Written By Seth Lazar
Australian National University
Earlier this year, the British Army Reserves launched a recruitment drive, emphasising the opportunities that volunteering affords: world travel, professional training, excitement and comradeship. In this sense it was typical. Military recruitment tends not to mention the possibility of being complicit in murder. But those who are considering a military career know that there is a risk they will be used to fight unjust wars. And killing in unjust wars is arguably little better than murder. How, then, should a morally conscientious individual decide whether to join the armed forces of her state? Continue reading
Written by Johann Ahola-Launonen
University of Helsinki
How should bioethical discussion be? The academic debate entails a tension between different parties, which often are difficult to compare. To mention some, for example, some draw from the tradition of liberal consequentialism and demand for rationalism and the avoidance of lofty moral arguments. Others descend from the teleological and communitarian tradition, emphasizing that the moral issues ought to be holistically confronted in their complexity, accepting that they cannot be analyzed in logical, reasonable fragments. Continue reading
Written by William Isdale,
of The University of Queensland
As many readers will be aware, this year will mark the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals. For some of these goals, expectations have been exceeded; for instance, the goal of halving global poverty (defined as living on less then US$1.25 a day) was achieved back in 2010.
There are good grounds for believing that extreme poverty can be almost entirely eradicated within our lifetimes. But, for now, a lot of work remains to be done; the average life expectancy among the ‘bottom billion’ remains a miserable fifty years, and the most recent UNICEF estimate of poverty-related deaths among children is 6.3 million each year. Continue reading
Professor of Ethics at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brasil
We humans are, as social beings, care-dependent creatures. Since the very moment we are born (or even before), we need all sorts of attention to meet our basic needs: we must be fed, clothed, sheltered, protected from many kinds of harm and so on. As infants, we need to learn how to become ordinary humans by walking, talking, socializing, etc. all activities mastered –or not– by training and other forms of educational care. Even as adults, as autonomous agents, we need constantly to look after ourselves, so self-care plays a vital role throughout our entire existences. Later in life, most of us, might become vulnerable again and will need to be cared for once more.
Caring may, however, go wrong in many different ways. For one thing, it may be insufficient to attend the basic needs of the cared-for. Thus, it may turn into negligence or even malpractice of the one “caring”. Moreover, it may degenerate into forms of paternalism when the person looking after another imposes her own views on a vulnerable individual, for example, a parent or a teacher on a teenager learning how to be independent; a doctor or a nurse on a patient in need of medical attention; a scientist on a subject of research etc. This is indeed disrespectful to the cared-for. Besides, caring may reveal anxiety, that is, it sometimes may be accompanied by negative feelings compromising the well-being of the one-caring. Then, an important question arises: under which conditions can we say that a person knows-how to care properly? Continue reading
In a recent issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics, Thomas Ploug and Søren Holm point out that scientific communities can sometimes get pretty polarized. This happens when two different groups of researchers consistently argue for (more or less) opposite positions on some hot-button empirical issue.
The examples they give are: debates over the merits of breast cancer screening and the advisability of prescribing statins to people at low risk of heart disease. Other examples come easily to mind. The one that pops into my head is the debate over the health benefits vs. risks of male circumcision—which I’ve covered in some detail here, here, here, here, and here.
When I first starting writing about this issue, I was pretty “polarized” myself. But I’ve tried to step back over the years to look for middle ground. Once you realize that your arguments are getting too one-sided, it’s hard to go on producing them without making some adjustments. At least, it is without losing credibility — and no small measure of self-respect.
This point will become important later on.
Nota bene! According to Ploug and Holm, disagreement is not the same as polarization. Instead, polarization only happens when researchers:
(1) Begin to self-identify as proponents of a particular position that needs to be strongly defended beyond what is supported by the data, and
(2) Begin to discount arguments and data that would normally be taken as important in a scientific debate.
But wait a minute. Isn’t there something peculiar about point number (1)?
On the one hand, it’s framed in terms of self-identification, so: “I see myself as a proponent of a particular position that needs to be strongly defended.” Ok, that much makes sense. But then it makes it sound like this position-defending has to go “beyond what is supported by the data.”
But who would self-identify as someone who makes inadequately supported arguments?
