Tag: power

Bioethics Blogs

How you’ll grow up, and how you’ll grow old

By Nathan Ahlgrim
Nathan Ahlgrim is a third year Ph.D. candidate in the Neuroscience Program at Emory. In his research, he studies how different brain regions interact to make certain memories stronger than others. In his own life, he strengthens his own brain power by hiking through the north Georgia mountains and reading highly technical science…fiction.

An ounce of prevention can only be worth a pound of cure if you know what to prevent in the first place. The solution to modifying disease onset can be fairly straightforward if the prevention techniques are rooted in lifestyle, such as maintaining a healthy diet and weight to prevent hypertension and type-II diabetes. However, disorders of the brain are more complicated – both to treat and to predict. The emerging science of preclinical detection of brain disorders was on display at Emory University during the April 28th symposium entitled, “The Use of Preclinical Biomarkers for Brain Diseases: A Neuroethical Dilemma.” Perspectives from ethicists, researchers conducting preclinical research, and participants or family members of those involved in clinical research were brought together over the course of the symposium. The diversity of panelists provided a holistic view of where preclinical research stands, and what must be considered as the field progresses.
Throughout the day, panelists discussed different ethical challenges of preclinical detection in the lens of three diseases: preclinical research and communicating risk in the context of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), interventions and treatment of preclinical patients in the context of schizophrenia, and the delivery of a preclinical diagnosis and stigma in the context of Alzheimer’s disease.

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

Research is not a magical practice

Why does hearing about research sometimes scare us in a vertiginous way? I mean the feeling that researchers sometimes dig too deeply, that they see through what should not be seen through, that they manipulate the fundamental conditions of life.

It does not have to concern GMOs or embryonic stem cell research. During a period, I wrote about studies of human conversation. When I told people that I was working on conversation analysis, I could get the reaction: “Oh no, now I dare not talk to you, because you’ll probably see through everything I say and judge how well I’m actually talking.”

Why do we react in such a way? As if researchers saw through the surface of life, as through a thin veil, and gained power over life by mastering its hidden mechanisms.

My impression is that we, in these reactions, interpret research as a form of magic. Magic is a cross-border activity. The magician is in contact with “the other side”: with the powers that control life. By communicating with these hidden powers, the magician can achieve power over life. That is at least often the attitude in magical practices.

Is this how we view research when it scares us in a dizzying way? We think in terms of a boundary between life and its hidden conditions; a boundary that researchers transgress to gain power over life. Research then appears transgressive in a vertiginous way. We interpret it as a magical practice, as a digging into the most basic conditions of life.

The farmer who wants to control the water level in the field by digging ditches, however, is not a magician who communicates with hidden forces.

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

Inner Sense and Gender Dysphoria

Steve Phillips posted on “Caring for people with gender dysphoria” almost one year ago. In his post, he referenced a talk at a previous CBHD Summer Conference by Prof. Robert George, where Dr. George posited that the concept that the belief that one’s gender is based one’s innate or inner sense rather than one’s biological/physical sex is rooted in the Gnostic idea that human beings consist of a personal mind that lives in a non-personal body and that this stands in contrast to the longstanding Christian understanding of unity of non-material soul/spirit and material body making up the whole person. I did not attend that talk but offer a recent paper by Dr. George which covers the same ground as backdrop to this post.

The reason for the discussion of Gnosticism related to an earlier point in that same blog referencing the opinion of Dr. Paul McHugh, retired psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University, who has over the past few years published comments arguing that gender dysphoria is a result of disordered thinking, that is, a mental disorder, requiring treatment, not surgery to complete a gender transition. Dr. McHugh has made much of the fact that Johns Hopkins, despite being an early leader in gender transition surgery, decided very early on that gender transition surgery was not sufficiently efficacious and discontinued the practice.

What a difference a year can make. Johns Hopkins has recently decided to resume what they are calling gender-affirming surgery and specifically point out that when “individuals associated with Johns Hopkins exercise the right of expression, they do not speak on behalf of the institution.”

Johns Hopkins is not alone.

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: Global Warming & Vegetarianism: What should I do, when what I do makes no difference? By Fergus Peace

This essay received an Honorable Mention in the Graduate Category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics 2017

Written by University of Oxford student, Fergus Peace

  1. The Problem of Cumulative Impact

In large, integrated societies, some of the most important moral challenges we face can only be resolved by large-scale collective action. Global poverty and climate change are problems which won’t be solved unless large numbers of people act to address them.

One important part of our response to these problems is to avoid fallacious ‘futility thinking’, a cognitive bias which makes people less likely to act when they see the problem as being too large for them to solve. You aren’t going to end world poverty alone, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you should do about it. Your individual donations can make an enormous difference.

