell us what makes something good for a person.  So, if we’re aiming to help someone – to do something for their sake, something that’s good for them – a theory of what makes something good for a person is a good place to start.  Unfortunately, theories of well-being aren’t that helpful when it comes to helping.  There are two main types of wellbeing theory. Theories that emphasize the psychological dimensions of well-being would tell us to promote desire satisfaction, life satisfaction, or pleasure.  But sometimes the reason that a person’s life isn’t going well is that she wants (or is satisfied by or gets pleasure from) the wrong things.  The other type of theory emphasizes the importance of achieving objective goods (e.g., friendship, love, knowledge), things that make a like go well whether or not they are desired. However, if we are guided in our attempts to help by objective values that are not connected to a person’s desires, then we risk giving advice that is thought of as condescending, insensitive or the like.

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Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Announcement: Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics, open to all students at Oxford University

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. 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. All four finalist essays will be considered for publication in the Journal of Practical Ethics. Continue reading

The Wrongness of Do Not Resuscitate Orders Being Ignored

Guest Post by Joseph Bowen

Joseph is a BPhil Student studying at Oxford University.

Following a surprise inspection of Colchester General Hospital by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) on Friday 14th November, it was reported that inspectors had found that some patients (“elderly people, some [suffering from] dementia”) had been inappropriately restrained, and/or sedated without consent, and that ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ (DNR) notices were being disregarded. What struck me about this case is that, while all are horrible practices, the DNRs being ignored seemed worse than the inappropriate restraint and sedation without consent. Continue reading

One Million Readers: Thank You

We are pleased to have reached our one millionth reader since our records began. Thank you to all our authors, guest posters, readers and commentators who have supported the blog over a number of years. And thanks to reader one million, whoever you are…

We would like to mark the occasion by taking stock about the future of the blog and would like to invite readers to contribute ideas for blog topics, and suggestions for improving the blog – both format and content via our comments section.

Can Bioethics be done without Theology? Guest Post from Charles Camosy

Guest Post: Charles Camosy, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at Fordham University, New York City
E-mail: ccamosy@gmail.com Twitter: @nohiddenmagenta

The discipline of theological bioethics is in trouble.

Especially as theology continues to morph into religious studies in many university departments, “social ethics” now swallows everything in its path—with almost all questions of ethics becoming questions exclusively about history, sociology and/or economics. Furthermore, especially in the Roman Catholic world, academic and ecclesial politics push against academics working on issues like abortion, euthanasia, health care distribution, and artificial reproductive technologies. After all, regardless of the position one takes on these issues, it is bound to run afoul of one of two orthodoxies: that of the Church or that the secular academy. Especially if not yet established in one’s academic career, it can be dangerous to be branded a heretic by one of these power brokers. Unsurprisingly, good universities are struggling even to find marginally viable candidates for excellent bioethics jobs. Most theological ethicists have decided not to write on bioethics.

But there is another reason that theological bioethics is in trouble. Today’s centers of power in academic and clinical bioethics (at least in the developed West) generally don’t take theology seriously. I recently attended the annual meeting of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities and was dismayed—though, I must say, not surprised—to see that a grand total of zero papers had an explicitly theological argument. Those of us who do theological bioethics know that, in order to get a paper accepted by today’s ASBH, one is forced to hide or translate one’s theological commitments. The reason I was able to present this year was because I was invited by the Christian theology interest group—the one place at ASBH (during the evening, apart from the formal sessions) where theologians can actually present and discuss theology.

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Student Bursaries for Travel to Christine M. Korsgaard’s Uehiro Lectures on the Moral and Legal Status of Animals and attend Animal Ethics Workshop

10 bursaries of up to £200 are available for current students of any University to travel to Oxford to attend the 2014 Uehiro Lectures “The Moral and Legal Status of Animals”, given by Professor Christine Korsgaard of Harvard University December 1 – 3, and to participate in a workshop on December 3. The workshop will consist of responses to the lectures from speakers including Jeff McMahan and Cecile Fabre, along with a group discussion of any specific implications this might have for the use of animals in research (Programme copied below, or downloadable.)

