Tag: culpability

Bioethics Blogs

Beauty’s Knowledge: Hawthorne’s Moral Fable “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Leo Coleman

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “Rappaccini’s Daughter” is a nineteenth-century moral fable that sets the fruits of experimental knowledge against obligations to humanity, and stages a dramatic encounter between these two apparent goods. In many ways, the moral it offers seems familiar, and could be recognized by anyone with even a passing familiarity with contemporary bioethical debates. It features a mad scientist’s garden, a gorgeous but poisonous plant of his creation, and a lovely daughter who tends to his terrible plants, and who is—like the plant—both attractive and potentially infectious. The daughter receives the attentions of a naïve medical student, and she falls in love with him, but their fate is shadowed by the actions of not one but two bad scientist father-figures who experiment upon the younger characters and try to shape their (biological) destinies without their knowledge. But Hawthorne’s story does not simply anticipate, in an antique and allegorical way, contemporary defenses of human dignity and nature’s inviolability. Nor does it merely rehearse, with its private garden and unknowingly experimented-upon subjects, a Lockean notion of our own inevitable and natural possession of our bodies and the fruits of our lives and labor.

Hawthorne’s story puts the experimental subject at the center of its moral allegory, suffering both hopes and fears provoked by her own mutability, her own biological plasticity. That is, his titular character is no innocent pawn in the hands of the great scientist: she is an artificial being—grafted and forced—and deeply morally and biologically transformed from the very beginning; but because of this she is also able to reflect on her relations with others and her environment, and to mark (in this case, tragically) a new ethical frontier.

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

Criminal Law and Neuroscience: Hope or Hype?

By Stephen J. Morse

Stephen J. Morse, J.D., Ph.D., is a lawyer and a psychologist. He is Ferdinand Wakeman Hubbell Professor of Law, Professor of Psychology and Law in Psychiatry, and Associate Director of the Center for Neuroscience & Society at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Morse is also a Diplomate in Forensic Psychology of the American Board of Professional Psychology. He has been working on the relation of neuroscience to law, ethics and social policy for over two decades, has written numerous articles and book chapters on these topics and has edited A Primer on Neuroscience and Criminal Law (Oxford University Press, 2013, with Adina Roskies). He was previously Co-Director of the MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Project and was a member of the MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Research Network. Professor Morse is a recipient of the American Academy of Forensic Psychology’s Distinguished Contribution Award, and a recipient of the American Psychiatric Association’s Isaac Ray Award for distinguished contributions to forensic psychiatry and the psychiatric aspects of jurisprudence. 

The discovery of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in 1991, which permits non-invasive imaging of brain function, and the wide availability of scanners for research starting in about 2000 fueled claims that what we would learn about the brain and behavior would transform and perhaps revolutionize criminal law. Most commonly, many thought that traditional notions of criminal responsibility would be undermined for various reasons, such as demonstrating that people really cannot control themselves as well as we believe, or as indicating that more action was automatic, thoughtless and non-rational than we think.

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

Personal responsibility within health policy: unethical and ineffective

Guest Post: Phoebe Friesen
Article: Personal Responsibility Within Health Policy: Unethical and Ineffective

If someone who has smoked two packs a day for thirty years and someone who has never smoked but is unfortunate enough to inherit a genetic condition are both in need of heart surgery, who should be given priority?

Should an alcoholic be placed on the liver transplant list, even if they continued to drink against their doctor’s advice?

Does someone who never works out and has poor eating habits have the same right to health care as someone who eats healthy and exercises every day?

Policy makers who are faced with the difficult task of distributing limited resources in health care need to determine which criteria are relevant, and questions related to ‘personal responsibility’ come up time and again. Within the field of medical ethics, many have argued that personal responsibility should be taken into account within health care policy. Advocates suggest that treatments will be more effective or provide longer-lasting solutions if illnesses are not self-caused, and argue that individuals who knowingly take health risks violate their obligation to take care of themselves and should therefore be treated differently. Others argue that there is no place for responsibility in health care policy, pointing out that there is no evidence for different treatment outcomes in individuals who did or did not contribute to their condition, and emphasizing the difficulty, if not impossibility, of determining how responsible someone is for a particular health problem.

In an extended essay in the Journal of Medical Ethics, I join those who argue against taking responsibility into account within health policy, by offering two arguments against such policies.

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

Diagnosing Failure: The Post-Hoc Report as an Administrative Epilogue by Andrew Lakoff

The World Health Organization recently released its long-awaited final report on the organization’s response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic. The report opens by explaining that, however tragic the epidemic was, it also provides us with a chance to learn. “The sole consolation of the Ebola disaster is that it has galvanised the world into analyzing the failures and ensuring that it is better prepared for the next global health threat,” it states. “Crisis is hardship but also opportunity.”

