ethics

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 Circumicision 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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Guest Post: Consequentialism and Ethics? Bridging the Normative Gap.

Written by Simon Beard

University of Cambridge

After years of deliberation, a US moratorium on so-called ‘gain of function’ experiments, involving the production of novel pathogens with a high degree of pandemic potential, has been lifted [https://www.nih.gov/about-nih/who-we-are/nih-director/statements/nih-lifts-funding-pause-gain-function-research]. At the same time, a ground-breaking new set of guidelines about how and when such experiments can be funded has been published [https://thebulletin.org/new-pathogen-research-rules-gain-function-loss-clarity11540] by the National Institutes of Health. This is to be welcomed, and I hope that these guidelines stimulate broader discussions about the ethics and funding of duel use scientific research, both inside and outside of the life sciences. At the very least, it is essential that people learn from this experience and do not engage in the kind of intellectual head banging that has undermined important research, and disrupted the careers of talented researchers.

Yet, there is something in these guidelines that many philosophers may find troubling.

These new guidelines insist, for the first time it seems, that NIH funding will depend not only on the benefits of scientific research outweighing the potential risks, but also on whether or not the research is “ethically justified”. In defining what is ethically justifiable, the NIH make specific reference to standards of beneficence, non-maleficence, justice, scientific freedom, respect for persons and responsible stewardship.

Much has been made of this additional dimension of evaluation and whether or not review committees will be up to assessing it. Whereas before, it is said, they merely had to assess whether research would have good or bad outcomes, they now have to determine whether it is right or wrong as well! Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: When is Sex With Conjoined Twins Permissible?

This essay was the runner up in the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics Graduate Category

Written by University of Oxford student James Kirkpatrick

It is widely accepted that valid consent is necessary for the permissibility of sexual acts. This requirement explains why it is impermissible to have sex with non-human animals, children, and agents with severe cognitive impairments. This paper explores the implications of this requirement for the conditions under which
conjoined twins may have sex.[1] I will argue that sex with conjoined twins is impermissible if one of them does not consent. This observation generalises to prohibitions on a wide range of everyday activities, such as masturbation, blood donations, and taking drugs to cure one’s headache. While these implications are
highly counterintuitive, it is dificult to articulate the relevant moral difference between these cases. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: The Paradox of the Benefiting Samaritan

This essay was the winner in the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics Graduate Category

Written by University of Oxford student Miles Unterreiner

 

Question to be answered: Why is it wrong to benefit from injustice?

In the 2005 film Thank You for Smoking, smooth-talking tobacco company spokesman Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) is charged with publicly defending the interests of Big Tobacco. Naylor is invited to a panel discussion on live TV, where he faces an unfriendly studio audience; Robin Williger, a 15-year-old cancer patient who has recently quit smoking; and anti-smoking crusader Ron Goode, who works for an organization dedicated to fighting tobacco consumption. Naylor boldly goes on the attack against Goode, accusing him and his organization of benefiting from the well-publicized deaths of lung cancer patients:

Naylor: The Ron Goodes of this world want the Robin Willigers to die.

Goode: What?

 Naylor: You know why? So that their budgets will go up. This is nothing less than trafficking in human misery, and you, sir, ought to be ashamed of yourself. Continue reading

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: On Relational Injustice: Could Colonialism Have Been Wrong Even if it Had Introduced More Benefits Than Harms?

This essay was awarded second place in the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics Undergraduate Category.

Written by University of Oxford student, Brian Wong

Recent debates over the legacy of colonialism – such that that of the British Empire – have often been centred around whether members of colonies have, on balance, benefited from being subject to colonial rule. Such debates are not only epistemically futile, for counterfactual analysis remains necessarily and largely speculative hitherto; they also neglect a potential alternative to the discussion: that colonial projects could have been wrong independent of the harms they bring.

My thesis is that there existed the unoffsettable wrong of the relational injustice perpetuated under colonialism, such that colonialism was wrong even in cases where it introduced counterfactual-sensitive benefits. I will first discuss my concept of relational injustice, prior to establishing the empirical premise and explaining why such wrongs are unoffsettable by consequentialist gains. Continue reading

Harmless Kidney Markets

Written by Adam Shriver

@adamjshriver

Kidney transplants result in improved quality of life and increased longevity compared to dialysis for patients with end-stage renal disease (Evans et al. 1985, Schnuelle et al. 1998, Wolfe et al 1999).  In 2014, the national transplant list in the United States passed a milestone of 100,000 people waiting for kidneys.  However, the current rate of kidney donations, both from living and deceased donors, is not high enough to keep up with demand (Becker & Elias 2007). As a result, many people die each year and the quality of life of many more people is significantly diminished.

In response to this problem, various authors have proposed the creation of a regulated market for kidneys whereupon individuals may sell one of their kidneys in exchange for money and possibly other benefits (Matas et al. 2008, Gaston et al. 2006, Radcliffe-Richards et al. 1998, Radcliffe-Richards 2012, Veatch 2003).  Kidney sellers could be paid relatively large amounts of money (~$95,000) while maintaining a cost-effective system due to the savings obtained from moving people off dialysis (Matas 2008).  If implemented, a regulated kidney market could result in important increases in quality of life and in survival rates.