Bursaries can cover travel and accommodation expenses of up to £200 to attend the workshop plus one or more of the lectures. Bursaries are open to undergraduate and graduate students, but priority will be given to those undertaking research in a relevant area.

Applications should be sent via email to miriam.wood@philosophy.ox.ac.uk by November 14 and should consist of your name, contact details, details of your course of study or research focus, the dates of the lectures that you would like to attend, and a brief statement (no more than half a page) on how attendance would assist your studies.

The workshop is also open for anyone to attend but please email miriam.wood@philosophy.ox.ac.uk to reserve a space.

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Moral Enhancement Won’t Work For The Very Reason It Is Claimed To Be Desirable

Guest Post: Alexander Andersson, MA student in practical philosophy, University of Gothenburg
Email: gusandall[at]student.gu.se

In Unfit for the Future: The Need for Moral Enhancement, Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu argue that we, as a human race, are in deep trouble. According to the authors, global-warming, weapons of mass destruction, poverty, famine, terrorists, and even liberal democracies candidate as components in our potential apocalypse. These issues that we are facing require us to be able to make the morally right decisions, however, our current moral deficiencies seem to prevent us from making those decisions. As the authors put it:

[H]uman beings are not by nature equipped with a moral psychology that empowers them to cope with the moral problems that these new conditions of life create. Nor could the currently favoured political system of liberal democracy overcome these deficiencies. (Persson & Savulescu, 2012, p. 1)*

It is therefore desirable to look for means or solutions to get rid of these deficiencies, which in turn would make us morally better persons, thus allowing us to avoid the disastrous situations which otherwise lies ahead. Luckily, Persson and Savulescu do not seem to suffer from moral deficiency, which enables them to put forth a creative plan to save the day.

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European Guidelines: How much cinnamon can go in our buns, and what kind of dignity do we want at the end of life?

Over on the Ethox blog Angeliki Kerasidou and Ruth Horn discuss the European Union and the need for cultural understanding between member states, with a focus on the concept of dignity at the end of life.

The results of the recent European elections revealed the disconnection between member states and the European Union. Populist anti-European parties won more seats than ever before challenging the dream for a united continent.[1] One of the main criticisms expressed by anti-European parties was that Brussels imposes a plethora of regulations and directives, from trade regulations and agricultural subsidies to the “amount of cinnamon in buns”, challenging individual member-states’ traditions and cultural particularities.[2]

Perhaps one way of interpreting 2014 European elections results is that achieving harmonization of policies is very difficult in a continent comprised of countries with different cultures and histories. And, yet, if the European Union is to continue and prosper, issuing policies and guidelines that could be accepted by all member-states is paramount.

See the Ethox blog to read the rest of Angeliki and Ruth’s post.

The importance of “follow up” in research ethics

Over on the Ethox blog, Ignacio Mastroleo writes about the Nuremberg code and post-trial obligations of researchers

My intention in this post is to highlight that relevance of the term “follow up” in research ethics, in particular, what has been called post-trial ethics of human health research (Sofaer and Strech 2011, NRES 2012). If my argument is sound, there might be evidence that one of the founding documents of research ethics, the Nuremberg Code, already included considerations and requirements that today might be regarded as post-trial obligations of researchers and sponsors.

see the Ethox blog for the rest of Ignacio’s post

If we chose it, would we need it?

An interesting new target has appeared in the discussion on human enhancements: to prevent and halt anthropogenic climate change by the use of moral bioenhancement. The issue of moral enhancements is extensively discussed, for example, in recent American Journal of Bioethics (April 2014, Volume 14, Number 4).

 

Often the object of high hopes is a specific characteristic, such as increasing intelligence or decreasing violence. These are conceptually intrinsic (although, of course with external purposes) goals and easy to understand: were there some meaningful and accessible biological basis for these characteristics, we could try to intervene them. While it is arguable that neither the nature nor nurture will ever be the total and final answer, I believe that the significance placed on the nature in the biomedical enhancement discourse is well beyond reality, although very interesting at the level of a philosophical though-experiment. Continue reading

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