The release of the report reminds us that alongside the epidemiological end of an epidemic, there is also an administrative end. In the case of the 2014 Ebola epidemic, we can mark the date of the latter much more sharply than the former. On March 29th of this year, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, officially terminated the epidemic’s status as a “public health emergency of international concern.” This was a classificatory shift meant to signify a change in how the disease is to be governed. Even as cases of Ebola in West Africa continued to appear, the end of the emergency signaled a return to normalcy, the entry into a period of reflection on the meaning of the event—the “epilogue” of the epidemic narrative (Rosenberg 1989), in which retrospective moral judgment can be made: who is to blame? What should we have done differently?

A surprisingly simple answer to this question was offered last year by the Swedish statistician Hans Rosling, who said: “If you want to blame somebody for this epidemic,” he said, “blame me.

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

Guest Post: Abortion, punishment and moral consistency

Written by: Rajiv Shah, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge

Donald Trump suggested that women who have abortions should face punishment. For that he was criticised by both the pro-choice side and the pro-life side. The latter claimed that their view is that women should not face punishment for having abortions but that only providers should. This raises the interesting question of whether the pro-life position is coherent. It would seem that it is not. If the foetus has the right to life then having an abortion is like murder and so those who abort should be treated as such. This post argues that the pro-lifer can coherently reject this implication whilst still holding that the foetus has the right to life. Since it considers the responses a pro-lifer could make this post will assume for the sake of argument that the foetus does have a right to life.

Abortion is not like murder

The pro-lifer could accept Thomson’s analysis that abortion is more like letting die than it is killing,[1] whilst also rejecting her view that there is no duty on the part of woman to support the foetus.[2] So, on that view, abortion would be more like child abandonment. Child abandonment is typically punished but the standard case involves two elements: (a) not supporting the child and (b) preventing others from giving support to the child (e.g. by failing to give the child to orphanage). In the case of a pregnancy there are no other people who could provide the support the child needs.

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

When Research Bleeds into Real Life: Studying Reproductive Ageing while Ageing Reproductively by Carrie Friese

In a book chapter addressing feminist research methods and women’s health and healing, Rayna Rapp (1999) wrote about the complicated ways in which everyday life is embroiled in feminist research methods. She was speaking about how her own experience with amniocentesis was situated in her now canonical, multi-sited ethnography of this technology, and the corresponding challenges that arise when doing research ‘at home.’ But in recently re-reading this chapter, I have been wondering what happens when feminist research bleeds into everyday life? In this entry for Somatosphere, I want to discuss the complicated ways in which personal experience, combined with time and corresponding social changes, can extend, reshape, and further nuance findings from a research project long considered complete. This extends questions about doing research regarding biomedicine at home, when ‘everything is data’ in a feminist research project that turns out to be everywhere.

While doing my PhD at UCSF, I was a research assistant from 2001-2005 on an NIH funded project that explored couple’s experiences using donor egg and donor sperm. The research was focused on heterosexual couple’s thoughts about and experiences with disclosing this information to their resulting child(ren). Using ethnographic interviews, this disclosure decision was situated in people’s experiences with infertility more generally. Most of the couples I interviewed had used donor egg to conceive their child(ren) in the context of age-related infertility. I went on to write two articles about women’s experiences with reproductive ageing (Friese, Becker, & Nachtigall, 2006, 2008).

What struck me about women’s narratives at that time was the way in which ‘lack of knowledge’ and ‘lack of culpability’ were intertwined in women’s discussions of their infertility, and their subsequent use of donor egg.

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

Left, Right, and Belief Formation.

A recent article by Jeff Sparrow on the Australian writer Helen Dale/Darville/Demidenko has left me pondering the way that we form beliefs. Under the penname ‘Helen Demidenko’, Dale published a novel that told the story of a Ukrainian family, members of whom were perpetrators of crimes against Jews during the Holocaust. The novel was instantly successful, winning major awards, and equally controversial. It was described as anti-Semitic in its sympathetic depiction of ordinary Ukranians and its (alleged) caricatures of Jews. The book gained an aura of authenticity from the author’s claims that she based much of it on interviews with members of her own family, who had lived through the events depicted. Demidenko’s bubble burst when it was revealed she was born Helen Darville, and had no Ukrainian relatives to recount these tales.

