Tag: policy making

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Member Discussion of the Intersection of Deliberation and Education

This is the last session of the Bioethics Commission’s twenty-third meeting. During this session, Members discussed what to recommend at the intersection of deliberation and education. In previous meetings, the Bioethics Commission has heard from experts in education that using deliberation as an educational tool builds the skills that will help students become informed and active participants in their communities. Bioethics education can be an important forum for introducing deliberative methods into diverse educational settings. Commission Members also heard from organizers of and participants in deliberative activities about the important educational function of these activities, which foster a more informed and engaged public. The mutually reinforcing functions of deliberation and ethics education create a virtuous circle, as deliberation facilitates education, and bioethics education builds skills of deliberation.

Members discussed two potential recommendations during this session. First, developments in health, science, and technology, some of which the Bioethics Commission has considered during its tenure, raise significant bioethical questions that need robust and informed public discussion and deliberation. Individuals involved in education and deliberation should use the tools in both of these domains to facilitate greater public engagement with these questions. Ultimately, Members agreed that this recommendation would be an important contribution to the fields of education and to bioethics and policy making.

Second, national bioethics commissions have an important role to play in supporting public bioethics education and contributing to national discourse and deliberations on health, science, and technology policy. Members proposed that future bioethics commissions and other bioethics organizations should continue to explore and advance their educational and democratic role, and should develop and promote accessible educational tools to enable teachers at all levels to integrate deliberation and bioethics education into their classrooms.

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.

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Behavioral Science, Public Policy, Ethics

The President of the United States has issued an executive order (see here) – government agencies are to use ‘insights’ from behavioral sciences to better serve the American people.

In my view this is a good thing. Science is our friend. Obama’s heart is in the right place. Nonetheless, the order raises a number of ethical and practical issues.

The term ‘behavioral sciences’ is a little broad. However, the executive order mentions the behavioral economics and psychology of decision making as an example of what is in mind. This indicates that what this order is really about is the implementation of ‘nudge’ policies. Some have objected to such policies on the grounds that they violate autonomy or dignity in some way. Perhaps that is right, although it appears to depend on the case at hand. As Cass Sunstein – who has been influential for the Obama administration’s stance on the importance of behavioural science – has pointed out, nudges are inevitable in policy making. A failure to take this into account ensures that the nudges in play will be unintentional rather than intentional. Further, considerations of welfare, autonomy, and fairness may very well support nudge policies in many instances.

This will depend heavily on the effectiveness of the nudge policy, which itself depends in part on the quality of the behavioral science. Given recent evidence that many results from experimental and social psychology fail to replicate, there might be reason to worry here. The executive order does not define what counts as an ‘insight’ from behavioral science.

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.

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Could PhD students solve the replication crisis in psychology?

@JimACEverett

 www.jimaceverett.com

As many readers of this blog may know, in the last few years a “replication crisis” has caused intense soul searching in psychology – and particularly in social psychology. This crisis was sparked when several widely cited findings in psychology subsequently failed to replicate when tested by independent researchers (for some background see Earp and Trafimow’s paper here). This is – of course – a substantial problem because it severely limits the confidence we can have in psychological findings. For social psychological research this problem may be even graver, given that many of the topics studied – e.g. attitudes, prejudice, political voting – have direct implications for policy making. If we cannot have confidence in our findings, social psychology is in very hot water indeed.

To take an example from my own research field of social/moral psychology, in a highly influential study published in Science, Zhong and Liljenquist (2006) reported evidence of a “Macbeth Effect” whereby a threat to people’s moral purity leads them to seek, literally, to cleanse themselves. Seeking to expand upon these findings and explore whether they would be observed in different domains, my colleagues Brian Earp, Elizabeth Madva, and Kiley Hamlin attempted to replicate and extend this work. To their surprise, they were unable to replicate the original results. They then turned to me, and together we conducted a series of direct replications of Study 2 from Z&L’s seminal report. We used Z&L’s original materials and methods, investigated samples that were more representative of the general population, investigated samples from different countries and cultures, and substantially increased the power of our statistical tests.

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.

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Bioethics Commission Urges Neuroscientists to Participate in Legal Processes, and Cautions Against Hype

Earlier this year, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) released the second of its two-volume report on neuroscience and ethics—Gray Matters: Topics at the Intersection of Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society (Gray Matters, Vol. 2). One of the topics it examined in depth was the application of neuroscientific evidence and concepts to legal and policy decision making processes. Neuroscience research and evidence have the potential to add value to the law by improving accuracy, decreasing errors, and helping us gain a deeper understanding of human motivation and behavior. However, the application of this novel and advancing science to the centuries-old legal institution is not without ethical and practical challenges.

