William Isdale, University of Queensland

William Isdale studies law, philosophy and politics (BA/LLB) at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, where he is an Academic Excellence Scholar and TJ Ryan Medallist and Scholar. He is a past President of the Australian Legal Philosophy Students' Association and former Editor of the Justice and the Law Society's journal, Pandora's Box. In early 2012 and 2014 he was a visiting student at Oxford University's Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics.

Should ethics be taught in schools?

 

In New South Wales, Australia, classes on secular ethics have been offered to some students as an alternative to religious studies since 2010. A programme called ‘Primary Ethics’ is now taught to around 20,000 students in more than 300 schools. It introduces discussion of moral issues in a systematic way and provides an educational experience for students who were previously not provided with a taught alternative.

Should schools, particularly government schools, teach ethics? Or does doing so violate an important principle of government neutrality on matters moral and spiritual?

Continue reading

Should lawyers always keep their client’s secrets?

 

In Chicago, 1982, a security guard at a McDonald’s was shot and killed. Alton Logan was charged with the crime. There was only one problem – Logan was innocent. Another man, Andrew Wilson, was the killer. Logan would spend 26 years in prison before being released.

We might shrug off unfortunate cases like this as simply bad luck. But there was an additional twist to this story: Andrew Wilson had confessed the murder to his lawyers. They knew that an innocent man was about to go to jail for their client’s crime, but were bound by professional rules to keep the admission secret.

Could rules that require lawyers to watch while an innocent person is sent to prison possibly be justified? Should lawyers always keep their client’s secrets?

 

Continue reading

Quebec legalises assisted-death: should other states follow?

Last month Quebec legalised assisted-death. The new law allows ‘medical aid in dying’ for adults at the end of life who suffer “constant and unbearable physical or psychological pain” as a result of a “serious and incurable illness”. The passage of this law makes Quebec the first jurisdiction in Canada to allow assisted-death or euthanasia.

The Bill follows successful legalisation of assisted-dying just south of Quebec last year in the American state of Vermont. Jurisdictions in which the practice is now legal include the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Washington, Montana and Oregon.

Surprisingly, the arguments for and against assisted-death and euthanasia haven’t been discussed all that frequently on this blog. So this post will consider: would legalising assisted-death (patient administered) or voluntary euthanasia (physician administered) provide a compassionate exit to those facing decline and suffering and the means to live and die by our own lights, or involve a repugnant devaluation of human life that would put the vulnerable at risk?

Continue reading

Do people have a right to be bigots?

 Last month Australia’s Attorney-General said in parliament that “people have the right to be bigots”. The remark came in the context of a debate about the government’s proposed amendments to sections of the country’s Racial Discrimination Act 1975 that deal with racial hate speech.

The relevant provisions of the Act make it unlawful for a person to ‘do an act’, otherwise than in private, if:

(a)    the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

(b)   the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.

This section was added in 1995 and until recently had largely gone unnoticed by the majority of Australians. But the newly elected government made a commitment prior to its election that it would amend the provision (and a defence provision) on the grounds that it unduly restricts free speech – and so a hearty debate has ensued.

The question is: are hate-speech laws, and in particular the Australian provision, overly restrictive of free speech?

  Continue reading

Can solitary confinement be justified?

This month an article published in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) outlined the results of a study on self-harm amongst jail inmates in New York City. Data on all jail admissions between January 2010 and October 2012 was analysed and the authors noted the following: “We found that acts of self-harm were strongly associated with assignment of inmates to solitary confinement. Inmates punished by solitary confinement were approximately 6.9 times as likely to commit acts of self-harm after we controlled for length of jail stay, SMI [serious mental illness], age, and race/ethnicity.”

This research provides an interesting springboard for a discussion. Can solitary confinement ever be justified, and if so, in what circumstances? Continue reading

Book review: ‘Moral Tribes’ by Joshua Greene

The dictator Joseph Stalin reputedly once said that “The death of one person is a tragedy; the death of one million is a statistic.” Behind this chilling remark lies an important insight into human moral psychology. Our moral intuitions are myopic. For instance, we are repelled by the idea of causing others direct physical harm, while it is psychologically much easier to inflict the same, or greater, amounts of harm in non-direct ways. (Think of controlling a drone, as opposed to stabbing someone at close range.) Continue reading

Australia’s ‘Gonski Review’ of school funding

Australia’s Federal Labor government can expect a major headache come Monday. Pundits of all stripes are limbering up for the expected fracas that will erupt when the Government releases their long awaited commissioned report on school funding, and their response to it. The report, written by a panel headed by University of NSW Chancellor David Gonski, is expected to recommend a serious shake-up to the current funding system.

It is timely then to consider some of the ethical issues that arise when it comes to questions of school choice and school funding.

Continue reading

Authors

Subscribe Via Email

Affiliations