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Bioethics Blogs

Talking back to science?

By Stephen Rainey

In June 2017, the European Court of Justice ruled that it was legal for a French citizen to sue a drug company for damages following a vaccination, and an illness. The ruling caused some consternation as it seemed a legal vindication of anecdote over scientific rigour.

This is a dramatic case, not least owing to the position in which vaccines find themselves, post Andrew Wakefield and the rise of the anti-vaxxer movement. Nevertheless, it forms a part of a wider narrative in which scientific activity is not always very open to questions from outside science. This broader theme is worth some scrutiny.

Vaccine injury

Shortly following a vaccination against Hepatitis B a French citizen, JW, found himself in declining health. Soon after the decline began, a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) was made. Having had no prior personal or family history of such an illness, and having been in good health prior to the inoculation, JW concluded that the injections must have been to blame for his developing MS. His assertion of this was not supported by scientific investigation. Rather, he could think of the vaccination as the only unusual event that preceded closely his sudden, unexpected development of the condition.

The French courts found themselves unable to agree on whether such a basis as this is sufficient to sue a pharmaceutical company. Eventually, the case was sent to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) which ruled,

“…that the temporal proximity between the administering of a vaccine and the occurrence of a disease, the lack of personal and familial history of that disease, together with the existence of a significant number of reported cases of the disease occurring following such vaccines being administered, appears on the face of it to constitute evidence which, taken together, may lead a national court to consider that a victim has discharged his burden of proof.

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

We Can and Must Rebuild the Bridges of Interdisciplinary Bioethics

by Darryl R. J. Macer

This editorial is made available on bioethics.net. The editorial along with the target article and open peer commentary is available via tandfonline.com

Although we can argue that bioethics is holistic and found in every culture, and still alive among people of many indigenous communities as well as the postmodern ones, the academic discipline of bioethics as interpreted by many scholars has attempted to burn bridges to both different views and to persons with different life trajectories and training. The bridges between different cultural and epistemological foundations of bioethics have also been strained by the dominance of Western paradigms of principlism and the emergence of an academic profession of medical bioethics.

This editorial reacts to the points made in the article by Lee, “A Bridge Back to the Future: Public Health Ethics, Bioethics, and Environmental Ethics.” This issue of the American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB) includes a number of commentaries on this theme, and challenges readers to reconsider the manner in which they conceive of bioethics, as well as the range of literature and scholars that they consider to as legitimate sources of wisdom. Such a new approach will not only breathe fresh light into the important work of all scholars, students, and teachers, but also offer some fresh references for contemporary policy changes that face us. Let us approach these issues like an ostrich who is taking her head out of the sand after some years of monodisciplinary focus. To be clear, Lee and some others writing here have apparently not had their head in the sand, as the interrelatedness of health and the environment is clear through the examples shared.

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

Human Contamination: The Infectious Border Crossings of Jeff VanderMeer’s Area X by Sophia Booth Magnone

“What if an infection was a message, a brightness a kind of symphony? As a defense? An odd form of communication? If so, the message had not been received, would probably never be received” (Acceptance 490).

“What if containment is a joke?” (Acceptance 576).

It all begins with a thorn: the delicate, glittering prickle of an unidentified plant growing at the base of a lighthouse in a sleepy coastal town. On a peaceful sunny day, the thorn pricks a man’s thumb, an act of violence so mild, so mundane, it scarcely attracts notice. Yet the end of the world starts there, where one organism pierces the skin of another. That tiny rift swells to a full-fledged invasion; the man and his lighthouse become the first targets of an inexplicable transformative force. When the initial cataclysm subsides, the coast has been purged of all human life, its inhabitants dead or transformed beyond recognition. The rest of the world is left only with questions. What exactly happened at the lighthouse? What lies dormant in that lonely landscape? Most importantly, how can whatever remains there be contained?

