Tag: communitarianism

Bioethics Blogs

The case for an Indigenous Bioethics

Indigenous communities in the Americas experience a disproportionate incidence of illness and disease compared to the general population. They also possess sophisticated ethical traditions which diverge and not infrequently conflict with Western-oriented bioethics. This culture gap between patient, provider and ethicist is no small public health concern—it can foster feelings of alienation and distrust which compromise the relationship between those in need of care and those able to offer it. Research ethicists have already made considerable efforts to bring sensitivity for aboriginal cultural mores into their discipline, but bioethicists have been slower out of the gate.
This is the argument made by an article last year in the American Journal of Bioethics. The authors Jaro Kotalik and Gerry Martin are well-situated to make such claims—Kotalik is a bioethicist and Martin is an Elder of the Mattagami Nation. The pair attempt to draw parallels between classical systems of virtue ethics and the Ojibwa narrative of the Seven Grandfathers, a fable with the central aim of transmitting the community’s moral compass from one generation to the next. Kotalik & Martin hope this exercise will show that aboriginal and mainstream bioethical frameworks are indeed, to quote First Nations intellectual Leroy Little Bear, “jagged worldviews colliding”. They share parallels, but they are far from perfect complements. Real work must therefore be done to smooth the contact point between them.
Kotalik & Martin make a provocative argument, but they paint a hazy picture of what this work entails. They doubt the possibility of an “aboriginal bioethics”, but they do speak of an “ethical framework” for the provision of healthcare in indigenous communities along the lines of what has been achieved in human research.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Damages and communitarianism

By Charles Foster

The Lord Chancellor recently announced that the discount rate under the Damages Act 1996 would be decreased from 2.5% to minus 0.75%. This sounds dull. In fact it is financially tectonic, and raises some important ethical questions.

In the law of tort, damages are intended to put a claimant in the position that she would have been in had the tort not occurred. A claimant who, as result of negligence on the part of a defendant, suffers personal injury, will be entitled to, inter alia, damages representing future loss of earnings, the future cost of care and, often, private medical and other treatment.

Where damages are awarded as a lump sum, there is a risk of over-compensating a claimant. Suppose that the claimant is 10 years old at the time of the award, and will live for 70 years, and the future care costs are £1000 a year for life. Should the sum awarded be £1000 x 70 years = £70,000? (70, here, is what lawyers call the ‘multiplier’). It depends on the assumption one makes about what the claimant will do with the lump sum. If she invests it in equities that give her (say) an annual 5% return, £70,000 would over-compensate her.

In the case of Wells v Wells1, the House of Lords decided that, to avoid the risk of under-compensation, claimants should be treated as risk-averse investors. It should be assumed, said the House, that the discount rate should be fixed by reference to the return on index-linked gilts – Government securities.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Beyond Partisan: Voting While Catholic in 2016

STUDENT VOICES

By Tim Colvin

For many faithful Catholics and Christians of all denominations, even for many Americans who are not religious, this election has painted a very stark picture: we are forced to choose between the two most flawed and disliked candidates in recent political memory. Many Americans have chosen to vote for third parties as a way to vent their frustration, while others, including myself, have decided that no candidate is fit to lead our country and have decided to not vote at all. I am particularly disappointed that I feel the need to abstain from voting, as this is the first presidential election I can participate in, but I feel as I have a greater duty to my principles and conscience.

But perhaps there is also an opportunity in this election, an opportunity for creative destruction, for new philosophies and ideas to emerge. For the past several decades it has felt like Christians have become more or less clients of the Republican Party; Republicans will take a stand (or will at least pay lip-service) to those particular issues (especially social issues) and Christians will get in line to pull the lever for the Republican candidate.

And now that the culture wars are over for the most part – gay rights and the sexual revolution are arguably, mostly settled issues – the rise of Donald Trump represents a post- culture war Republican Party, where issues of sexual morality have taken a back seat, and issues dealing with economics and immigration have come to the fore.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Is there an ‘African bioethics’?

Well, is there? There have been a number of published attempts to isolate what is different about African ways of identifying, analyzing and resolving ethical issues related to health and medicine. Usually there is talk of African communitarianism, solidarity and Ubuntu, to be contrasted with the typically ‘Western’ emphasis on personal autonomy. But as time goes on, this whole narrative seems more and more contrived and out of step with reality. We know autonomy has limits, and does not automatically trump other considerations in cases of moral conflict.  The stress on communal life and social harmony in African morality has similarly been oversold: contemporary ‘African life’ is not predominantly lived in villages led by traditional elders where communal problems are resolved by palabre under a baobab tree. That image is becoming increasingly quaint against the influences of colonialism and globalization, increased urbanization, digital communication, and the subsequent fraying of traditional community structures.
A couple of recent articles probe into what an African bioethics might mean. In Developing World Bioethics, Gerald Ssebunnya arguesthat the pursuit of a distinctly African bioethics is basically a fool’s errand. According to Ssebunnya, the whole idea that an African bioethics exists – or ought to – comes from Africanist philosophy and the desire to distance African philosophical thought from that of their past colonial masters and oppressors. Unfortunately, he writes, that meant falling back on what he calls ‘ethno-philosophy’, which consists of two main activities: (a) unreflectively recycling bits of common morality and (b) polemically talking about the nature and need of African philosophy rather than actually doing it.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

