When we hear about the horrors of industrial livestock farming – the pollution, the waste, the miserable lives of billions of animals – it is hard not to feel a twinge of guilt and conclude that we should eat less meat.
Yet most of us probably won’t. Instead, we will mumble something about meat being tasty, that “everyone” eats it, and that we only buy “grass fed” beef.
Over the next year, more than 50 billion land animals will be raised and slaughtered for food around the world. Most of them will be reared in conditions that cause them to suffer unnecessarily while also harming people and the environment in significant ways.
This raises serious ethical problems. We’ve compiled a list of arguments against eating meat to help you decide for yourself what to put on your plate.
A judge ruled last week that baby Charlie Gard will have his treatment withdrawn, against the wishes of his parents. His doctors argued that the rare mitochondrial disease (MDDS) he was born with was causing him unbearable suffering.
His parents had raised funds to take him to the US for experimental treatment and they wanted the chance to try the treatment. His doctors argued that such treatment could only prolong his suffering. It was their belief that it was in his best interests for treatment to be withdrawn, and for his life to end, a belief which the trial judge endorsed.
“It is with the heaviest of hearts, but with complete conviction for Charlie’s best interests, that I find it is in Charlie’s best interests that I accede to these applications and rule that GOSH may lawfully withdraw all treatment save for palliative care to permit Charlie to die with dignity.”
This is a profoundly difficult decision, and one in which all parties are acting out of care and compassion for the child. My comments are of course limited as I do not have access to all the relevant facts. However, it does raise an important question about the current basis of such decisions.
Ethics of Limitation of Life Prolonging Medical Treatment
In general, medicine has a presumption in favour of saving life, or prolonging life. There are three justifications for departing from this default. That is, there are 3 justifications for withholding or withdrawing life prolonging medical treatment:
- the patient autonomously refuses it. (autonomy)
- continued life is no longer in the patient’s interests (best interests)
- the probability of the treatment prolonging life, or the quality of life, or the length of time the patient can surVive are too low to justify the cost of the attempt (distributive justice)
Sometimes treatment is withheld or withdrawn because it is “futile.” Dominic Wilkinson and I have argued that although futility is often said to refer to “best interests”, it is more appropriately interpreted as a justice justification for limitation, that is, criterion 3. The reason we have argued this is that the best interests justification (2), requires that doctors establish that life is no longer worth living. That is, that the person would be better off dead. This is a very difficult standard to establish, even if the concept of a life not worth living is coherent. Justice does not require that we establish where the line of of a life worth living is. It only requires a comparative judgement – that compared to other uses of a limited medical resource, this use is not justified. The NHS has thresholds for cost-effectiveness that it routinely employs. A justice justification for limiting life prolonging medical treatment only requires an extension of this every day approach. For example, a treatment which has a 1/10,000 of prolonging a person’s life is a lower priority than a treatment which has a 50% chance of extending life. We need not say that the first treatment is “futile” or confers no benefit to the patient. We need only say that it is very poor value for money.
Responding to Julian Savulescu
The sad and difficult case of Charlie Gard, which featured in the media last week, is the latest in a series of High Court and Family court cases when parents and doctors have disagreed about medical treatment for a child. Doctors regard the treatment as “futile” or “potentially inappropriate”. Parents, in contrast, want treatment to continue, perhaps in the hope that the child’s condition will improve. In the Charlie Gard case, the judge, Justice Francis, rejected Charlie’s parents’ request for him to travel to the US for an experimental medical treatment. He ruled that life-sustaining treatment could be withdrawn, and Charlie allowed to die.
As Julian Savulescu argues,there are two different ethical reasons for health professionals to refuse to provide requested medical treatment for a child. The first of these is based on concern for the best interests of the patient. Treatment should not be provided if it would harm the child. The second reason is on the basis of distributive justice. In a public health system with limited resources, providing expensive or scarce treatment would potentially harm other patients since it would mean that those other patients would be denied access to treatment.
Written by Dr Chris Gyngell
Last year, the first truly novel synthetic life form was created. The Minimal Cell created by the Venter Lab, contains the smallest genome of any known independent organism. While the first synthetic microbe was created in 2010, that was simply a like for like synthetic copy of the genome of an existing bacterium. Nothing like the Minimal Cell exists in nature.
This great advance in synthetic biology comes at a time where natural life forms are being manipulated in ways never seen before. The CRISPR gene editing system has been used to create hulk-like dogs, malaria proof mosquitoes, drought resistant wheat and hornless cows. The list of CRISPR-altered animals grows by the month. Continue reading
Following widespread media coverage about the court case where baby Charlie Gard’s parents were told that his life support would be removed against their wishes, Dominic Wilkinson appeared on BBC’s Newsnight to discuss the factors that doctors take into account when making such difficult decisions.
The use of antibiotics in meat production is a major contributor to one of the biggest threats facing human health in the 21st century: antibiotic resistance. Finding a solution to this requires us to start taking responsibility for our actions. While one person eating meat has an imperceptible effect on antibiotic resistance, multiply that by millions of people around the world and you have a global crisis. Continue reading
Zero Degrees of Empathy author Simon Baron-Cohen, philosopher Peter Dews and Oxford Transhumanist Anders Sandberg dispute how to be good.
We think empathising with others is the route to a better world. But studies show that empathy encourages us to help one named child over ten anonymous others. Is morality perhaps not about empathy at all? Does the moral way to act have more to do with thinking than feeling, or is empathy a vital force for good?
Should we increase the cognitive capacities of fish if we can? If we enhanced a chimpanzee so that it had the same cognitive capacities as us, would it have exactly the same moral status as us? Is it morally preferable to kill a mouse or to destroy a robot? Could there be beings with a higher moral status than us? These are some of the questions Professor Shelly Kagan (Yale) answers in this interview with Katrien Devolder (Oxford) (Professor Kagan delivered the 2016 Uehiro Lectures on animal ethics at the University of Oxford. The Audio files of these lectures can be downloaded at http://www.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/l….)
Written by Charles Foster
‘I do not understand my own actions’, grumbled St. Paul. ‘For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate….I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do….’1
That’s a fair summary of the evidence about the fate of New Year’s resolutions. The University of Hertfordshire psychologist, Richard Wiseman, found that only 10% of New Year’s resolutions succeed. Most of them are abandoned by 23 January.
The New York Times just ran a fairly lengthy article that reported the use of psilocybin, a hallucinogenic drug, in a controlled experiment aimed at reducing anxiety and depression in cancer patients. (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/01/health/hallucinogenic-mushrooms-psilocybin-cancer-anxiety-depression.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news)
A few days earlier the New York Times ran a story on trials using MDMA (i.e., ecstasy) to treat post traumatic stress disorder. (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/29/us/ptsd-mdma-ecstasy.html)
Why are these stories news? Continue reading