Medical ethics

The Perfect Protocol? Ethics Guidelines in a Pandemic

Written by Joshua Parker and Ben Davies

One question occupying politicians and healthcare workers in the middle of this global pandemic is whether there will be enough ventilators when COVID-19 reaches its peak. As cases in the UK continue to increase, so too will demand for ventilators; Italy has reported overwhelming demand for the equipment and the need to ration access, and the UK will likely face similar dilemmas. Indeed, one UK consultant has predicted a scenario of having 8 patients for every one ventilator. Aside from anything else, this would be truly awful for the healthcare professionals having to make such decisions and live with the consequences.

Ethics is an inescapable part of medical practice, and healthcare professionals face numerous ethical decisions throughout their careers. But ethics is challenging, often involving great uncertainty and ambiguity. Medics often lack the time to sort through the morass that is ethics.  Many therefore prefer heuristics, toolboxes and a handful of principles to simplify, speed up and streamline their ethics.

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What is Your Gender? A Friendly Guide to the Public Debate

What is your gender? A friendly guide to the public debate

Brian D. Earp

 

Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of an informal lecture, based on coursework submitted as part of my Ph.D. It was recorded on Whidbey Island, Washington, and published online on January 15th, 2020. A link to the video is here: https://youtu.be/LZERzw9BGrs

 

Video description:  I’m a philosopher and cognitive scientist who studies gender, sex, identity, sexuality and related topics and I am offering this video as a friendly guide to the (often very heated) public debate that is going on around these issues. This is my best attempt, not to score political points for any particular side, but to give an introductory map of the territory so you can think for yourself, investigate further, and reach your own conclusions about such controversial questions as “What does mean to be a man or a woman?” This video is not meant to be authoritative; it is not the final word; experts on these topics will find much to quibble with (and perhaps some things to disagree with outright). But for those who would like to take some first steps in getting a sense of the landscape without feeling intimidated, I hope this will be of some use. Continue reading

Video Series: Trailer for Interviews on Ethical Questions Raised by the Corona Crisis

Coronavirus: Dark Clouds, But Some Silver Linings?

By Charles Foster

Cross posted from The Conversation

To be clear, and in the hope of heading off some trolls, two observations. First: of course I don’t welcome the epidemic. It will cause death, worry, inconvenience and great physical and economic suffering. Lives and livelihoods will be destroyed. The burden will fall disproportionately on the old, the weak and the poor.

And second: these suggestions are rather trite. They should be obvious to reasonably reflective people of average moral sensibility.

That said, here goes:

1. It will make us realise that national boundaries are artificial

The virus doesn’t carry a passport or recognise frontiers. The only way of stopping its spread would be to shut borders wholly, and not even the most rabid nationalists advocate that. It would mean declaring that nations were prisons, with no one coming in or out – or at least not coming back once they’d left. In a world where we too casually assume that frontiers are significant, it doesn’t do any harm to be reminded of the basic fact that humans occupy an indivisible world.

Cooperation between nations is essential to combating the epidemic. That cooperation is likely to undermine nationalist rhetoric.

2. It will make us realise that people are not islands

The atomistic billiard-ball model of the person – a model that dominates political and ethical thinking in the west – is biologically ludicrous and sociologically unsustainable. Our individual boundaries are porous. We bleed into one another and infect one another with both ills and joys. Infectious disease is a salutary reminder of our interconnectedness. It might help us to recover a sense of society.

3. It may encourage a proper sort of localism

Internationalism may be boosted. I hope so. But if we’re all locked up with one another in local quarantine, we might get to know the neighbours and the family members we’ve always ignored. We might distribute ourselves less widely, and so be more present to the people around us.

We might even find out that our local woods are more beautiful than foreign beaches, and that local farmers grow better and cheaper food than that which is shipped (with the associated harm to the climate) across the globe.

4. It may encourage altruism

Exigencies tend to bring out the best and the worst in us. An epidemic may engender and foster altruistic heroes.

5. It may remind us of some neglected constituencies

Mortality and serious illness are far higher among the old, the very young, and those suffering from other diseases. We tend to think about – and legislate for – the healthy and robust. The epidemic should remind us that they are not the only stakeholders.

6. It may make future epidemics less likely

The lessons learned from the coronavirus epidemic will pay dividends in the future. We will be more realistic about the dangers of viruses crossing the barriers between species. The whole notion of public health (a Cinderella speciality in medicine in most jurisdictions) has been rehabilitated. It is plain that private healthcare can’t be the whole answer. Much has been learned about the containment and mitigation of infectious disease. There are strenuous competitive and cooperative efforts afoot to develop a vaccine, and vaccines against future viral challenges are likely to be developed faster as a result.

7. It might make us more realistic about medicine

Medicine is not omnipotent. Recognising this might make us more aware of our vulnerabilities. The consequences of that are difficult to predict, but living in the world as it really is, rather than in an illusory world, is probably a good thing. And recognising our own vulnerability might make us more humble and less presumptuous.