I admit I find the arguments from authors such as Matas and Radcliffe-Richards largely persuasive.  Nevertheless, their proposals have been subject to a number of criticisms from ethicists that pull on strong moral intuitions.  In what follows, I present an alternative model for a kidney market that I believe avoids the most serious objections to kidney markets.  In contrast to previous arguments that suggest that the benefits of regulated kidney markets would outweigh the harms, I will propose a model that is harmless, on the best way of understanding a harmful practice.  If, as I argue, we can design a kidney market where the decision to give up a kidney does not harm the seller, this suggests that we can reap the benefits of a kidney market without the ethical costs that have raised concerns. Continue reading

The Psychology of Speciesism: How We Privilege Certain Animals Over Others

Written by Lucius Caviola

Our relationship with animals is complex. There are some animals we treat very kindly; we keep them as pets, give them names, and take them to the doctor when they are sick. Other animals, in contrast, seem not to deserve this privileged status; we use them as objects for human consumption, trade, involuntary experimental subjects, industrial equipment, or as sources of entertainment. Dogs are worth more than pigs, horses more than cows, cats more than rats, and by far the most worthy species of all is our own one. Philosophers have referred to this phenomenon of discriminating individuals on the basis of their species membership as speciesism (Singer, 1975). Some of them have argued that speciesism is a form of prejudice analogous to racism or sexism.

Whether speciesism actually exists and whether it is related to other forms of prejudice isn’t just a philosophical question, however. Fundamentally, these are hypotheses about human psychology that can be explored and tested empirically. Yet surprisingly, speciesism has been almost entirely neglected by psychologists (apart from a few). There have been fewer than 30 publications in the last 70 years on this topic as revealed by a Web of Science search for the keywords speciesism and human-animal relations in all psychology journals. While this search may not be totally exhaustive, it pales in comparison to the almost 3’000 publications on the psychology of racism in the same time frame. The fact that psychology has neglected speciesism is strange, given the relevance of the topic (we all interact with animals or eat meat), the prevalence of the topic in philosophy, and the strong focus psychology puts on other types of apparent prejudice. Researching how we assign moral status to animals should be an obvious matter of investigation for psychology.

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Cross Post: The Discomforts of Being a Utilitarian

Written by Hazen Zohny 

Please note that this essay was originally published in Quillette Magazine.

 

The Discomforts of Being a Utilitarian 

I recently answered the nine questions that make up The Oxford Utilitarianism Scale. My result: “You are very utilitarian! You might be Peter Singer.”

This provoked a complacent smile followed by a quick look around to ensure that nobody else had seen this result on my monitor. After all, outright utilitarians still risk being thought of as profoundly disturbed, or at least deeply misguided. It’s easy to see why: according to my answers, there are at least some (highly unusual) circumstances where I would support the torture of an innocent person or the mass deployment of political oppression.

Choosing the most utilitarian responses to these scenarios involves great discomfort. It is like being placed on a debating team and asked to defend a position you abhor. The idea of actually torturing individuals or oppressing dissent evokes a sense of disgust in me – and yet the scenarios in these dilemmas compel me not only to say such acts are permissible, they’re obligatory. Biting bullets is almost always uncomfortable, which goes a long way in explaining the lack of popularity utilitarianism enjoys. But this discomfort largely melts away once we recognize three caveats relevant to the Oxford Utilitarianism Scale and to moral dilemmas more generally.

The first of these relates to the somewhat misleading nature of these dilemmas. They are set up to appear as though you are being asked to imagine just one thing, like torturing someone to prevent a bomb going off, or killing a healthy patient to save five others. In reality, they are asking two things of you: imagining the scenario at hand, and imaging yourself to be a fundamentally different being – specifically, a being that is able to know with certainty the consequences of its actions.

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The ‘Killer Robots’ Are Us

Written by Dr Michael Robillard

In a recent New York Times article Dr Michael Robillard writes: “At a meeting of the United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons in Geneva in November, a group of experts gathered to discuss the military, legal and ethical dimensions of emerging weapons technologies. Among the views voiced at the convention was a call for a ban on what are now being called “lethal autonomous weapons systems.”

A 2012 Department of Defense directive defines an autonomous weapon system as one that, “once activated, can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human operator. This includes human-supervised autonomous weapon systems that are designed to allow human operators to override operation of the weapon system, but can select and engage targets without further human input after activation.” “

Follow this link to read the article in full.

Cross Post: Think Twice Before Sending Facebook Your Nude Photos: The Shadow Brokers’ Disclosures Prove Privacy and Security Are Not a Zero-Sum Game

 

Written by Dr Carissa Veliz

This article first appeared in El Pais

 

Time and again, we have been sold the story that we need to give up privacy in exchange for security. According to former NSA security consultant Ed Giorgio, ‘Privacy and security are a zero-sum game’—meaning that for every increase in one, there is a decrease in the other. The go-to argument to justify mass surveillance, then, is that sacrificing our privacy is necessary for government agencies to be able to protect us from the bad guys. Continue reading

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