This nebulous, quietly sinister premise forms the foundation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novels Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance, collectively known as the Southern Reach trilogy. The novels take place, for the most part, thirty years after the mysterious event at the lighthouse, which has been officially categorized an “environmental disaster” and, by most people, forgotten about entirely. Only the government organization known as the Southern Reach continues to investigate the cordoned-off region now designated “Area X”: from the byzantine depths of its crumbling bureaucracy, the Southern Reach dispatches research expeditions, interprets findings, and scrabbles desperately at the possibility of defensive action.

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

Companies Announce Support for SDG 14 Implementation

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June 2017: Private companies continue to announce support for Sustainable Development Goal 14 (life below water) implementation. Albertsons Companies and Calysta are the latest to relay how they will help the international community meet targets on oceans. Their initiatives focus on sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, in particular, and join announcements from other industry players like Dell, Adidas and the New Plastics Economy, which address marine plastic pollution.

Albertsons Companies, one of the largest US supermarket companies, announced its support for SDG 14. It joined the Seafood Task Force and signed on to the pledge on Committing to Social Responsibility in Global Fisheries and Aquaculture, a voluntary commitment made by the private sectors, NGOs and the UN, during the UN Ocean Conference. The Seafood Task Force, a multi-stakeholder alliance that is combating human rights and environmental issues in seafood supply chains, was initially formed to address issues of forced labor, illegal fishing and human trafficking in Thailand’s seafood supply chains, and aims to serve as a model for global supply chains. Albertsons Companies has already established a Responsible Seafood Policy, which lays out standards that the top wild and farmed seafood products sold by the company are expected to meet.

Calysta, a company that produces sustainable products to improve global food security, pledged to support SDG 14 by advancing technology to promote sustainable aquaculture, which is the world’s fastest growing food production system and is increasing demand for new protein sources. Calysta produces FeedKind protein, a sustainable, traceable and natural feed ingredient that does not rely on wild fish catch.

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

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: What Makes Discrimination Wrong? Written by Paul de Font-Reaulx

This essay was the winner in the Undergraduate Category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics 2017

Written by University of Oxford student, Paul de Font-Reaulx

 

The question of this essay is this: What makes discrimination wrong? Most of us intuitively take discrimination based on gender or ethnicity to be impermissible because we have strong rights to be treated on the basis of merit and capacity rather than e.g. ethnicity or gender. I argue that this suggestion is indefensible. I show that well-informed discrimination can sometimes be permissible, and even morally required, meaning we cannot have absolute rights not to be discriminated against. In the last part I suggest an alternative account, arguing that acts of discrimination are wrong because they violate individuals’ weak right to be treated fairly and create negative externalities which – analogously to pollution – there is a collective responsibility to minimize. These results are counterintuitive, and require further attention.

1.     What is Discrimination?

I take discrimination to be to treat someone very differently based on an irrelevant trait. A trait is relevant if and only if it by itself provides reasons for different treatment in some instance, such as constituting a difference in merit or capacity. Otherwise it is irrelevant. For example, in the case of boxing the trait of weighing 70kg is relevant for finding opponents, while as the trait of hair colour is not. Of the two, only different treatment on the basis of the latter would constitute discrimination[1].

Discrimination based on bigotry such as racism is often indefensible simply because it rests on ungrounded beliefs about the relevance of traits such as ethnicity.

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

Five Ways the Meat on your Plate Is Killing the Planet

When we hear about the horrors of industrial livestock farming – the pollution, the waste, the miserable lives of billions of animals – it is hard not to feel a twinge of guilt and conclude that we should eat less meat

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

Cross Post: Five ways the meat on your plate is killing the planet

Cross-posted from The Conversation

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Francis Vergunst, Université de Montréal and Julian Savulescu, University of Oxford

When we hear about the horrors of industrial livestock farming – the pollution, the waste, the miserable lives of billions of animals – it is hard not to feel a twinge of guilt and conclude that we should eat less meat. The Conversation

Yet most of us probably won’t. Instead, we will mumble something about meat being tasty, that “everyone” eats it, and that we only buy “grass fed” beef.

