Guest Post: Mind the accountability gap: On the ethics of shared autonomy between humans and intelligent medical devices

Guest Post by Philipp Kellmeyer

Imagine you had epilepsy and, despite taking a daily cocktail of several anti-epileptic drugs, still suffered several seizures per week, some minor, some resulting in bruises and other injuries. The source of your epileptic seizures lies in a brain region that is important for language. Therefore, your neurologist told you, epilepsy surgery – removing brain tissue that has been identified as the source of seizures in continuous monitoring with intracranial electroencephalography (iEEG) – is not viable in your case because it would lead to permanent damage to your language ability.

There is however, says your neurologist, an innovative clinical trial under way that might reduce the frequency and severity of your seizures. In this trial, a new device is implanted in your head that contains an electrode array for recording your brain activity directly from the brain surface and for applying small electric shocks to interrupt an impending seizure.

The electrode array connects wirelessly to a small computer that analyses the information from the electrodes to assess your seizure risk at any given moment in order to decide when to administer an electric shock. The neurologist informs you that trials with similar devices have achieved a reduction in the frequency of severe seizures in 50% of patients so that there would be a good chance that you benefit from taking part in the trial.

Now, imagine you decided to participate in the trial and it turns out that the device comes with two options: In one setting, you get no feedback on your current seizure risk by the device and the decision when to administer an electric shock to prevent an impending seizure is taken solely by the device.

This keeps you completely out of the loop in terms of being able to modify your behaviour according to your seizure risk and – in a sense – relegates some autonomy of decision-making to the intelligent medical device inside your head.

In the other setting, the system comes with a “traffic light” that signals your current risk level for a seizure, with green indicating a low, yellow a medium, and red a high probability of a seizure. In case of an evolving seizure, the device may additionally warn you with an alarm tone. In this scenario, you are kept in the loop and you retain your capacity to modify your behavior accordingly, for example to step from a ladder or stop riding a bike when you are “in the red.”

Continue reading

Genome editing – the key ethical issues

Written by Dr Christopher Gyngell

This article originally appeared on the OMS website

The Nuffield Council of Bioethics released a report last Friday outlining the key ethical issues raised by genome editing technologies.

Genome editing (GE) is a powerful, and extremely rapidly developing technology. It uses engineered enzymes to make precise, controlled modification to DNA. It has the potential to radically transform many industries, including medicine, agriculture and ecology.  Despite only being developed in the past few years’, GE has already been used to create malaria-fighting mosquitoes, drought resistant wheat, hornless cows and cancer killing immune cells. The potential applications of GE in a decade are difficult to imagine. It raises a wide range of ethical issues that require careful scrutiny. Continue reading

Guest Post: Epigenetics: Barriers to the translation of scientific knowledge into public policies

Written by Charles Dupras and Vardit Ravitsky

Bioethics Programs, School of Public Health, University of Montreal


Environmental epigenetics is a rising field of scientific research that has been receiving much attention. It explores how exposure to various physical and social environments (e.g. pollution or social adversity) affects gene expression and, eventually, our health. Environmental epigenetics can sometimes explain why some of us carry increased risks of developing specific diseases. It provides activists a powerful vocabulary to promote environmental awareness and social justice. This new vocabulary, which allows us to discuss the consequences of disparities at the molecular level, has been enthusiastically mobilized as an effective way of stimulating political will for promoting public health preventive strategies. Continue reading

Cross Post: Women’s-Only Swimming Hours: Accommodation Is Not Discrimination

Written by Miriam Rosenbaum and Sajda Ouachtouki 

This article was originally published in First Things.

Women’s-only hours at swimming pools are nothing new. Many secular institutions have long hosted separate swim hours for women and girls who, for reasons of faith or personal preference, desire to swim without the presence of men. The list includes Barnard College, Harvard University, Yale University, and swim clubs, JCCs, and YMCAs across the country. Recently, women’s-only swimming hours have become a topic of debate, especially in New York, where promoters of liberal secularist ideology (including the editorial page of the New York Times) are campaigning against women’s-only hours at a public swimming pool on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. They claim that women’s-only swimming hours, even for a small portion of the day, must be abolished in the interest of “general fairness and equal access” and to avoid “discrimination” in favor of certain religions. Continue reading

Video: Professor Julian Savulescu speaks in the DNA Manipulation Debate at The Oxford Union

The Oxford Union.

The Motion: This House Believes the Manipulation of Human DNA is an Ethical Necessity.

The Speakers: Julian Savulescu closed the case for the Proposition, as the fifth speaker of six in the debate.

Article Announcement: Should a human-pig chimera be treated as a person?

Professor Julian Savulescu has recently published an article on the treatment of Human-Pig Chimera in the online Aeon Magazine.  To read the full article and join in the conversation please follow this link:   Professor Savulescu has written on this topic in the Practical Ethics in the News blog previously:

In praise of ambivalence—“young” feminism, gender identity, and free speech

By Brian D. Earp (@briandavidearp)

* Note: this article was first published online at Quillette magazine.


Alice Dreger, the historian of science, sex researcher, activist, and author of a much-discussed book of last year, has recently called attention to the loss of ambivalence as an acceptable attitude in contemporary politics and beyond. “Once upon a time,” she writes, “we were allowed to feel ambivalent about people. We were allowed to say, ‘I like what they did here, but that bit over there doesn’t thrill me so much.’ Those days are gone. Today the rule is that if someone—a scientist, a writer, a broadcaster, a politician—does one thing we don’t like, they’re dead to us.”

I’m going to suggest that this development leads to another kind of loss: the loss of our ability to work together, or better, learn from each other, despite intense disagreement over certain issues. Whether it’s because our opponent hails from a different political party, or voted differently on a key referendum, or thinks about economics or gun control or immigration or social values—or whatever—in a way we struggle to comprehend, our collective habit of shouting at each other with fingers stuffed in our ears has reached a breaking point.

It’s time to bring ambivalence back. Continue reading

Cross Post: If you can screen for brown eyes, you should be able to edit out genetic disease

Not everyone’s choice of scarf. Shutterstock

It has long been known that cognitive diversity is important to collective performance. Diverse groups are more productive, more innovative and better at solving complex problems than less diverse groups. And recent research suggests that cognitive diversity also drives scientific progress.

Such research has direct implications for how we regulate reproductive technologies. Late last year, the London Sperm Bank was criticised for its decision to ban sperm donors who suffer from minor neurological disorders, including dyslexia and Asperger’s syndrome. Continue reading

Why is chemical castration being used on offenders in some countries?

Written by Dr Jonathan Pugh
This article was originally published on The Conversation

The answer for some. Shutterstock

Following a horrific act of sexual violence against a 14-year-old girl, the president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, recently signed a decree into law, which, among other things, authorised the death penalty for convicted child sex offenders, and also the use of chemical castration of such offenders.

The main justification cited by Widodo was that castration would act as a deterrent. But how do such interventions fit in the criminal justice system? Are they likely to be successful? Continue reading

Event: St Cross Special Ethics Seminar: The role of therapeutic optimism in recruitment to a clinical trial: an empirical study, presented by Dr Nina Hallowell

On Thursday 12 May 2016, Dr Nina Hallowell delivered the first St Cross Special Ethics Seminar of Trinity Term.  The talk is available to listen to here

Title:  The role of therapeutic optimism in recruitment to a clinical trial: an empirical study Continue reading


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