Tag: democracy

Bioethics Blogs

Two Wrongs Do Not Make A Right

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

A draft of a new executive order that would re-open CIA black site prisons (facilities outside the United States where more torturous forms of interrogation are not prohibited) and restart the use of enhanced interrogation techniques (which many consider to be torture) was made public on Wednesday. Trump also publicly stated that he believes torture works and thus thinks it should be reinstated.

Trump’s justification for torture is that without it “we’re not playing on an even field.” He said that since terrorists will torture people, we need to be able to do the same. Mr. Trump, two wrongs do not make a right.

Simply, torture is wrong. It is a willful infliction of harm on another human being, which violates notions of nonmaleficence. It also breaches a person’s dignity and autonomy. Torture defies Kant’s principle of humanity since torture victims are treated merely as means to achieving the end of learning information.

Legally, torture contravenes the Geneva Convention and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Of course, some might argue that these detainees are not prisoners of war and thus are not covered. And the US is about to abandon the UN anyway (also look here). The International Criminal Court defines torture as a crime against humanity (the US is not a member of the Court). When you capture and detain people against their will and their government’s assent, and deny them basic rights of anyone living inside your own borders, that person is in fact your prisoner.

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

Bioethics: Democracy in Vitro

Bioethics: Democracy in Vitro

January 25, 2017

(Nature) – Experiments in Democracy reminds me of this painting, in both its ambitious scope and its sense of unease. Science historian Benjamin Hurlbut offers a wide-angle history of US attempts at democratic deliberation on the ethics of human-embryo research. Painstakingly researched and spanning more than four decades — from the advent of in vitro fertilization in the 1970s to contemporary developments such as germline editing — the book draws attention to an intricate interplay between science and democracy.

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

Material as opposed to what? Three recent ethnographies of welfare, biological labor, and human dignity by Leo Coleman

Catherine Fennell. Last Project Standing: Civics and Sympathy in Post-Welfare Chicago. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.

Kalinda Vora. Life Support: Biocapital and the New History of Outsourced Labor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.

Gaymon Bennett. Technicians of Human Dignity: Bodies, Souls, and the Making of Human Dignity. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016

A new materialist studying housing projects, a feminist-Marxist postcolonialist, and a Foucauldian bioethicist—what do they have in common? This sounds like the start of a very bad academic joke. But a great deal of cultural anthropological research has in fact been motivated and disciplined—made readable as part of a common project—over the past fifteen or twenty years by such oddly overlapping interests in materiality or materialisms of diverse stripes, on the one hand, and reasoning about biology and the biological constitution of the human, on the other. Drawing on usefully heterogeneous philosophical and social-scientific currents, the discipline has turned to examine the physical effectiveness of things, networks, or infrastructures in shaping populations, and the medical and technical regulation of the biological life of these populations. World-spanning (and world-making) institutions and infrastructures have been opened to ethnographic investigation under the rubrics of technopolitics and biopower. This was no mere scholarly “turn” but was impelled by real forces that included an intense medical and institutional recrafting of humanity itself as a global biological reality (Rees 2014), and the disparate impact of novel machines, techniques, and infrastructures that worked to disaggregate governance, individualize the political subject and materially support new authority for corporate and private actors (e.g.,

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

California Voters Were Promised Cures. But the State Stem Cell Agency Has Funded Just a Trickle of Clinical Trials

January 20, 2017

(STAT News) – It’s been more than a decade since California launched an unprecedented experiment in medical research by direct democracy, when voters created a $3 billion fund to kick-start the hunt for stem cell therapies. The bold plan, a response to federal funding limits for embryonic stem cell research, was sold with a simple pitch: The money would rapidly yield cures for devastating human diseases such as Parkinson’s and ALS. That hasn’t happened.

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

Getting a Scientific Message Across Means Taking Human Nature Into Account

Scientists and the media need to communicate more science and communicate it better. Good communication ensures that scientific progress benefits society, bolsters democracy, weakens the potency of fake news and misinformation and fulfills researchers’ responsibility to engage with the public

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

Are We All Flint? by Catherine Fennell

[This article originally appeared in Limn, Issue No. 7, “Public Infrastructures / Infrastructural Publics”.]

For the past several decades, Flint, Michigan, has staggered under waves of deindustrialization, disinvestment, and abandonment that have left the city depopulated, its built environment in shambles, and its remaining residents reeling from high unemployment and crime rates, a decimated tax base, and dwindling municipal services. While grim, Flint’s decline is by no means unique in a region whose cities have become synonymous with the booms and busts of twentieth century American manufacturing. Nor is the degree of its decay unusual. Aficionados of ruin will find crumbling infrastructures arresting and aplenty in most any “Rust Belt” city. What is singular, however, is the attention that Flint’s contaminated water has received in recent months, an attention that is now amplifying ongoing debates concerning America’s ailing and aging infrastructures. That amplification is especially apparent in variations of a phrase that has recently echoed through local, regional, and national media and activist circles: “We are all Flint.”

flint-water-filters-rg-bw

With every disclosed email, alleged wrongdoing, and denial of responsibility, the course of Flint’s contamination grows as murky and foul as the water that began flowing from its taps in 2014. In April of that year, the city switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The switch unfolded amid a climate of intense fiscal austerity in which state-appointed emergency managers pushed Michigan’s most financially beleaguered cities to cut costs. In Flint, part of this push included a proposal to bypass Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department as the city’s water supplier, and to instead source cheaper water through a newly constructed pipeline into Lake Huron.

