Press Release: Alfie Evans Case

by Dominic Wilkinson

@Neonatalethics

In the light of the media attention today, I have gathered together some of the material relating to the ethics of this case Continue reading

Video Series: Tom Douglas Defends the Chemical Castration of Sex Offenders

The Minister of Justice in the UK wants to dramatically increase the use of chemical castration in sex offenders to reduce their risk of reoffending.Dr Tom Douglas (University of Oxford) argues that offering chemical castration to sex offenders might be a better option than current practices to prevent sex offenders from reoffending (e.g. incarceration), and responds to concerns about coercion and interfering in sex offenders’ mental states (e.g. by changing their desires).

Should Iceland Ban Circumcision? A Legal and Ethical Analysis

By Lauren Notini and Brian D. Earp

*Note: a condensed version of this article titled “Iceland’s Proposed Circumcision Ban” is being cross-published at Pursuit.

 

For a small country, Iceland has had a big impact on global media coverage recently, following its proposed ban on male circumcision before an age of consent.

Iceland’s proposed legislation seeks to criminalise circumcision on male minors that is unnecessary “for health reasons,” stating individuals who remove “part or all of the sexual organs shall be imprisoned for up to 6 years.”

The bill claims circumcision violates children’s rights to “express their views on the issues [concerning them]” and “protection against traditions that are harmful.”

According to bill spokesperson Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir, a key reason for the bill is that all forms of female genital cutting (FGC), no matter how minor, have been illegal in Iceland since 2005, but no similar legislation exists for males.

“If we have laws banning circumcision for girls,” she said in an interview, then for consistency “we should do so for boys.” Consequently, the bill is not specific to male circumcision, but adapts the existing law banning FGC, changing “girls” to “children.”

There is much to unpack here. We first discuss self-determination and informed consent, before addressing claims about potential health benefits and harms. We then explore the religious significance of circumcision for some groups, and ask what implications this should have.

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Ethical AI Kills Too: An Assement of the Lords Report on AI in the UK

Hazem Zohny and Julian Savulescu
Cross-posted with the Oxford Martin School

Developing AI that does not eventually take over humanity or turn the world into a dystopian nightmare is a challenge. It also has an interesting effect on philosophy, and in particular ethics: suddenly, a great deal of the millennia-long debates on the good and the bad, the fair and unfair, need to be concluded and programmed into machines. Does the autonomous car in an unavoidable collision swerve to avoid killing five pedestrians at the cost of its passenger’s life? And what exactly counts as unfair discrimination or privacy violation when “Big Data” suggests an individual is, say, a likely criminal?

The recent House of Lords Artificial Intelligence Committee’s report acknowledges the centrality of ethics to AI front and centre. It engages thoughtfully with a wide range of issues: algorithmic bias, the monopolised control of data by large tech companies, the disruptive effects of AI on industries, and its implications for education, healthcare, and weaponry.

Many of these are economic and technical challenges. For instance, the report notes Google’s continued inability to fix its visual identification algorithms, which it emerged three years ago could not distinguish between gorillas and black people. For now, the company simply does not allow users of Google Photos to search for gorillas.

But many of the challenges are also ethical – in fact, central to the report is that while the UK is unlikely to lead globally in the technical development of AI, it can lead the way in putting ethics at the centre of AI’s development and use.

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Should PREDICTED Smokers Get Transplants?

By Tom Douglas

Jack has smoked a packet a day since he was 22. Now, at 52, he needs a heart and lung transplant.

Should he be refused a transplant to allow a non-smoker with a similar medical need to receive one? More generally: does his history of smoking reduce his claim to scarce medical resources?

If it does, then what should we say about Jill, who has never touched a cigarette, but is predicted to become a smoker in the future? Perhaps Jill is 20 years old and from an ethnic group with very high rates of smoking uptake in their 20s. Or perhaps a machine-learning tool has analysed her past facebook posts and google searches and identified her as a ‘high risk’ for taking up smoking—she has an appetite for risk, an unusual susceptibility to peer pressure, and a large number of smokers among her friends. Should Jill’s predicted smoking count against her, were she to need a transplant? Intuitively, it shouldn’t. But why not?

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Groundhog Day and Legal Appeals. (What if Alfie Were a Texan?)

