Tag: kindness

Bioethics Blogs

The Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: The Economics of Morality, By Dillon Bowen

This essay, by Oxford undergraduate student Dillon Bowen, is one of the two finalists in the undergraduate category of the inaugural Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics. Dillon will be presenting this paper, along with three other finalists, on the 12th March at the final.

 

The Economics of Morality: By Dillon Bowen

 

The Problem

People perform acts of altruism every day.  When I talk about ‘altruism’, I’m not talking about acts of kindness towards family, friends, or community members.  The sort of altruism I’m interested in involves some personal sacrifice for the sake of people you will probably never meet or know.  This could be anything from holding the door for a stranger to donating a substantial portion of your personal wealth to charity.  The problem is that, while altruism is aimed at increasing the well-being of others, it is not aimed at maximizing the well-being of others.  This lack of direction turns us into ineffective altruists, whose generosity is at the whim of our moral biases, and whose kindness ends up giving less help to fewer people.  I propose that we need to learn to think of altruism economically – as an investment in human well-being.  Adopting this mentality will turn us into effective altruists, whose kindness does not merely increase human happiness, but increases human happiness as much as possible.

 

For the first section, I explain one morally unimportant factor which profoundly influences our altruistic behavior, both in the lab and in the real world.  In the next section, I look at decision-making processes related to economics. 

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

Treated like Animals, Guest Post by Christine Korsgaard

Guest Post: Christine Korsgaard, Harvard University

On November 5, 2014, RT reported that Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia claimed that they were being “treated like animals.” On November 14, The Independent reported that the members of Pussy Riot complained that while in prison in Russia they were “treated like animals.” On November 17, the BBC reported that Nepalese migrant workers building the infrastructure for the World Cup meeting in Qatar complained of being “treated like cattle.” On November 25, The Indian Express reported that Indian tennis star Sania Merza complained that women in India are “treated like animals.”

What does it mean to be “treated like an animal”? The Filipino workers gave as an example that their “feet were chained.” Members of Pussy Riot complained that in Russian prisons, the wardens “very casually beat people up. They don’t have a sense that they [inmates] are human.” Earlier they claimed that prison administrations “just treat prisoners as they want with impunity.” By being “treated like cattle” the Nepalese migrant workers meant “working up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, including during Qatar’s hot summer months.” On December 24, Time reported that the Nepalese migrant workers are dying at the rate of one every two days. Sania Merza said that women in India face discrimination and violence. She also said, “I hope one day everyone will say that we are equal and women are not treated as objects.”

Merza’s last remark raises a question. As these examples suggest, people whose rights are violated, people whose interests are ignored or overridden, people who are abused, harmed, neglected, and unjustly imprisoned, standardly protest that they are being treated “like animals.”

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

Wait a Minute…

Deborah Woolway invites us to take a minute to think about homeless and at-risk youth to whom we owe a duty of care and kindness.

__________________________________________

Millions of Canadians donate to charitable and non-profit organizations. In 2010, total contributions exceeded $10.6 billion. At this time of year, when there are many worthy causes vying for our attention and our money, I want to draw your attention to the work of one non-profit community based organization in Halifax, Nova Scotia called Phoenix Youth Programs. And, I want to do so with a story, one that may be familiar to you.

house in winter 1 Paul Muller-Kaempff

Paul Müller-Kaempff, Winter auf dem Darß

I was hurrying across a parking lot at a local mall the other day; I detest shopping at the best of times, and this was going to be a kamikaze raid. On my way in, I saw a young man, about 17, dressed like all teenagers – baggy jeans, a hoodie, ballcap pulled low.

“Can you help me?”

“I’m in a bit of a rush, sorry.”

He nodded, and moved away.

And I felt like crap.

I was angry with myself for reacting the way I did. I was angry at the thought he felt he had nowhere to turn. I felt useless. What good was ten bucks going to make in his life?

He was walking across the parking lot when I came out of the mall. This time, I stopped, and asked him to tell me his story: grew up poor in rural Nova Scotia, kicked out of the home at 15, had been into drugs, but said he knew better, didn’t finish school because, well, among other things, it’s hard doing homework when you’re sleeping on a park bench.

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

Elderspeak: Words Can Hurt

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

During the season premiere of the HBO comedy, Getting On, I noticed the excessive use of toddler-speak toward patients portrayed as being elderly. The show takes place in a senior rehab/hospice unit in a community hospital. Whenever one of the health care providers (physician or nurse) was speaking to one of the patients, they tended to use baby talk—higher pitch, lilting tone, longer spaces between words, elongated space around vowels, and using simple, shortened words. When speaking to a baby or a toddler, such tones may help them to learn language, provide amusement, and get their attention. What struck me is that the characters were people who had lived a long time. In one instance, one physician talked to a patient who had also been a physician like she was an infant.

Some of the patients had dementia, but others were perfectly capacitated. These people had lived full lives and continued to have meaningful lives—having raised families, had careers, taken care of themselves and others, and made contributions to society, they were being spoken to as if they were 2 years old.

I wondered whether this blatant disrespect was just a television invention or something real. As it turns out, it is real. A New York Times piece in 2008 discussed how not just in medicine, but in all areas of life, society tends to talk to seniors in a different ways using terms like “”sweetie” and “dear.” In a 2010 study and a 2009 study , researcher Kristine Williams found that seniors who are spoken to in elderspeak tend to be more resistant to care.

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

Dehumanization and terrorism

Most people would agree that terrorism is no good. The word itself is rich with moralized connotations. It is true that some have argued that terrorism might sometimes be justified, but in popular discourse, terrorism is typically deemed obviously horrible.

