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2024 Annual Uehiro Lectures: Professor Elizabeth Harman

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We were honoured to welcome Professor Elizabeth Harman, Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy and Human Values at Princeton University, to Oxford to deliver the 2024 Annual Uehiro Lectures in Practical Ethics. The three-part lecture series, entitled “Love and Abortion”, took place in the H B Allen Centre, Keble College, on 25 April, 2 and 9… Read More »2024 Annual Uehiro Lectures: Professor Elizabeth Harman

Why a US State Court Ruling on the Rights of Children Before Birth is Unjust

Dominic Wilkinson, University of Oxford. In 2020, in a medical facility in one of the southern states of the US, a patient wandered into an unsecured nursery for extremely premature children. Unfortunately, the patient managed to accidentally disconnect multiple babies from their life support. Worried that they would get in trouble, they fled the scene.… Read More »Why a US State Court Ruling on the Rights of Children Before Birth is Unjust

Cross Post: Dutch Government to Expand Euthanasia Law to Include Children Aged One to 12 – An Ethicist’s View

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Written by Dominic Wilkinson, University of Oxford

Ernst Kuipers, the Dutch health minister, recently announced that regulations were being modified to allow doctors to actively end the lives of children aged one to 12 years who were terminally ill and suffering unbearably.

Previously, assisted dying was an option in the Netherlands in rare cases in younger children (under one year) and in some older teenagers who requested voluntary euthanasia. Until now, Belgium was the only country in the world to allow assisted dying in children under 12.

Under the proposal, it will remain against the law for doctors in the Netherlands to actively end the life of a child under the age of 12. However, a force majeure clause gives prosecutors the discretion not to prosecute in exceptional circumstances.

In 2005, Dutch doctors and legal experts published guidelines (the so-called “Groningen protocol”) elaborating when these exceptional circumstances would apply for infants under the age of one year. That included certainty about diagnosis and prognosis, “hopeless and unbearable suffering”, the support of both parents and appropriateness confirmed by an independent doctor.

The new regulations would allow the same principles to apply to children between one and 12 years of age.Read More »Cross Post: Dutch Government to Expand Euthanasia Law to Include Children Aged One to 12 – An Ethicist’s View

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Turning up the Hedonic Treadmill: Is It Morally Impermissible for Parents to Give Their Children a Luxurious Standard of Living?

This essay was the overall winner in the Undergraduate Category of the 2023 National Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Written by University of Oxford student, Lukas Joosten

Most parents think they are helping their children when they give them a very high standard of life. This essay argues that giving luxuries to your children can, in fact, be morally impermissible. The core of my argument is that when parents give their children a luxurious standard of life, they foist an expectation for a higher standard of living upon their children, reducing their lifetime wellbeing if they cannot afford this standard in adulthood.

I argue for this conclusion in four steps. Firstly, I discuss how one can harm someone by changing their preferences. Secondly, I develop a model for the general permissibility of gift giving in the context of adaptive preferences. Thirdly, I apply this to the case of parental giving, arguing it is uniquely problematic. Lastly, I respond to a series of objections to the main argument.  Read More »Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Turning up the Hedonic Treadmill: Is It Morally Impermissible for Parents to Give Their Children a Luxurious Standard of Living?

Protecting Children or Policing Gender?

Laws on genital mutilation, gender affirmation and cosmetic genital surgery are at odds. The key criteria should be medical necessity and consent.

By Brian D. Earp (@briandavidearp)

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In Ohio, USA, lawmakers are currently considering the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act that would ban hormones or surgeries for minors who identify as transgender or non-binary. In April this year, Alabama passed similar legislation.

Alleging anti-trans prejudice, opponents of such legislation say these bans will stop trans youth from accessing necessary healthcare, citing guidance from the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Providers of gender-affirming services point out that puberty-suppressing medications and hormone therapies are considered standard-of-care for trans adolescents who qualify. Neither is administered before puberty, with younger children receiving psychosocial support only. Meanwhile genital surgeries for gender affirmation are rarely performed before age 18.

Nevertheless, proponents of the new laws say they are needed to protect vulnerable minors from understudied medical risks and potentially lifelong bodily harms. Proponents note that irreversible mastectomies are increasingly performed before the age of legal majority.

Republican legislators in several states argue that if a child’s breasts or genitalia are ‘healthy’, there is no medical or ethical justification to use hormones or surgeries to alter those parts of the body.

However, while trans adolescents struggle to access voluntary services and rarely undergo genital surgeries prior to adulthood, non-trans-identifying children in the United States and elsewhere are routinely subjected to medically unnecessary surgeries affecting their healthy sexual anatomy — without opposition from conservative lawmakers.

Read More »Protecting Children or Policing Gender?

New Publication: ‘Overriding Adolescent Refusals of Treatment’

Written by Anthony Skelton, Lisa Forsberg, and Isra Black

Consider the following two cases:

Cynthia’s blood transfusion. Cynthia is 16 years of age. She is hit by a car on her way to school. She is rushed to hospital. She sustains serious, life-threatening injuries and loses a lot of blood. Her physicians conclude that she needs a blood transfusion in order to survive. Physicians ask for her consent to this course of treatment. Cynthia is intelligent and thoughtful. She considers, understands and appreciates her medical options. She is deemed to possess the capacity to decide on her medical treatment. She consents to the blood transfusion.

