Moral Dilemmas and Inescapable Moral Wrongdoing

Moral dilemmas are a central topic in moral philosophy. Much of this attention is due to the fact that they are always connected to some polemic and interesting discussion involving Ethics. Practical examples of moral dilemmas abound. Discussions about abortion, euthanasia, animal rights, are some of these examples. The interesting thing about such discussions is that everybody has a “good opinion” or a “very good explanation” to solve the problem in question. However, it is not the goal of this brief text to expose all the exhaustive argumentations involving practical cases. Continue reading

Another Surprising Side-Effect of Paracetamol: Causing ADHD?

Taking the popular over-the-counter pain and fever medication paracetamol during pregnancy might affect the unborn child more than we assumed – and hoped for. Recently, research began to link pre-natal exposure of paracetamol (also known as acetominophen) to asthma and poor motor and communication skills in small children. Now, a new study published yesterday suggests that taking paracetamol during pregnancy comes with an increased risk for the baby of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) later.

The authors of this study investigated 64,322 Danish children (born 1996-2002) and their mothers. The women were asked whether they have taken paracetamol in computer-assisted telephone interviews three times during their pregnancy and shortly after. To asses ADHD in children, the researchers used different ways: they asked the mothers of 7-year-olds about their child’s behaviour using a standardised ADHD questionnaire. Moreover, they used Danish medical registries to gain information about diagnoses of hyperkinetic disorder, which resembles a severe form of ADHD, and descriptions of ADHD medication to the children.

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The death of celebrities due to addiction: on helpful and unhelpful distinctions in destigmatising addiction

Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead. Probably due to an overdose of heroin. Hoffman didn’t have to die if he wasn’t so ashamed of his substance use that he did it in secrecy. Because he overdosed alone, no one could call an ambulance on him that would have probably saved his life. http://truth-out.org/news/item/21645-philip-seymour-hoffman-didnt-have-to-die#.UvAI48u3dcc.facebook Some are using the media attention surrounding his death to push for better drug laws. Some want to treat heroin addicts with heroin while some simply want to draw attention to a secret demographic: high educated, rich, white, middle age heroin users. Both attempts try to destigmatise heroin use. Continue reading

Gay Genes II: The Spectre of Creeping Exculpation Returns

Results of DNA tests of gay men reported to the American Association for the Advancement of Science last week provide further evidence of a genetic influence on male sexuality.

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Female genital mutilation (FGM) and male circumcision: time to confront the double standard

By Brian D. Earp

Follow Brian on Twitter by clicking here.


Female genital mutilation (FGM) and male circumcision: time to confront the double standard  

This month, the Guardian launched a campaign in conjunction with Change.org (the petition is here) to end “female genital mutilation” (FGM) in the UK—see Dominic Wilkinson’s recent analysis on this blog. I support this campaign and I believe that FGM is impermissible. Indeed, I think that all children, whether female, intersex, or male, should be protected from having parts of their genitals removed unless there is a pressing medical indication; I think this is so regardless of the cultural or religious affiliations of the child’s parents; and I have given some arguments for this view here, here, here, here, and here. But note that some commentators are loath to accept so broadly applied an ethical principle: to discuss FGM in the same breath as male circumcision, they think, is to “trivialize” the former and to cause all manner of moral confusion.

Consider these recent tweets by Michael Shermer, the prominent American “skeptic” and promoter of science and rationalism:



This sort of view appears to be common. One frequent claim is that FGM is analogous to “castration” or a “total penectomy,” such that any sort of comparison between it and male circumcision is entirely inappropriate (see this paper for further discussion). Some other common arguments are these:

Female genital mutilation and male circumcision are totally different. FGM is necessarily barbaric and crippling (“always torture,” according to Tanya Gold), whereas male circumcision is no big deal. Male circumcision is a “minor” intervention that might even confer health benefits, whereas FGM is a drastic intervention with no health benefits, and only causes harm. The “prime motive” for FGM is to control women’s sexuality (cf. Shermer in the tweets above); it is inherently sexist and discriminatory and is an expression of male power and domination. Male circumcision, by contrast, has nothing to do with controlling male sexuality – it’s “just a snip” and in any case “men don’t complain.” FGM eliminates the enjoyment of sex, whereas male circumcision has no meaningful effects on sexual sensation or satisfaction. It is perfectly reasonable to oppose all forms of female genital cutting while at the same time accepting or even endorsing infant male circumcision.