8. Wildlife may benefit

China has announced a permanent ban on trade in and consumption of wildlife. That in itself is hugely significant from a conservation, an animal welfare, and a human health perspective. Hopefully other nations will follow suit.

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Pandemic Ethics: Infectious Pathogen Control Measures and Moral Philosophy

By Jonathan Pugh and Tom Douglas

Listen to Jonathan Pugh and Tom Douglas on Philosophical Disquisitions  discussing  Covid 19 and the Ethics of Infectious Disease Control, a podcast interview that was inspired by this blog.

Following the outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, a number of jurisdictions have implemented restrictive measures to prevent the spread of this highly contagious pathogen. In January, Chinese authorities effectively quarantined the entire city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, which has a population of around 11 million people. There has since been much discussion of various measures that might be implemented now or in the future to counter the spread, including various forms of social distancing, further mass quarantines and lockdowns, closed borders, mandatory testing and screening and even potentially forced treatment.

There are important questions about the lawfulness of infectious pathogen control (IPC) measures. Here, though, we focus on the moral justification of IPC. How can moral philosophy help us to think through when and whether different IPC measures ought to be employed?

To do so, we will briefly summarise our analysis of the different ways non-consensual medical interventions can be justified in infectious diseases control and criminal justice settings, which we originally published open access here.

 

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Dr Neil Armstrong – Why is Mental Healthcare so Ethically Confusing

Co-authored with Daniel D’Hotman de Villiers

In the first St. Cross seminar of the term, Dr. Neil Armstrong talked about ethical challenges raised by mounting bureaucratic processes in the institutional provision of mental healthcare. Drawing on vignettes from his ethnographic fieldwork, Dr. Armstrong argued that the bureaucratization of mental healthcare has led to a situation in which the provision of care involves conflicts of the sort that make it irretrievably morally confusing. The podcast will follow shortly here.

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The Right Not to Know and the Obligation to Know

By Ben Davies

Most people accept that patients have a strong claim (perhaps with some exceptions) to be told information that is relevant to their health and medical care. Patients have a Right to Know. More controversial is the claim that this control goes the other way, too. Some people claim, and others deny, that patients also have a Right Not to Know.

A number of considerations (harm to the patient; autonomy; privacy) have been marshalled on either side of this debate over the past few decades (e.g. Laurie 2004; Robertson and Savulescu 2001; Herring and Foster 2012; Takala 2019). In this post, I focus on a distinct argument and its apparently unassailable logic. This is the view that a comprehensive Right Not to Know cannot be justified because in many cases a patient’s ignorance will likely lead harm to third parties (Council of Europe 1997; Rhodes 1998; Harris and Keywood 2001).

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Responsibility, Healthcare, and Harshness

Written by Gabriel De Marco

Suppose that two patients are in need of a complicated, and expensive, heart surgery. Further suppose that they are identical in various relevant respects: e.g., state of the heart, age, likelihood of success of surgery, etc. However, they differ on one feature: for one of these patients, call her Blair, the need for the heart surgery is due to her lifestyle (suppose she was a smoker), whereas the other, Ingrid, has not had this lifestyle, nor any other that would lead to the need for the surgery.

Some people think that:

  1. We can be responsible and blameworthy for our actions and their consequences.

Some of those people also think that:

  1. We can, or should, take this into account when making decisions about how to distribute healthcare resources.

For the purposes of this blog post, let’s assume 1 and 2 are true. Commonly, it is thought that, in order to be blameworthy for something, one must be responsible for it. Further, it is commonly thought that, whatever the appropriate response is to blameworthiness for something or other (assuming that there is an appropriate response), it will be negative in some sense or other. Now further suppose that Blair is blameworthy for her illness. Given 1 and 2, this fact about Blair, combined with the fact that Ingrid is innocent with regard to her illness, suggests that, at least in some contexts, we should treat them differently (or at least it would be permissible to do so). Call a healthcare policy that adopts, and reflects, 1 and 2 a Responsibility-Sensitive Policy, or RSP for short.

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Interview with Julian Savulescu on Genetic Selection and Enhancement

Should we use genetic testing to choose what type of children to bring into the world, and if so, how should we choose? Is it acceptable to choose a deaf child? Should we choose our children on the basis of non-disease traits such as intelligence if that were possible ? Does genetic selection put too much pressure on prospective parents? In this interview with Katrien Devolder (Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics), Professor Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, defends his controversial view that we should select those children, from among the children we could have, that will have the best chance at the best life.

[This interview is audio only]

Video Interview: Peter Singer on The Global Kidney Exchange Programme

In this interview with Katrien Devolder, Peter Singer defends the Global Kidney Exchange (GKE) programme, which matches donor–recipient pairs across high-income, medium-income, and low-income countries. The GKE has been accused of being a form of organ trafficking, exploiting the poor, and involving coercion and commodification of donors. Peter Singer refutes these claims, and argues that the GKE promotes global justice and reduces the potential for people in need of kidneys in low-income and medium-income countries to be exploited.

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