“The only place where you could see life and death, i. e., violent death now that the wars were over, was in the bull ring and I wanted very much to go to Spain where I could study it” wrote Ernest Hemingway. These days he couldn’t go to Catalunya to find some inspiration because bullfighting is banned. The decision was very controversial and it came as a result of a petition signed by 180.000 people who think that torturing animals just for the sake of fun is morally outrageous.
Bullfighting supporters adduced several reasons for maintaining the “spectacle”. Firstly, they gave what we can call a conservative argument. They said that bullfighting is a rooted tradition, like flamenco or paella, and there is value in keeping meaningful traditions alive. Secondly, they put forward an aesthetic argument. There is beauty in a corrida (a bullfight): the outfit, the risk of death, the bravery of the matador. The work of great artists like Hemingway, Almodovar or Garcia Lorca has been inspired by the ritual. A third and more twisted reason was the animalist argument. It was claimed that bullfighting is a good means to preserve the animals. The kind of bulls that are used in bullfighting are of a particular kind (toros de lidia). They are raised only for the ritual and they have a very good life until “their day arrives”– they enjoy better conditions than farmed animals so they can be brave enough. Finally, bullfighting supporters denounced that the interest behind the abolitionist campaign was not moral but political. For them, the popular initiative was not the result of a genuine concern for the animals but of the separatists’ strategy to dissociate Catalunya from anything considered as quintessentially Spanish. We can call this reasoning the political argument.
Despite the protestations of Albert Sydner, the father of a young soldier killed in Iraq, the American Supreme Court has ruled in favour of the Westboro Baptist’s right to picket military funerals. The religious group has demonstrated at 200 funerals, sporting events, and concerts, claiming that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are god’s way of punishing America for tolerating homosexuality. Their protests are quiet. There is no personal abuse, no threats of force either, and they operate 1,000 feet from the church in which the funeral takes place, under police supervision. They merely hold signs with offensive messages such as “God Hates You” and “God Hates Fags”. No matter how morally outrageous these messages are, the Court has been clear that the picketing is protected by the First Amendment and, therefore, should be allowed. Samuel Alito was the only judge who dissented in the Supreme Court decision. He argued that a commitment to free speech does not license verbal assault. I found myself sharing Alito’s intuitions and that, considering his conservative and libertarian views, put me in an uncomfortable position. So, I asked myself, why do I oppose the Court’s decision? Another piece of news helped me to think through this issue. While the Westboro Baptists were celebrating the verdict, John Galliano was fired for declaring his admiration for Hitler and he will now be prosecuted. These two cases can be compared in several respects, but I will point to two. Continue reading
Every day three people die in the UK while waiting in the transplant queue. In the face of the urgency to increase the organs available, some propose introducing economic incentives. A more moderate solution consists in choosing a public policy with an appropriate default option, that is, a condition that is imposed on individuals when they fail to make a decision. A default option influences policy-outcomes in two ways: a) it can have a direct impact on people’s choices because they might interpret it as the option recommended by society; b) the effort involved in making a decision as opposed to accepting one –e.g. filling a form, having to think about one’s death, etc.- nudges people towards the default option.
Regarding organ transplantation, legal systems are divided between opt-out systems in which everybody is an organ donor unless she has registered not to be, and the so called opt-in systems that consider that nobody is an organ donor unless they have registered to be one. Countries with an opt-out system like Austria, Belgium or Spain tend to have higher organ donation rates. This fact is often used as a strong argument in favour of taking consent as the default option. Unlike the countries mentioned, UK has an opt-in policy. However, the Welsh are trying to pass a piece of legislation that would allow them to establish an opt-out system. Their initiative reopens the debate about the pros and cons of the two systems. Those who oppose introducing an opt-out system in the UK make the following claims: