Tag: constitutional law

Bioethics Blogs

OT: Some Thoughts on Justice Antonin Scalia

After the death of Justice Scalia, the law school communications office asked faculty if they wanted to write anything about him, in 500 words or less. This is not on topic for law and the biosciences (well, except for a few of his opinions, like Maryland v. King or the abortion cases), but I thought I’d post it on the blog anyway.

 

Prophet or politician? Many memorable Supreme Court justices have played one of these two roles, either providing a voice for others to rally around or crafting positions that will get five votes. Justice Scalia played the prophet for nearly thirty years with brilliance, biting wit, and blazing prose – he may have been, with Justices Holmes and Jackson, one of the three best writers in the Court’s history. He was not, however, the politician; indeed, he may have driven away more votes than he pulled into any given opinion. There was never a Scalia court but instead a Court pushed and prodded, or rebuked and scolded, by Justice Scalia.

The power of his pen means he will be quoted, cited, read, and remembered for many years. In some areas, particularly the Sixth Amendment and possibly the Second, the new directions he gave constitutional law will survive. But in bigger ways, I think his efforts, like those of many prophets, will come to naught. His approach to constitutional interpretation is losing force at the Court, undone, in spite of his best efforts, by the desire of most justices to reach practical results in spite of mismatches between the literal meanings of ancient words and a changed world.

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

Review: Beyond The Abortion Wars, by Charles C. Camosy

 

@JimACEverett

 www.jimaceverett.com

I was recently lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Charles Camosy’s forthcoming book to review – ‘Beyond the abortion wars: a way forward for a new generation’. In this book, Camosy masterfully traverses the ‘battleground’ between the ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’1 camps in order to show that this battleground is in fact no such thing. In fact, as Camosy notes, the majority of the American public actually agree on a middle-ground position on abortion. Despite what one might think from reading certain media outlets and Twitter wars, there is actually a large consensus in the public regarding abortion. This insight is deceptively powerful. By demonstrating the areas of agreement, Camosy is able to help guide us beyond the abortion wars to allow a way forward for a new generation.

I was excited upon receiving my copy of the book for the simple reason that I had no strong a priori position on the ethics of abortion, other than a middle-ground and vague conception that abortion should be allowed but certainly isn’t morally desirable. I started this book, then, as a mainly blank slate. Of course, it wasn’t completely blank, because I’d been exposed to various arguments both in favour of and against abortion, but the writing on the slate was very blurred and ineligible. The abortion debate is often centered around one’s ‘agenda’ – the agenda as a woman, as a conservative, or as a Christian, and so on. I had no (conscious) agenda in reviewing this book, nor in the conclusions of the book.

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

Bad News for Obamacare – and America

Or so I think.

On Friday, November 7, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear (granted the petitioner’s writ of certiorari in) King v. Burwell. In King, a panel of the Fourth Circuit unanimously rejected the argument that the federal government cannot, under the Affordable Care Act, subsidize low income consumers who buy health plans in the 36 states where the federal government, and not the states, runs the system’s “health exchanges.”

As a fan of this expanded health coverage, I think that’s bad because it puts that expansion at risk based on a drafting glitch in the Act. More broadly, though, I think it is bad because the Court’s decision to take a case like this now, with only one appellate court decision on the topic, looks unnecessary, political, and, indeed, partisan. And that, too, is bad for the country ­– and the Court.

The argument against the subsidies hinges on a small textual point. The provisions authorizing and, in some other respects involving, the subsidies refer to “exchanges established by the States,” not to federally-run exchanges. Similar problems exist in other sections of the rapidly cobbled together final bill and to (almost) everyone, it clearly makes no sense that Congress would intend to provide subsidies to consumers in states that ran their own exchanges but not in states that chose to let the federal government provide the exchanges. It’s fundamentally a silly argument, calling for a strict interpretation of a few words of statutory language in a way that would profoundly contradict the legislature’s intent.

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

Deliberation and Bioethics Education: A Case Study of Public Health Emergency Response

This morning, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) turned its attention to its next report topic: deliberation and bioethics education.  The Bioethics Commission advises President Obama and his administration on issues arising from advances in biomedicine and related areas of science and technology and, in so doing, educates the nation on bioethical issues.  This new project will focus on the symbiotic relationship between deliberation and education as twin pillars of public bioethics.  Education is required for informed deliberation, and deliberation enhances education at all levels.

The Bioethics Commission dove into its new project this morning with back-to-back sessions examining a case study in public health emergency response. Guest speakers Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), andLawrence O. Gostin, J.D., LL.D., university professor and director of Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law and director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Public Health Law & Human Rights,  brought up compelling ethical topics related to the timely debate of restriction of movement provisions in response to an epidemic.

“There are very few examples that are stronger than a global public health crisis to focus our minds and drive home the importance of public education and proactive deliberation,” explained Bioethics Commission Chair Amy Gutmann, Ph.D.

Gostin launched the discussion by describing the various sets of ethical standards that should come into play as issues like quarantine and restriction of movement are considered.  Quarantine and restriction of movement is just one of the difficult ethical issues that have been brought up by the current Ebola virus disease outbreak in several western African countries.

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

Bioethics Commission Discusses Law and Neuroscience

This afternoon, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) turned its attention to law and neuroscience as part of its deliberations on potential recommendations related to neuroscience that it may offer to the President.

Bioethics Commission Chair Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., began by focusing discussion questions around whether and how to use neuroscience technologies in the courtroom.

“What can neuroscience in its current capacity tell us about whether any individual is legally blameworthy for his or her actions?” Gutmann asked. “What is the potential for neuroscience to answer this question? What can it tell us about moral responsibility and blameworthiness, as distinct from legal responsibility and blameworthiness?”

Commission Member Nita A. Farahany, J.D., Ph.D., framed the discussion by noting the different legal contexts in which neuroscience research is being cited. For example, lawyers are bringing neuroscience research into the courtroom to substantiate claims about defendants’ competency to stand trial, as well as to challenge traditional notions about what a mental state is and how it should be measured. Neuroscience has also come up in sentencing as a way of determining the degree to which a person is morally responsible because of diminished capacity, and whether sentencing for such an individual should be weighted more toward retribution or toward rehabilitation. Finally, criminal courts have also looked to neuroscience as a predictor of a defendant’s future dangerousness.

Farahany said she has also seen neuroscience research cited in in certain civil cases. In the past, it has been difficult to prove whether a person is suffering pain from exposure to a toxic substance.

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.