What interests Sparrow is not whether the book is anti-Semitic or assessing Dale’s culpability for the deception. Rather, he is interested in the political reception of her book. As she now tells the story, she was the victim of a left-wing (and Jewish) witch-hunt. The left tried to associate her with the far right and to tear her down as she tried to speak an unpalatable truth. As Sparrow points out, however, the attack against her was led by right-wing culture war veterans like Gerald Henderson, while Demidenko was defended by left-wingers like David Marr. However, at some point the polarities shifted, and Demidenko came to be a right wing cause.

In the culture wars which have become increasingly important in Australian politics (following the US lead), people take sides on issues that are often seemingly far removed from those that animate the left/right divide.

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

Should we punish crimes from the distant past?

Former Auschwitz SS officer Oskar Gröning is currently being tried as an accessory to murder for his role as an administrator in the extermination camp, and the trial has stirred up a lot of debate. One strand of the debate addresses the question whether Gröning was complicit in the extermination of prisoners, and whether he was culpable for this complicity. (Roger Crisp wrote a fascinating post on this a couple of weeks back.) But another strand – and the strand that I want to look at here – has addressed the question whether former Nazi war criminals should be tried and punished for deeds in their distant past. Eva Mozes Kor, an Auschwitz survivor and witness in Gröning’s trial has claimed that he shouldn’t be tried, though he should use his knowledge to help fight holocaust denial.

Let’s suppose that Gröning was indeed a culpable accomplice to murder. Should he then be punished? More generally, should serious crimes from decades go be punished? My intuition is that they should, but reflecting on why I have found it is not straightforward to defend this view.

It is often thought that one of the purposes of criminal punishment is to prevent the offender from re-offending, whether through rehabilitation, incapacitation or what is known as specific deterrence – deterrence of the punished individual. However when the crime was committed decades ago, the prevention of re-offending is unlikely to be a relevant consideration. It is unusual in such cases that the perpetrators retain a disposition to offend, and even if they do, they have often lost the ability to do so due to age and infirmity.

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

Policing at the Synapse: Ferguson, Race, and the Disability Politics of the Teen Brain by Julie Passanante Elman

In February 2014, University of Missouri (“Mizzou”) students made national news when they formed a human wall to protest the Westboro Baptist Church’s presence on their campus. Westboro arrived to denounce Michael Sam, a gay “Mizzou Tiger” who would become the first openly gay NFL player. Mizzou students eagerly donned “Stand with Sam” rainbow buttons and “WE ARE ALL COMOSEXUAL” t-shirts (an homage to “COMO,” or how locals refer to Columbia, MO). The nation turned its collective eye to “The Middle,” a North American region that has been associated (at times, stereotypically, by those on the coasts) with religious conservatism, provincialism, and intolerant attitudes toward cultural difference or sexual non-normativity. Rather than asking “what’s the matter with Kansas?” in frustration, onlookers celebrated Missouri’s anti-homophobic moment of conviction, its investment in creating an “inhabitable world” for queers living outside metronormativity’s coastal enclaves.[i]

Photo credit: Nick Schnelle, Columbia Daily Tribune

While one “Missouri Mike” made his NFL bid, another would never arrive on his campus or attend his first college class. On August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, MO, Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. His body lay in the street for four hours, as his blood pooled on the asphalt, warmed by the same unyielding Missouri sun that shone on MU’s Francis Quadrangle as students returned in late August. Mizzou students returned to a very different campus. Many of my students were returning from their childhood homes in St. Louis and its neighboring suburbs.

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

Law, Religion, and Health in America

I am looking forward to participating in this conference in a few weeks at Harvard.








2015 Annual Conference
Law, Religion, and Health in America

May 8 – 9, 2015


Conference Description

Religion and medicine have historically gone hand in hand, but increasingly have come into conflict in the U.S. as health care has become both more secular and more heavily regulated.  Law has a dual role here, simultaneously generating conflict between religion and health care, for example through new coverage mandates or legally permissible medical interventions that violate religious norms, while also acting as a tool for religious accommodation and protection of conscience.  
This conference will: (1) identify the various ways in which law intersects with religion and health care in the United States; (2) understand the role of law in creating or mediating conflict between religion and health care; and (3) explore potential legal solutions to allow religion and health care to simultaneously flourish in a culturally diverse nation. 

Agenda

Note: All keynote, plenary, and panel sessions will include time for Q & A.

Thursday, May 7: Pre-conference session: After Hobby Lobby: What Is Caesar’s What Is God’s?

As prelude to “Law, Religion, and Health in America,” please join us for a pre-conference session examining the role of religion in the American public sphere. Our expert panel will discuss the nature of conscience and conscientious objection, religious freedom, and religious accommodation from philosophical, theological, historical, legal, and political perspectives.  

4:00 – 6:00pm: Panel Discussion

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.