Simon Rippon

The Cost of Non-Cash Incentives for Organs

The Times newspaper featured an editorial proposing changes in the organ procurement system last week by Sally Satel, a scholar from the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. I thought the first few lines were especially revealing about Satel’s attitude to market transactions – she reports that she desperately needed a kidney herself, but dreaded “the constricting obligation that would surely come with accepting” an altruistic donation. She therefore “wished [she] could buy a kidney just to avert the emotional debt.”

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Chillin’ with the Texas Board of Education

The Texas Board of Education recently approved changes to the state's high school social studies curriculum. The Board also has responsibility for reviewing and approving textbooks for use in Texas schools according to whether they meet its curriculum standards, so its move will effectively force textbook publishers to revise their presentation of American history. The curriculum revisions are controversial because many observers believe that they are motivated by, and reflect, an extreme conservative view of American history.

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Volcano Ethics: Should we be Flying the Unfriendly Skies?

An ash cloud produced by the eruption of the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano in Iceland has led to the severe disruption of airline transportation in the UK and across a wide swathe of Europe, with UK airspace almost completely closed since midday last Thursday. Passengers, freight importers and exporters, and airlines are just some of those affected by the disruption; some British employers are also taking a hit due to absent workers who went abroad for their Easter holidays and then found themselves stranded and unable to get home. The reasons for grounding the planes are non-trivial: as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) wrote in a press release last week: “Since volcanic ash is composed of very abrasive silica materials, it can damage the airframe and flight surfaces, clog different systems, abrade cockpit windows and flame-out jet engines constituting a serious safety hazard.”

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I Don’t Care Too Much for Money, Money Can’t Buy Me Lungs

Is it true that “everyone’s a winner”, as Julian Savulescu suggested recently on this blog , if we price life and body parts? Let’s accept that if there is a valid objection to buying and selling body parts, it must be grounded in the recognition of a harm that would come to some person or group of people. Consider, then, Savulescu’s suggestion that we should price body parts, and engage in buying and selling of them. We could categorize the potential harms that it might generate under the following headings:

(1) Harm to the participants in the transactions: donors, recipients, or facilitators

(2) Harm to specific third parties

(3) Harm to society at large

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Ending It, in Paternia

In the Republic of Paternia there has, of late, been a vigorous debate on the question of whether the law should change to permit marital separation in some circumstances. Some desperate Paternian couples have been illegally travelling abroad to engage in marital separations in Switterland (where they are permitted for now, though the Switts are becoming uncomfortable with their country’s renown for so-called “separation tourism”). Some of these couples have been dragged through the Paternian courts on their return. Sympathetic juries have often chosen to acquit, recognizing that their situations had become unbearable, that they had separated consensually, and that legal enforcement of their cohabiting marital relationship would only have prolonged their suffering. Moreover, prosecutors in Paternia have for a long time only selectively prosecuted cases of marital separation that illegally took place abroad.

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The Disease Industry

In a recent article, “Sure, It’s Treatable. But Is It a Disorder?” the New York Times warns its readers to “brace yourselves for P.E. – shorthand for premature ejaculation”. If the pharmaceutical industry is to be believed, that may not be bad advice, since according them, “One in three men actually have the condition.” But the advice is not meant to be taken literally. What the reporter really meant was, “brace yourselves for ‘P.E.’ – shorthand for ‘premature ejaculation’”. According to the article, just as the makers of Viagra have in recent years introduced into the popular lexicon the name of a “modern man’s malady” and it’s acronym – ‘erectile dysfunction’, or ‘E.D.’, we can expect a similar effect as a result of the development and marketing of Priligy: a new pill for “men who ejaculate before copulating or within seconds of beginning.” Continue reading

A Controversial Use of Taxpayer Funds

The health care reform bill currently being debated in the United States has re-ignited controversy there over abortion, and in particular over the availability of federal government funding to pay for the procedure. Earlier this month, the House of Representatives version of the health care bill passed narrowly, and with a last minute amendment that will restrict provision of abortions. The so-called “Stupak amendment” says that no health care plans receiving any subsidy from the federal government may offer abortions, except in the case where abortion is the result of rape, incest, or to save the woman’s life, and it maintains this restriction even if the government subsidies are kept separate from the private payments made into the plans, and no government subsidy is ever used to pay for abortions. The Stupak amendment represents a tightening over existing policy, according to which the federal government is prohibited from directly funding the provision of abortions, but may provide funds for hospitals, for example, that also provide abortions – so long as the hospitals pay for the abortions themselves by some other means.

The argument for Stupak’s additional restrictions on abortion funding is supposed to be that since money is fungible, the old prohibition does not really work to prevent federal funds indirectly playing a role in providing for abortions. Whatever the merits of this argument, it’s worth noting that many of its proponents in congress make it hypocritically; they are more than willing to accept generous campaign contributions drawn from the profits of health insurance companies that provide insurance for abortions as a component of their plans. But I want to focus here on the question of having any restriction of this kind at all. Can the federal government legitimately be prohibited from funding abortion?

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“Trust Me, I’m an Ethicist”

A paper forthcoming in the philosophy journal Mind inquires into perceptions about the ethics of ethicists. The paper reports on a survey that asked philosophers their opinions about the moral behaviour of ethicists compared with the behaviour of philosophers who specialize in other fields. Majorities of both the ethicist and non-ethicist respondents did not think that ethicists behaved any better than other philosophers. While ethicists were somewhat optimistic about other ethicists, with a larger number opining that they behaved better than other philosophers than that they behaved worse, non-ethicists were nearly evenly split between these views. We might reasonably expect that ethicists in general would be, on average, more practiced at moral reflection than other philosophers, and arguably more skilled at it – if not to begin with, then at least as a result of the practice. So the results of the survey suggest that philosophers on the whole do not think that more moral reflection improves moral behaviour. This invites the question: What, then, are ethicists good for? Continue reading

Assisted Suicide and Accusations

As a result of a court ruling requiring clarification of the law, the UK's Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Keir Starmer, yesterday issued some guidelines concerning the legal grey area of assisted suicide. The DPP published a list of factors that will weigh in favour of and against prosecutions for assisted suicide.

Care Not Killing (CNK), a UK umbrella group for organisations and individuals that oppose legalising assisted suicide and euthanasia, says that under the new guidelines:

it is envisaged that prosecutions for assisted suicide will be less likely where the deceased was terminally ill or suffering from a severe and incurable physical disability or a severe degenerative physical condition from which there is no possibility of recovery. [T]his classification … implies that the lives of a whole group of people … are less deserving of the law's protection than are others.

This kind of objection crops up frequently to laws that make special provision for some groups of people and not others. But does it hold up to scrutiny here? The guidelines do not state that the terminally ill, severely and incurably disabled, and those suffering a severe degenerative physical condition (hereafter, for brevity: The Unfortunate) are less deserving of anything than others, so if they do indeed imply that The Unfortunate are less deserving of the law's protection than others, it must be because the DPP's justification for the guidelines presupposes this judgment.

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