Nathan’s blood transfusion. Nathan is 16 years of age. He has Crohn’s disease. He is admitted to hospital with lower gastrointestinal bleeding. According to the physicians in charge of his care, the bleeding poses a significant threat to his health and to his life. His physicians conclude that a blood transfusion is his best medical option. Nathan is intelligent and thoughtful. He considers, understands and appreciates his medical options. He is deemed to possess the capacity to decide on his medical treatment. He refuses the blood transfusion.

Under English Law, Cynthia’s consent has the power to permit the blood transfusion offered by her physicians. Her consent is considered to be normatively (and legally) determinative. However, Nathan’s refusal is not normatively (or legally) determinative. Nathan’s refusal can be overridden by consent to the blood transfusion of either a parent or court. These parties share (with Nathan) the power to consent to his treatment and thereby make it lawful for his physicians to provide it.

Read More »New Publication: ‘Overriding Adolescent Refusals of Treatment’

We Should Vaccinate Children in High-income Countries Against COVID-19, Too

Written by Lisa Forsberg, Anthony Skelton, Isra Black

In early September, children in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are set to return to school. (Scottish schoolchildren have already returned.) Most will not be vaccinated, and there will be few, if any, measures in place protecting them from COVID-19 infection. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) have belatedly changed their minds about vaccinating 16- and 17-year olds against COVID-19, but they still oppose recommending vaccination for 12-15 year olds. This is despite considerable criticism from public health experts (here, here, and here), and despite the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) declaring COVID-19 vaccines safe and effective for children aged 12 and up—Pfizer/BioNTech in the beginning of June, and Moderna the other week.

In Sweden, children returned to school in the middle of August. As in the UK, children under 16 will be unvaccinated, and there will be few or no protective measures, such as improved ventilation, systematic testing, isolation of confirmed cases, and masking. Like the JCVI in the UK, Sweden’s Folkhälsomyndigheten opposes vaccination against COVID-19 for the under-16s, despite Sweden’s medical regulatory authority, Läkemedelsverket, having approved the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for children from the age of 12. The European Medicines Agency approved Pfizer and Moderna in May and July respectively, declaring that any risks of vaccine side-effects are outweighed by the benefits for this age group.

Read More »We Should Vaccinate Children in High-income Countries Against COVID-19, Too

Mandating COVID-19 Vaccination for Children

Written by Lisa Forsberg and Anthony Skelton

In many countries vaccine rollouts are now well underway. Vaccine programmes in Israel, the United Kingdom, Chile, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and the United States have been particularly successful. Mass vaccination is vital to ending the pandemic. However, at present, vaccines are typically not approved for children under the age of 16. Full protection from COVID-19 at a population level will not be achieved until most children and adolescents are inoculated against the deadly disease. A number of pharmaceutical companies have started or will soon start clinical trials to test the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccinations in children and adolescents. Initial results of clinical trials seem promising (see also here and here).

There are strong reasons to inoculate children. COVID-19 may harm or kill them. It disproportionately affects already disadvantaged populations. For example, a CDC study published in August 2020 found the hospitalisation rate to be five times higher for Black children and eight times higher for Latino children than it is for white children. In addition, inoculating children is necessary for establishing herd immunity and (perhaps more importantly), as Jeremy Samuel Faust and Angela L. Rasmussen explained in the New York Times, preventing the virus from spreading and mutating ‘into more dangerous variants, including ones that could harm both children and adults’. Read More »Mandating COVID-19 Vaccination for Children

Guest Post: What Is The Case For Virtual Schooling?

Written by Thomas Moller-Nielsen

News that children in England were to switch to online schooling as part of the country’s third national lockdown in response to the Covid-19 global pandemic was met with widespread support in the British press. Doctors, public health specialists, and even teaching unions similarly applauded the decision. (Nurseries, which have remained open during the latest lockdown period, have also been put under heavy pressure to close.)

The justification for the suspension of in-person schooling during this pandemic, however, is far from obvious. Indeed, there are at least two prima facie plausible reasons for scepticism. Firstly, children are far less susceptible to serious infection or death from Covid-19 than adults are. (While the precise figures are open to dispute, the Medical Research Council Biostatistics Unit at the University of Cambridge has estimated that the infection-fatality rate for 5-14 year-olds in England is 0.0013% – which is roughly 24 times smaller than the infection fatality rate for 25-44 year-olds, and approximately 9000 times smaller than the infection-fatality rate for 75+ year-olds.) Secondly, virtual schooling – in addition to being a poor substitute for in-person schooling – is widely recognized to be a key contributing factor in students’ increased feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety during the pandemic, and has been similarly linked to many physical paediatric disorders such as juvenile hypertension and obesity.

In other words, it seems that: (i) children are not in serious danger of being (directly) harmed by Covid-19; and (ii) children are in very real danger of being harmed by online schooling. Why, then, should students be required to attend virtual school?Read More »Guest Post: What Is The Case For Virtual Schooling?

National Ethics Framework For Use in Acute Paediatric Settings During COVID-19 Pandemic

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Oxford Uehiro Centre’s Director of Medical Ethics, Professor Dominic Wilkinson, has led a UK ethical framework for treatment decisions in acute paediatric settings during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Professor Wilkinson produced the framework along with RCPCH Clinical Lead, Dr Mike Linney, Chair of RCPCH Ethics and Law Committee. This ethical framework is a modification of guidance… Read More »National Ethics Framework For Use in Acute Paediatric Settings During COVID-19 Pandemic