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

How to fill the bioethics void in Trump’s presidency

This time back in 2008, the transition team of Barack Obama was running a smooth, well-oiled machine. In 2016, the transition is noisy and controversial.

Almost none of the main figures have advanced degrees of any kind, as a columnist for the New York Daily News has pointed out. Even more scandalously, no cabinet picks have gone to Harvard. True, Steve Bannon, who is to be Trump’s chief strategist, did go to Harvard Business School, but he also founded Breitbart News, thoroughly negating the Ivy League influence. And Ben Carson did go to Yale, is an accomplished neurosurgeon and has 60 honorary doctorates.

Bioethics was an integral part of Obama’s agenda, with Jonathan Moreno and R. Alta Charo, two well-known bioethicists, creating a successor to the Bush Administration’s Council on Bioethics. But the word bioethics is MIA in press releases from Trump’s transition team. Ben Carson was a member of Bush’s Council on Bioethics, but he has been appointed Secretary of Housing.

Bioethics columnist Wesley J. Smith writes in the Weekly Standard that Trump’s views in this area are unknown:

What does our new president think about these and other such morally portentous matters? Your guess is as good as mine. Based on Trump’s public pronouncements—of which there are none—it would appear that he has given little thought to bioethical matters, much less pondered the ethical principles that would illuminate administration policy-making surrounding them. That’s politically dangerous. Bioethics issues have the potential to explode suddenly into the public consciousness and grab an administration by the throat. 

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

Health Wearable Devices Pose Consumer and Privacy Risks, Report Says

December 16, 2016

(Managed Care Magazine) – Personal health wearable devices that consumers are using to monitor their heart rates, sleep patterns, calories, and even stress levels raise new privacy and security risks, according to a report released by researchers at American University and the Center for Digital Democracy. Watches, fitness bands, and so-called “smart” clothing, linked to apps and mobile devices, are part of a growing “connected-health” system in the U.S., promising to provide people with more efficient ways to manage their own health.

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

Calls for Ethical Pluralism

In separate essays, Nathan Emmerich and Igor Gontcharov argue for more flexible systems that would avoid imposing biomedical ethics on the social sciences. Emmerich calls for an emphasis on professional ethics, while Gontcharov seeks “a set of ethical principles that would better reflect the position of [social sciences and humanities] researchers and participants.” I am left unsure what either proposed reform would look like in practice.

[Nathan Emmerich, “Reframing Research Ethics: Towards a Professional Ethics for the Social Sciences,” Sociological Research Online 21, no. 4 (2016): 7, DOI: 10.5153/sro.4127; Igor Gontcharov, “A New Wave of Positivism in the Social Sciences: Regulatory Capture and Conceptual Constraints in the Governance of Research Involving Humans,” SSRN Scholarly Paper (Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, October 31, 2016), DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.2861908.]

Emmerich seeks professional ethics

Emmerich argues that

the social sciences can lay claim to a democratic ideal as its ‘higher good’ and, therefore, its guiding ethos or end… .

Given this end – democracy – social science research is persuaded not for its own sake or for the sake of knowledge in itself. Rather, its pursuit is rooted in the (admittedly diverse) socio-political needs of ‘democracy,’ understood as an ethos or normative as an end in itself.

Because of the importance of this work, he argues, researchers should not be constrained by ethics committees. Instead, he proposes that social scientists be judged by the equivalent of clinical ethics committees (CECs), which Emmerich describes as

forums healthcare professionals can attend in order to discuss any ethical issues they encounter.

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

On Deanthropologizing Anthropology — An Essay on Tarek Elhaik’s “The Incurable Image” by Tobias Rees

“Are cultural anthropologists ready to shed their habit of using society and culture? (…) No, I don’t feel so. (…) It seems to me that many anthropologists wish to keep the human (…). There is a tricky problem here: concentrating around the human could mean either maintaining this character apart from other entities — the former beings of ‘nature’ defining by contrast what could be called the ‘humanistic’ position —, or it could mean accepting that, as soon as you take the human into consideration, it is suddenly redistributed (not disintegrated, that’s the whole point, but redistributed) in many other roles and connections that make its earlier figurations unrecognizable.”

Bruno Latour

 

1.

Could one deanthropologize anthropology? Is it possible to differentiate anthropology, science of the human, from the figure of ‘Man’ as it emerged in the 18th century and made anthropology possible (Foucault 1966)?

At first these questions may sound bizarre — and an anthropology journal an odd choice for asking them. However, the will to leave the human behind is a prominent feature of what one could call contemporary anthropologies of nature. The reference here is largely to the so-called ontological turn (for reviews see Kohn 2015; Boellstorff 2016) and multi-species anthropology (Helmreich and Kirksey 2010; Kirksey 2014).[1]

 

2.

Admittedly, I find the writings of the multi-species anthropologists and the ontologists — the two groups are best kept separate, precisely insofar as many of the former are not actually ontologists at all — hugely fascinating: I find myself intrigued by the effort to break free from ‘the human.’

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.