Interview: Daniel Callahan on communitarian bioethics

Daniel Callahan is one of the most influential thinkers in contemporary bioethics. He is the founder and president emeritus of the Hastings Center, and has written or edited more than 40 books. Most recently he published a memoir, In Search of the Good: A Life in Bioethics (MIT Press), and The Roots of Bioethics: Health, Progress, Technology, Death (Oxford University Press). He also has a forthcoming work, Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Disease, Food, Water, Chronic Illness, Obesity (Columbia University Press, 2016).

Recently he spoke with BioEdge about the state of the discipline today. 

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Xavier Symons: You were present at the creation, so to speak, of “bioethics” in the 1970s. Are you surprised at how prominent the field has become? Where will bioethics be in another 50 year’s time? Will it defy sceptics and survive and thrive?

Daniel Callahan: When my psychiatrist colleague Willard Gaylin and I created the world’s first research center on bioethics in 1969, the Hastings Center–even before the term bioethics had been invented—we were confident it would survive and flourish. By the 1960s research advances in medicine and biology were creating a surge of ethical problems and dilemmas,  from the beginning of life to its end, and much in between. At the same time health care costs were rising and straining national  government  budgets. Not only did the new technologies that generated most of the dilemmas improve health and extended life they no less raised costs, creating ethical issues of allocation.   

We were welcomed  by a number of prominent doctors and biology researchers, urging us on, but also with some worry and suspicion from others.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Students and Professors Pay Tribute to John D. Arras

Most of us can easily remember a favorite course that we took in college, but it is much more difficult to recall one lecture that occurred on a single morning or afternoon. Unless, of course, something remarkable happened during that lecture.

Of the handful that I can recall, Professor John D. Arras gave one of them.

As a sophomore at the University of Virginia, I sat waiting in a large nondescript hall for a meeting of Professor Jim Childress’ course, “Theology, Ethics, and Medicine.” Our class learned that we would be hearing from a guest lecturer on whether there was a right to health care.

Enter Professor Arras.

He walked up to the podium and adjusted the overhead projector settings for his presentation. Pleasantly surprised by the ease with which he had been able to manipulate the unfamiliar technological set-up, he gave a thumbs up to the audience of students, smiled, and said affirmatively, “Bitchin’.”

The hall erupted with laughter. Our guest had endeared himself to about 100 undergraduates, not an easy crowd to win over. He gracefully reeled our giggling class back in and segued to a talk on the implications of a right to health care. He asked us to consider this idea from four different perspectives of political philosophy – libertarianism, utilitarianism, liberal egalitarianism, and communitarianism. If, in fact, we could agree that a right to access health care existed, the challenge, he said, was to tackle a second (more daunting) question: what was the content of such a right – how limited was it?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

C. S. Lewis as a moral philosopher

Tomorrow it is C.S. Lewis’s birthday. He’d have been 116. He died 51 years ago, his death pushed out of the headlines by the deaths of JFK and Aldous Huxley. He’s had far more influence than either.

He’s remembered mainly as a children’s writer (the most dogmatic atheists, terrified or disgusted by the roar of Aslan, nonetheless bring their children to stroke the lion’s mane), and as a Christian apologist. He, irony upon irony, a beer-quaffing, chain-smoking, divorcee-marrying intellectual, living and breathing high pagan culture along with his pipe-smoke, is the darling of American evangelicals. And that’s why he’s neglected by serious philosophers.1 It’s understandable. We tend to judge people by the company they keep. But in the case of Lewis it’s unfair. Evangelicals might queue up at his door, but he’d never let them in.  Apart from their membership of the species, he’d have loathed everything about them; their chauvinism, their ludicrous literalism, their self-righteousness, their belligerence, their metaphor-phobia, their elastic-waisted trousers, their historical blindness, their pant-soiling fear of scholarship, their teetotalism, their humourlessness. He had a fastidious nose for inconsistency: imagine how that nose would have twitched when it sniffed a Louisianan zealot who was keen on topping adults but outraged by abortion. In a different context (he was lambasting liberal intellectuals who say that that they can read nuances between the lines, but fail to see the huge themes rampaging through the  Christian story) he denounced those who ‘claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight.’)

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.