In Gray Matters, Vol. 2, the Bioethics Commission made several recommendations to address ethical and practical challenges and maximize the potential value of neuroscience to the legal system. In particular, the Bioethics Commission recommended that:

Neuroscientists should participate in legal decision-making processes and policy development to ensure the accurate interpretation and communication of neuroscience information.

Neuroscience researchers are in the best position to explain scientific concepts, research results, and limitations of neurotechnologies to a legal audience. Judges and jurors need to understand how neurotechnologies work, what their limitations are, and how to accurately translate and apply research findings to a legal setting. Neuroscientists have several options for engagement. For example, they can act as expert witnesses in court, act as consultants for legal teams, or help attorneys write briefs. In addition, neuroscientists also can assist in policy making at local, state, and federal levels, by ensuring that their research findings are accurately explained to legislators and policy makers.

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.

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LGBT People and Federal Health Policy: An Invisible Population?

Nick J. Mulé and Miriam Smith argue that the Canadian Federal government must recognize the distinct and diverse healthcare needs of LGBT populations.

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Over the last thirty years, there have been major strides in the recognition of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Canada. While the situation is far from perfect, most Canadians probably think of themselves as quite tolerant and believe that most LGBT issues have been settled. Yet, when we look at health care policy, we find that is not the case.

LGBT people have issues in health care that are often overlooked in the current system. For example, transgender people have specific medical needs in transitioning and the LGBT population suffers disproportionality from certain cancers and mental health problems, often sparked or exacerbated by prejudice, stigmatization and discrimination. Doctors often don’t ask if patients are LGBT and simply assume that people are heterosexual.

Our research looked at the extent to which federal health policy recognized the specific health problems of the LGBT population. While provincial governments administer and deliver health care to Canadians, the federal government plays an important role in setting priorities and in influencing health perspectives. It is also directly responsible for public health, Aboriginal health, and drug regulation.

We found that Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada pay very little attention to LGBT health and that, indeed, their documents and websites barely mention the words gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, sexual orientation or gender identity. This is surprising, given that both organizations have prioritized an approach to health policy that considers social factors that affect health such as poverty.

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.

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Plant biotechnologies: are we ready for the enlightenment?

This week the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published a report of its inquiry into GM foods and the precautionary principle in Europe. The title for the report, noticeably taking its own advice and avoiding the two fatally contested terms ‘GM’ and ‘precautionary principle’, is: Advanced genetic techniques for crop improvement: regulation, risk and precaution.

What I see as the key finding of the report, which leads on to what I see as a key recommendation, is the need to take seriously how framing debates about plant technologies as particular kinds of question, that belong to particular knowledge formations and expertises, distorts and prejudices their treatment in a way that has manifestly defied satisfactory resolution. This finding is not new, of course, but the critical reflection it enjoins is lamentably absent from the cut and thrust of current public debate. The question is: are we ready for a more mature reflection?

If this conclusion is to be taken seriously, a number of things follow. The critical turn of ‘thinking about how we think about’ plant technologies, and the exposure of the partiality of our framings, is attended by the sobering realisation that we nevertheless have to find some way of framing our response to them – we cannot simply think about plant technologies without any frame of reference. And along with this comes the vertiginous realisation that there may be no self-evidently ‘right’ way of doing this. We must go to work in the territory of meaning and value, not withdraw to that of fact and demonstration.

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.

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Lessons from Ebola: Presidential Bioethics Commission Releases Recommendations on Preparedness for Public Health Emergencies

This week the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues released a brief, Ethics and Ebola: Public Health Planning and Response, to the administration and the public on ethical preparedness for public health emergency response, with a focus on the U.S. response to the current Ebola epidemic in western Africa. The brief considers what lessons the U.S. response to the epidemic has for ethics preparedness for future public health emergencies, emphasizing the role of proactive democratic deliberation in developing responses that reflect public values in a pluralistic society and an increasingly interconnected world. The brief also considers two areas of particular controversy: 1) the ethical use of liberty-restricting public health measures, such as quarantine; and 2) the ethical conduct of research during public health emergencies.

In this brief the Bioethics Commission endorsed the ongoing participation of the United States in the global response to the Ebola epidemic for both ethical and prudential reasons. Public health crises like the Ebola epidemic often occur in countries and communities least equipped to manage and control them. The magnitude of suffering caused by these crises, and global inequalities in wealth and power that contribute to them, provide a strong moral imperative grounded in humanitarianism and justice to contribute to response efforts. In addition, given the capacity of infectious diseases to travel easily in an interconnected world, addressing epidemics at their source is justified on prudential grounds. Safeguarding national health security provides a strong pragmatic reason to respond to public health emergencies where they occur, and to support ongoing efforts to strengthen capacity and public health infrastructure in affected areas.