What are the consequences of branding some action an act of terrorism, or of branding some group a terrorist group? Note, in connection with this question, the ratcheting up of rhetoric surrounding ‘cyberterrorism,’ with many government officials now listing it as a major ongoing threat (e.g., here and here).

A recent study by Adam Feltz and Edward Cokely of the Michigan Institute of Technology found that describing a group of people as ‘terrorist’ had far-reaching results. In general, participants in their study were less willing to “understand the group’s grievances,” less willing to “negotiate with the group.” Further, participants in their study found violence directed towards a group described as terrorist more permissible, and perceived such a group as less rational when compared to a group not described as terrorist.

One interesting feature of this behavioural profile is its similarity to behavioural profiles associated with dehumanization. It is sadly quite easy to implicitly characterize other people as less than human, and there is evidence that doing so leads to anti-social behaviour, and can lead to justification of wrongdoing towards the dehumanized (for a recent review of dehumanization literature, see here). It might be that categorizing a group as ‘terrorist’ engages the dehumanization process known to negatively influence social perception of out-group members.

One might wonder why this matters.

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

Welcome Elisa Hurley

by Kimberly Hensle Lowrance, EdM, PHR, managing director

Today marks the first day on the job for Elisa A. Hurley, PhD, PRIM&R’s new executive director. Elisa, selected by the Board of Directors after a comprehensive search, has served as PRIM&R’s education director since 2010. Elisa succeeds Joan Rachlin, who retired yesterday after 39 years at the helm.

I sat down with Elisa during PRIM&R’s 2014 IACUC Conference to discuss her goals for her first year, what she sees as the biggest challenges in the field, and her inspiration to pursue a career in ethics.

KHL: Elisa, congratulations on your new job! What are your first-year goals as PRIM&R’s new executive director?
EH: Thank you! One of my priorities for my first year is to listen to the community. I plan to spend time information gathering so I can understand the evolving needs of those PRIM&R serves. I want to hear what we’re doing well and what we can do better in the future to continue to support our members and program attendees as they do the important work of advancing ethical research, and as they grow within their own careers. And I want to know where the community would like to see PRIM&R focus its energies next.

My other immediate priorities include (a) ensuring PRIM&R keeps doing what we do best, which means remaining the professional and educational home and go-to-source for all for those in the research ethics and research oversight fields, and (b) mindfully innovating what we do—our educational programs, our membership services, and more—in response to the challenges faced by research ethics and oversight professionals 

KHL: What are some of those challenges?

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

Ethical Dilemmas In Prison And Jail Health Care

Editor’s note: This post is published in conjunction with the March issue of Health Affairs, which features a cluster of articles on jails and health.

Prison and jail health care, despite occasional pockets of inspiration, provided by programs affiliated with academic institutions, is an arena of endless ethical conflict in which health care providers must negotiate relentlessly with prison officials to provide necessary and decent care.  The “right to health care” articulated by the Supreme Court pre-ordained these ongoing tensions.  The court reasoned that to place persons in prison or jail, where they could not secure their own care, and then to fail to provide that care, could result in precisely the pain and suffering prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

Good reasoning was followed by a deeply flawed articulation of the “right” that defines the medical care entitlement as care provided to inmates without “deliberate indifference to their serious medical needs.” By forging a standard which was, and remains, unique in medicine and health care delivery — designed to avoid intruding on state malpractice litigation regarding adequacy of practice and standards of care — the court guaranteed that dispute would surround delivery.  That first framing, which did not establish a right to “standard of care” or to care delivered according to a “community standard,” set the stage for endless ethical and legal conflict.

The Eighth Amendment’s deliberate indifference standard, forbidding cruel and unusual punishment, presents a relatively demanding standard for proving liabil­ity.  The Eighth Amendment, as interpreted by the federal courts, does not render prison officials or staff liable in federal cases for malpractice or accidents, nor does it resolve inter-professional disputes — or patient-professional disputes — about the best choice of treatment.

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

“Reasonable Accommodation” for Families of ‘Brain Dead’ Patients

The NIB Forum is pleased to post a contribution from a board member, who comments on a case study from volume 1, issue 1.

“Reasonable Accommodation” for Families of ‘Brain Dead’ Patients


By Jeffrey Spike, PhD

Martin L. Smith and Ann Lederman Flamm published a Case Study in Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics’ first issue (Vol 1, No 1, Spring 2011, pp. 55-64): “Accommodating Religious Beliefs in the ICU: A Narrative Account of a Disputed Death.” It was a careful and detailed description of a woman, Sarah, in her mid-to-late 20s who is left dead by neurological criteria after an apparent un-witnessed cardiac arrhythmia at home. There have been a number of discussions of cases like this, including one I wrote with a colleague over 15 years ago (Jeffrey Spike and Jane Greenlaw, Journal of Clinical Ethics, Vol. 23, No. 3, Fall 1995): “Persistent Brain Death and Religion: Must a Person Believe in Death in order to Die?” The title was deliberately provocative, both in inventing a new term for these corpses that exist in limbo, dead but pink and breathing thanks to a ventilator and drugs to maintain blood pressure, and also deliberate in raising the question of the intersection between personal beliefs (including religious beliefs) and medical realities.

The outcome of the case in Smith and Flamm was described as a deus ex machina: another hospital accepted the transfer of the patient. Thus their article leaves it an open question for others to consider: what should be done in such cases?

Here then are some suggestions.

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.