Over the next year, more than 50 billion land animals will be raised and slaughtered for food around the world. Most of them will be reared in conditions that cause them to suffer unnecessarily while also harming people and the environment in significant ways.

This raises serious ethical problems. We’ve compiled a list of arguments against eating meat to help you decide for yourself what to put on your plate.

1. The environmental impact is huge

Livestock farming has a vast environmental footprint. It contributes to land and water degradation, biodiversity loss, acid rain, coral reef degeneration and deforestation.

Nowhere is this impact more apparent than climate change – livestock farming contributes 18% of human produced greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. This is more than all emissions from ships, planes, trucks, cars and all other transport put together.

Climate change alone poses multiple risks to health and well-being through increased risk of extreme weather events – such as floods, droughts and heatwaves – and has been described as the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century.

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

Stoking the Flames of Competitiveness on an Overheating Planet

Image via

STUDENT VOICES

By: Michael Aprea

This essay is in response to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs video “Climate Protectionism and Competitiveness.”  

Steam put the world in motion. It lit up the night, and tightened humanity’s grasp on the forces of nature. Nature, however, has eluded the human race and has forced civilization to reconsider its power in the most fundamental sense. Scientist, politicians, and citizens now face the heat as they scramble to address a cycle of global warming spawned by the progress of the industrial revolution that threatens to unhinge the fragile balance of Earth’s ecosystems. Reducing carbon emissions has been the answer to the problem. This standard that has taken hold in developed nations has morphed into a global economic crusade against carbon emissions through regulation, taxation and sanctions seeking to curb the emissions of the developing world. Although consumer responsibility and global collaboration in an endeavor to reverse global warming trends are laudable, it is important to recognize the risks these steps pose on global trade, the citizens of developing countries, and the debt developed nations have as beneficiaries of the first fruits of fossil fuels.

The United States owes its status as an economic superpower to the progress of the industrial revolution; a revolution fueled by carbon emitting fossil fuels. The rapid growth of nations such as Unites States reliant on fossil fuels came at price–rising global temperatures. Carbon doesn’t only heat up cold economies, it also has the ability to raise average global temperatures as it gets trapped in the atmosphere and captures solar radiation.

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

JHU Projects Explore Ethical Challenges

Hub Staff Report/Crossposted from the HUB

 


 

“Why is it that most of the university’s focus on contemporary ethical issues is concentrated on health care, public health, and the biomedical sciences? Surely other professions and other disciplines also face important real world ethical issues—shouldn’t Hopkins faculty, staff, and students be addressing these issues as well?”

 

That question, posed by Johns Hopkins University trustee Andreas Dracopoulos to the Berman Institute of Bioethics, helped inspire and drive the JHU Exploration of Practical Ethics program, a grant program to fund research into interdisciplinary fields of ethics.

 

“IT IS EASY FOR US TO STAY AWAY FROM ISSUES LIKE WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT TODAY. BUT IT IS IMPORTANT FOR US TO GRAPPLE WITH THESE ISSUES IN A THOUGHTFUL WAY, AND TO HAVE OUR OWN THOUGHT LEADERS COME TOGETHER.”

Sunil Kumar, JHU provost

The program provided funds for nine projects—some of which are still under way—that examine issues relating to criminal justice, higher education, economics, and environmentalism. At a symposium Tuesday, those projects were presented to members of the university community.

 

“Andreas’ provocative question—and it was provocative—set in motion a process of exploration among university leadership initiated by [JHU] President [Ronald J.] Daniels,” said Ruth Faden, the former director of the Berman Institute, in her remarks opening the symposium. “The goal of this process is to assess whether the university should expand its footprint beyond the traditional territories of bioethics and take on the full range of ethical challenges facing society.”

 

     Jon Spaihts, screenwriter of Passengers, and Prometheus, hosts the symposium

 

Some of the projects centered on ethical dilemmas surrounding climate change and pollution.

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.”

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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.