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.

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Bioethics Commission Releases Brief on Ebola and Ethics Preparedness for Public Health Emergencies

Today, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) released a brief, Ethics and Ebola: Public Health Planning and Response, to the administration and the public on ethical preparedness for public health emergency response, with a focus on the U.S. response to the current Ebola epidemic in western Africa. The brief considers what lessons the U.S. response to the epidemic has for ethics preparedness for future public health emergencies, emphasizing the role of proactive democratic deliberation in developing responses that reflect public values in a pluralistic society and an increasingly interconnected world. The brief also considers two areas of particular controversy: 1) the ethical use of liberty-restricting public health measures, such as quarantine; and 2) the ethical conduct of research during public health emergencies.

In this brief the Bioethics Commission endorsed the ongoing participation of the United States in the global response to the Ebola epidemic for both ethical and prudential reasons. Public health crises like the Ebola epidemic often occur in countries and communities least equipped to manage and control them. The magnitude of suffering caused by these crises, and global inequalities in wealth and power that contribute to them, provide a strong moral imperative grounded in humanitarianism and justice to contribute to response efforts. In addition, given the capacity of infectious diseases to travel easily in an interconnected world, addressing epidemics at their source is justified on prudential grounds. Safeguarding national health security provides a strong pragmatic reason to respond to public health emergencies where they occur, and to support ongoing efforts to strengthen capacity and public health infrastructure in affected areas.

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.

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Bioethics Commission Finalizing Work on Neuroscience

On July 1, 2013, President Obama requested that the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (the Bioethics Commission) review the ethical considerations of neuroscience research and its application as part of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

Specifically, the President instructed the Bioethics Commission to “identify proactively a set of core ethical standards – both to guide neuroscience research and to address some of the ethical dilemmas that may be raised by the application of neuroscience research findings.”

Today, during its public meeting in Washington, D.C., the Bioethics Commission worked to wrap up its work on neuroscience and related ethical issues and to finalize its recommendations to the President.

The Bioethics Commission has held (counting today’s gathering) nine public meetings in five cities — Washington, D.C., Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and San Francisco — that have focused on neuroscience. They have featured extensive discussions with experts from a wide array of disciplines, including neuroimaging, cognitive neuroscience, neurology, computational neurobiology, nanotechnology, psychiatry, ethics, philosophy, computer science, behavioral health, engineering and law. The Commission also has heard detailed public comments from affected communities, including advocates for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, depression and bipolar disorders.

The Bioethics Commission provided its initial recommendations to President Obama last year in volume one of its Gray Matters report, in which it stressed the importance of integrating ethics early and throughout neuroscience research.

Today’s deliberations will inform the Bioethics Commission’s recommendations for Gray Matters, Volume two, which will focus on three areas: cognitive enhancement and other neural modifications, capacity and the consent process, and neuroscience in the legal system.

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.

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Cognitive (neuro)science and bioethics

by J.S. Blumenthal-Barby, Ph.D.

In a recent article in Ethics, “Beyond Point-and-Shoot Morality: Why Cognitive (Neuro)Science Matters for Ethics,” Josh Greene argues that empirical research in moral judgment has significant relevance for normative ethics in that it (1) exposes the inner workings of our moral judgments, revealing that we should have less confidence in some of our judgments and the ethical theories that are based on them, and (2) informs us of where we tend to rely on intuition or automatic processing (which is often heavily emotive), but ought to rely more manual, controlled processing (such as consequentialist reasoning).

Problems with our (intuitive) moral judgments (and for deontology?)

Greene uses a camera analogy throughout the article: a camera has an automatic mode (which allows for efficiency) and a manual mode (which allows for flexibility and is sometimes important to use). Such is the case with moral reasoning. The problem is that automatic, intuitive moral judgment is susceptible to framing effects, reflects imperfect cognitive heuristics, and is often resistant to evidence that might change or undermine it (instead, we tend to engage in post-hoc rationalization or “intuition chasing”). Greene recounts a substantial amount of this evidence. And, here’s the kicker: deontological type judgments (“rights,” “duties”) are linked more closely to the automatic, emotional response systems (the VMPFC region of the brain is activated), and consequentialist type judgments (impartial cost-benefit reasoning) are linked more closely to the controlled, reasoned response systems (the DLPFC region of the brain is activated). Thus, according to Greene, we should have less confidence in deontological moral theories than in consequentialist ones.

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.