public discourse

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.

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Guest Post: The Ethics of the Insulted—Salman Rushdie’s Case

Written by Hossein Dabbagh – Philosophy Tutor at Oxford University

hossein.dabbagh@conted.ox.ac.uk

 

We have the right, ceteris paribus, to ridicule a belief (its propositional content), i.e., harshly criticise it. If someone, despite all evidence, for instance, believes with certainty that no one can see him when he closes his eyes, we might be justified to practice our right to ridicule his belief. But if we ridicule a belief in terms of its propositional content (i.e., “what ridiculous proposition”), don’t we thereby “insult” anyone who holds the belief by implying that they must not be very intelligent? It seems so. If ridiculing a belief overlaps with insulting a person by virtue of their holding that belief, an immediate question would arise: Do we have the right to insult people in the sense of expressing a lack of appropriate regard for the belief-holder? Sometimes, at least. Some people might deserve to be insulted on the basis of the beliefs they hold or express—for example, politicians who harm the public with their actions and speeches. However, things get complicated if we take into consideration people’s right to live with respect, i.e., free from unwarranted insult. We seem to have two conflicting rights that need to be weighed against each other in practice. The insulters would only have the right to insult, as a pro tanto right, if this right is not overridden by the weightier rights that various insultees (i.e., believers) may have. Continue reading

Climbing the Pension Mountain: A Review of Michael Otsuka’s 2020 Uehiro Centre Lecture Series

Written by Professor Larry Locke (University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and LCC International University)

On three successive Tuesdays last November, Michael Otsuka of the London School of Economics delivered the annual Uehiro Centre Lecture Series.  The Series, entitled “How to Pool Risk Across Generations”, focused on the ethics of pension reform.  Otsuka attacked the real-world problem of low bond yields producing a crisis of pension funding with three alternative models.  Echoing Derek Parfit’s magisterial work, On What Matters, Otsuka presented his proposals as three alternative means for scaling the dangerous summit of pension obligations.

Otsuka’s proposals are important.  Ethics issues rarely come with this much money at stake.  In 2018, the Office of National Statistics published a study showing that UK pension schemes were underfunded by over £5 trillion .  That is an attention-grabbing number but not extraordinary in the context.  The Trustees of the US Social Security system recently published their 2020 report indicating this scheme alone anticipates a shortfall of US$16.8 trillion over the next 75 years.  Like scientists employing standard form when the numbers they use become too large to comprehend, the US Social Security Administration now refers to its shortfall in terms of percentages of total payroll taxes.

The proposals Otsuka has set forth are not amoral financial models.  Each involves shifting risk and responsibility among parties, and sometimes across generations, with diverse arguments as to the fairness of these shifts.  Any resulting pension system’s impact on lifestyles and liberty for workers, employers, and governments may strain the social contract between these groups and set them up for a potential fall. Continue reading

Legacies

By Stephen Rainey

Joe Biden won the recent US election. As yet, the normal concession speech from the losing candidate has not been forthcoming. Donald Trump’s actions since losing the presidency have been, well, Trumpian, prompting Biden to label them an ‘embarrassment.’ He also suggested that The Donald was endangering his legacy in not reacting more gracefully. But what use is talk of ‘legacy’? What matters most about it?

It would be easy to ‘Goldwater’ Trump, that is, diagnose some mental incapacity from afar. One could suggest he was ill-equipped to absorb his defeat. He has behaved in ways that could be seen as pathological. Maybe, we might continue, he really doesn’t believe this is the end. If that were the case, there would be no need to consider legacy. It would also be easy to have suspected that, far from sticking around, 45 would flounce out of the White House, his pride wounded. Legacy wouldn’t matter in that case, because the electorate, the people, would have shown themselves to be unworthy, having voted the wrong way. Sad. Continue reading

Some Questions for the University of Oxford about their Covid-19 Advice

Written by University of Oxford DPhil Student, Tena Thau

 

Yesterday, Oxford sent out an email to students, informing us that we would be asked to sign this Covid-19 Student Responsibility Agreement, before the start of term in October. The email also linked to some further Covid-19 guidance. Here are some questions that I had, while reading through these materials.

  1. Given that much, if not most, transmission is asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, what is the rationale for only testing those with symptoms, rather than frequently testing everyone (as some universities are doing, and as this recent BMJ editorial advocates)?
  2. Ventilation is important – yet it was not mentioned in the student agreement. What steps is the university taking to increase ventilation in shared indoor spaces?
  3. Given that nearly all ‘superspreader’ incidents have occurred indoors, why not emphasise the importance of moving social activities outdoors?
  4. Given that the risk of transmission via contaminated surfaces is vanishingly low, why do the guidelines emphasise wiping down surfaces? (Promoting ineffective measures, besides not being helpful, can cause net harm, if they deflect our attention from those measures that are actually useful.)
  5. The situation playing out now in the US should be warning sign for UK universities. Some universities in the US have over a thousand cases already – and classes there have only just begun. What is Oxford doing differently to prevent something like that from unfolding here?

Following the Science Without Forgetting Values

Written by Stephen Rainey

It is presently feared that ‘lockdown’ may be beginning to fray at the edges, as people tire of their restrictions. From the start of the emergency, discussion focussed upon the ability of the public to stay the course where restrictions were at stake. This neatly ignores the public’s being ahead of the government in acknowledging the severity of the situation before the 23rd March announcement to restrict social freedoms. At any rate, concerns over policy effectiveness were addressed through faith in behavioural science (via ‘Behavioural Insights’, née ‘The Nudge Unit’), and communications devices such as the repeated phrase, ‘following the science’.

‘Following the science’ raises reasonable questions including, which science and why? In what sense ‘follow’? To what degree? The idea of creating arguments ‘from science’ for any given policy is presumed sufficient as a motivation, or a reason for citizens to submit themselves to policy demands. However, given the expert basis for these arguments, it is not a safe bet that any given citizen will share the assumptions or knowledge base of the experts, let alone adopt them as straightforward reasons to alter their behaviour. Few people like to be told what to do without at least understanding what is being asked of them and why, so this can be a problem.

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Health vs Choice? The Vaccination Debate.

On Sunday 3 November, OUC’s Dr Alberto Giubilini participated in a debate on compulsory vaccination at 2019 Battle of Ideas Festival (Barbican Centre, London). Chaired by Ellie Lee, the session also featured Dr Michael Fitzpatrick (GP and author, MMR and Autism: what parents need to know and Defeating Autism: a damaging delusion); Emilie Karafillakis (Vaccine Confidence Project); and Nancy McDermott (author, The Problem with Parenting: a therapeutic mode of childrearing).

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Bad Ads And Stereotypes

Written by Rebecca Brown

In June this year, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) brought into effect a ban on harmful gender stereotypes in advertising. In response to public outcry about adverts such as the 2015 ‘Are you beach body ready?’ campaign by Protein World, and growing discomfort with outdated depictions of gender roles in the media, the ASA undertook a project to consider whether existing regulation is fit for purpose. They concluded that “evidence suggests that a tougher line needs to be taken on ads that feature stereotypical gender roles and characteristics, which through their content and context may be potentially harmful to people.” (ASA, 2017: 3)

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