Yet almost every one of these claims is untrue, or is severely misleading at best. Such views derive from a superficial understanding of both FGM and male circumcision; and they are inconsistent with the latest critical scholarship concerning these and related practices. Their constant repetition in popular discourse, therefore—including by those like Shermer with a large and loyal audience base—is unhelpful to advancing moral debate.

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Private Lives, Dying Wishes, and Technological Development

Recently in Portsmouth, a statue of Charles Dickens has been unveiled. While not terribly notable in itself this event is of some interest as it ignores the last wishes of the author it is meant to honour [1].

The problem, in my view, is that this is just one of many cases in which a public figure—authors appear especially vulnerable—has been denied the fulfilment of his or her express wishes regarding post-mortem handling of his or her estate or image. Continue reading

Difficulties in assessing the risks of hydraulic fracturing and shale gas extraction: new study shows correlation between birth defects and proximity to gas wells in Colorado.

Natural gas extraction is associated with several known teratogens. A study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives on January 28th by researchers from the Colorado School of Public Health and the Department of Epidemiology of Brown University, USA, finds that for those babies born of mothers living with greater density of natural gas wells within a ten mile radius of their residence, there was an increase in congenital heart defects, and a possible link with increase in neural tube defects. 1
This is significant for current debates about the future of methods to extract shale gas inland in the UK, including the use of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking as it is more commonly known). Fracking involves a method for extracting natural gas from impermeable rocks deep within the earth by deep drilling, firstly vertically, then horizontally, and the injection of a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into the wells to cause fissures into the rock (hydraulic fracturing) through which natural gas can escape up to the surface. The aim is that the fracturing will take place beneath the water table so that the water supply is not polluted by the mix of chemicals, methane gas and rock that are produced. The water sand and chemical mix that had been injected into the well is then partially recovered (it is never possible to recover all of it) and this waste fracking fluids, complete with fragments of rock from deep in the earth, must be disposed of. The technology requires that large numbers of wells are drilled in order to extract the gas, and requires the transportation of millions of gallons of water and chemicals to the drill, as well as some method of disposal of the waste. (The precise method of disposal for proposed UK fracking is not yet clear: in the States, evaporation pits are often used, but these are, for good reason, illegal in the EU.)
The debate about the safety of fracking is complex and it is important to tease apart some of the many points that may possibly muddy the debate. One of the difficulties is collating and assessing evidence of harm; another difficulty is in assessing how we extrapolate data of risks and benefits from one situation to another, when there may be variations in geography, geology, techniques used, chemicals used, regulations, and law. There is much to consider, so here I just discuss a couple of points to indicate how complex the debate is. One main lesson should be that simplistic assurances of lack of risk from fracking should be listened to with caution.

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Time to stop the abominable illegality of kidney markets

Do you like the ambiguous title? No, I don’t think illegal kidney markets are intrinsically abominable. Insofar as they are abominable in various respects it is entirely a further consequence of the abominality of making them illegal. The abominable politicians who passed the law and sustain the law are to blame for thousands of deaths every year.

A fundamental argument for a market in kidneys is that they’re my kidneys and it’s up to me what I do with them, so keep your nose out of it. I would also direct you to an earlier argument of mine based on the ultimatum game, in which I show that if it is true that the offers in that game should be fair, then failing to pay donors for kidneys is unfair. But perhaps you’d prefer an argument based on better consequences. Let me give you one: Continue reading

“One cup of joe and your brain is ready to go”? – Caffeine as memory enhancer

The first systematic study investigating the effects of caffeine on human performance – sponsored by Coca-Cola – has been published about 100 years ago. Since then, thousands of other studies have been looking at if and in which ways caffeine improves cognitive performance. This question is still debated in science, but there is general consensus that caffeine can be seen as an enhancer for specific functions like mood, attention, concentration and reaction time. These enhancement effects have been shown in studies with the general set-up that participants first took caffeine and then did a performance task. This matches our everyday representation of “wise” caffeine use: if I wanted to enhance my performance with caffeine, I’d take it immediately before the “critical situation”, for example an exam.

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The Texan flautist and the fetus

Imagine that when you woke up this morning, you found yourself lying next to an unconscious stranger. The stranger has a rare life-threatening illness, and unbeknownst to you he was plugged in to your organs during the night. You are now stuck to the stranger. If you disconnect the life support he will die. If, though, you remain connected to him for most of the next year his illness will have recovered, and he can safely ben unplugged. What should you do? Are you obliged to stay attached to the stranger? It might be generous of you to give up your body, and good if you choose to do so, but should we require you to remain connected?

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