By Dominic Wilkinson

@Neonatalethics

 

According to media reports, the family of seriously ill infant Alfie Evans have decided to lodge a second appeal to the Supreme Court today. This is the 6th legal appeal mounted since the High Court decision, on the 20th February, that continued medical treatment was not in Alfie’s best interests. There is no prospect that this latest legal appeal will be any more successful than the previous ones – its only effect will be to delay the inevitable decision to withdraw life-prolonging medical treatment.

However, the appeal raises an important question in relation to disputed medical treatment. The UK legal appeal system gives families the opportunity to delay decisions that they do not agree with by mounting a series of appeals. (The Court of Appeal judges yesterday referred to this as akin to a form of legal “Groundhog day” with the judges revisiting the same arguments over and over again.)  While the family of Alfie Evans may not succeed in their aim to take him overseas for medical treatment, they have achieved almost 2 months of additional intensive care for Alfie – two months of treatment that has been legally judged to be not in his interests.

Is there an alternative to the existing legal process? Is there a way to avoid protracted legal appeals in cases of disputed medical treatment?

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Mind Control, Free Will, and Jessica Jones

By Hazem Zohny

In the first season of the Netflix show Jessica Jones, our traumatized, alcoholic protagonist is up against a particularly nasty villain: Kilgrave. He is a mind-controller and complete psychopath. A virus he emits compels people around him to do whatever he commands.

Early in the season, he makes a young woman, Hope, kill her parents in front of Jessica just to spite her. Jessica, who knows all too well what it’s liked to be “Kilgraved,” consoles Hope by repeatedly telling her, “It’s not your fault.”

And it surely isn’t her fault. Once Kilgrave commanded Hope to kill, she could in no way have done otherwise. More than that, she was not in any meaningful sense the source or author of her murderous act, which was completely incongruous with her past behaviours and with her love for her parents.

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What is ‘Practical’ Ethics?

By Roger Crisp

This is an exciting time for practical ethics in Oxford. The University has recently launched a new Masters in Practical Ethics, organized by the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and the Department for Continuing Education. Applicants are currently being assessed for admission, and the course begins in earnest in October.

But what makes ethics – by which I mean philosophical ethics – ‘practical’ (or ‘applied’)? It’s true that a good deal of philosophical work in ethics is at the ‘meta-level’, covering issues such as the truth-aptness of moral judgements or the metaphysics of moral properties. But isn’t the rest of it, if it’s not ‘meta’ and not merely clarificatory, all going to be practical, in some straightforward sense?

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Facebook, Big Data, and the Trust of the Public

By Mackenzie Graham

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg recently appeared before members of the United States Congress to address his company’s involvement in the harvesting and improper distribution of approximately 87 million Facebook profiles —about 1 million of them British— to data collecting app Cambridge Analytica. In brief, Cambridge Analytica is a British political consulting firm, which uses online user data (like Facebook profiles), to construct profiles of subjects, which can then be used for what it calls ‘behavioural micro-targeting’; advertisements tailored to the recipient based on their internet activity. In 2016, Cambridge Analytica was contracted by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, as well as the ‘Leave EU’ campaign prior to Britain’s referendum to leave the European Union.

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Scrabbling for Augmentation

By Stephen Rainey

 

Around a decade ago, Facebook users were widely playing a game called ‘Scrabulous’ with one another. It was pretty close to Scrabble, effectively, leading to a few legal issues.

Alongside Scrabulous, the popularity of Scrabble-assistance websites grew. Looking over the shoulders of work colleagues, you could often spy a Scrabulous window, as well as one for scrabblesolver.co.uk too. The strange phenomenon of easy, online Scrabulous cheating seemed pervasive for a time.

The strangeness of this can hardly be overstated. Friends would be routinely trying to pretend to one another that they were superior wordsmiths, by each deploying algorithmic anagram solvers. The ‘players’ themselves would do nothing but input data to the automatic solvers. As Charlie Brooker reported back in 2007,

“We’d rendered ourselves obsolete. It was 100% uncensored computer-on-computer action, with two meat puppets pulling the levers, fooling no one but themselves.”

Back to the present, and online Scrabble appears to have lost its sheen (or lustre, patina, or polish). But in a possible near future, I wonder if some similar issues could arise. Continue reading

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