We might chalk this up to ambiguous phrasing. Maybe the authors mean that (in order for polarization to be diagnosed) researchers have to self-identify as “proponents of a particular position,” while the part about “beyond the data” is what an objective third-party would say about the researchers (even if that’s not what they would say about themselves). It’s hard to know for sure.
But the issue of self-identification is going to come up again in a minute, because I think it poses a big problem for Ploug and Holm’s ultimate proposal for how to combat polarization. To see why, though, I have to say a little bit more about what their overall suggestion is in the first place.
By Emilian Mihailov
Cross posted on the CCEA blog
Why should animals have the same moral standing as humans?
Ask yourself on what basis human beings claim to have moral standing. I think the best way to understand this is in terms of the relation between something’s being good-for-someone and something’s being just plain good. When we say that something is just plain good (not in the evaluative sense of a good this-or-that, like a good teacher, a good knife, or a good person, but in the sense in which an end or a life or a state of affairs is good) we mean that it is worth pursuing or realizing: that there is reason to bring it about. Now, most of us believe that various things are good-for ourselves or for our loved ones, and we suppose there is reason to bring those things about, to make them happen, unless we see that they are bad for others. That means that we claim that the things that are good-for us (and those whom we care about) are just plain good, as long as they are compatible with the things that are good-for others. But why? Why should I think that the fact that something is good-for-me (or for anyone) is a reason to bring it about? I think there is no further reason: I treat it as something that is just plain good simply because it’s good-for–me. In treating what is good-for-me in that way, I am claiming to be what Kant called an “end-in-itself,” or rather this is one aspect of making that claim. But of course I don’t claim to be an end-in-itself because I’m me in particular: rather, it’s simply because I am the sort of being for whom things can be good or bad. That means that when I pursue my own ends, I in effect commit myself to a principle we might formulate this way: “The things that are good-for-anyone for whom things can be good or bad are good, unless they are bad-for-others.” Animals fall under that principle: things can be good-or-bad-for-them in the same sense that they can be good or bad for us. Their good matters in the same way that ours does.
Following the death of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who committed suicide after forced “conversion therapy,” President Barack Obama called for a nationwide ban on psychotherapy aimed at changing sexual orientation or gender identity. The administration argued that because conversion therapy causes substantial psychological harm to minors, it is neither medically nor ethically appropriate.
We fully agree with the President and believe that this is a step in the right direction. Of course, in addition to being unsafe as well as ethically unsound, current conversion therapy approaches aren’t actually effective at doing what they claim to do – changing sexual orientation.
But we also worry that this may be a short-term legislative solution to what is really a conceptual problem.
The question we ought to be asking is “what will happen if and when scientists do end up developing safe and effective technologies that can alter sexual orientation?”
The British Parliament has, recently, passed Act 1990 making possible what is, misleadingly, called “three parents babies,” which will become law in October 2015. Thus, the UK is the first country to allow the transfer of genetic material from an embryo or an egg that has defects in the mitochondrial DNA to generate a healthy baby. As it is perhaps known, a defect in the mitochondrial DNA causes several genetic disorders such as heart and liver failure, blindness, hearing loss, etc. Babies free from these genetic problems are expected to be born next year. This is good news and shows how science and technology can really work for human benefit.
This procedure raised several concerns, but also revealed confusion and misunderstandings in public debates. There was the fear of opening the way to Nazi practices considered intrinsically immoral. This is certainly not the case since the prevention of mitochondrial defects does not, strictly speaking, involves any gene editing, which is a different kind of genetic engineering. Now, embryo editing, which will be illustrated soon, does divide scientists and ethicists and needs further public debate. I will here present some real ethical concerns relating to embryo editing and to comment on the recent call, published by Nature, for a moratorium on the germline experiments. Continue reading
Jonathan Moreno presented a special lecture the 18th about “Mind Wars”, the military applications of neurotechnology. Here are some of my notes and comments inspired by this stimulating lecture. Continue reading
Guest Post by Bill Gardner @Bill_Gardner
Many researchers and physicians assert that randomized clinical trials (RCTs) are the “gold standard” for evidence about what works in medicine. But many others have pointed to both strengths and limitations in RCTs (see, for example, Austin Frakt’s comments on Angus Deaton here). Nancy Cartwright is a major philosopher of science. In this Lancet paper she provides insights into why RCTs are so highly valued and also why they are by themselves insufficient to answer the most important questions in medicine.