Other problems, however, are more philosophically and practically challenging. Sometimes morally significant outcomes are driven by an aggregate which your individual action is powerless to meaningfully affect. In these cases, it’s not just that your individual action won’t completely solve the problem: it won’t do any moral good at all.

Consider a few examples.

  • Voting: No election of any real size is decided by a margin of one vote, so it’s true of your vote that it makes no difference: if you don’t vote and your candidate loses, your vote wouldn’t have made them win; if you do vote and they win, withdrawing your vote wouldn’t have made them lose.
  • Vegetarianism: Butchers don’t respond to every small change in their customers’ purchasing; wholesalers don’t respond to every change in one butcher’s purchasing; abattoirs and farms don’t respond to every change in wholesale orders.

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: Prostitution: You Can’t Have Your Cake and Sell It*. Written by Simon-Pierre Chevarie-Cossette

This essay received an Honorable Mention in the Graduate Category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics 2017

Written by University of Oxford student, Simon-Pierre Chevarie-Cossette

Abstract:        I offer a new** argument for the thesis that prostitution is not just a normal job. It has the advantage of being compatible with the claim that humans should have full authority over their sexual life. In fact, it is ultimately the emphasis on this authority that leads the thesis that prostitution is a normal job to collapse. Here is the argument: merchants cannot (both legally and morally) discriminate whom they transact with on the basis of factors like the ethnicity or the religion of their client; but if prostitutes are ‘sex merchants’, then they cannot (both legally and morally) discriminate whom they have sex with on the basis of these factors. Yet everyone should have the full discretionary power to refuse to have sex under any circumstances.

1. Introduction

You have made it thus far: the wedding preparation is almost over. You enter your local bakery, cheekily anticipating the moment when you’ll order a wedding cake for ‘John & John’. But to your dismay, the baker turns you down because your marriage goes against his ‘Christian beliefs’.

This is a true story and it is a recurrent one. In 2013, Administrative Law Judge Robert N. Spencer found the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop guilty of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.[1] The decision was then maintained by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission[2] and again by the Court of Appeal[3].

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: Should we completely ban “political bots”? Written by Jonas Haeg

This essay was the runner up in the Graduate Category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics 2017

Written by University of Oxford student, Jonas Haeg

Introduction

This paper concerns the ethics of a relatively new and rising trend in political campaigning: the use of “political bots” (henceforth “polibots”). Polibots are amalgamations of computer code acting on social mediate platforms (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) so as to mimic persons in order to gain influence over political opinions amongst people.

Currently, “many computer scientists and policy makers treat bot-generated traffic as a nuisance to be detected and managed”[1]. This policy and opinion implies a particular ethical view of their nature, namely that there is something inherently morally problematic about them. Here, I question the aforementioned view of polibots. After presenting a brief sketch of what polibots are, I formulate three potential arguments against their use, but argue that none of them succeed in showing that polibots are intrinsically morally problematic.

Polibots.

A polibot is set up on a social media platform with a set of commands for its behaviour on that platform. Here I focus is one what I call “content-bots”: bots programmed to share certain content. These can be programmed to share praise, hate, news articles, facts; or to repost certain people’s posts online. Polibots also needs rules specifying the frequency of posting. Very likely, people program them specifically to make them appear like humans, e.g. there are times at which the bot “sleeps”, “works”, etc. Importantly, I also restrict attention to what I’ll call “modest” content bots.

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

Reading into the Science: The Neuroscience and Ethics of Enhancement

By Shweta Sahu
Image courtesy of Pexels.

I was always an average student: I was good, just not good enough. I often wondered what my life and grades would be like if I’d had a better memory or learned faster. I remember several exams throughout my high school career where I just could not recall what certain rote memorization facts or specific details were, and now in college, I realize that if I could somehow learn faster, how much time would I save and be able to study even more? Would a better memory have led me to do better on my exams in high school, and would my faster ability to learn new information have increased my GPA?

Such has been the question for years now in the ongoing debates of memory enhancement and cognitive enhancement, respectively. I’m not the only student to have ever felt this way and I’m sure I won’t be the last. Technology and medicine seem to be on the brink of exciting new findings, ones that may help us in ways we’ve never before thought imaginable.
Though neuroscientists are still attempting to understand the intricacies of how memory functions, it has been known since the early 1900’s that memory works in three modes: working memory, short-term memory, and long term memory, each of which are regionalized to different parts of the brain. Working memory, which lasts from seconds to minutes, contains information that can be acted on and processed, not merely maintained by rehearsal. Short term memory on the other hand, is slightly longer in duration and occurs in the prefrontal cortex (think George Miller’s Magic number 7).

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

The Dangerous Message of Physician Assisted Suicide

Zachary Schmoll’s essay today in Public Discourse provides a look at physician-assisted suicide from the perspective of a person living with a disability.  In the essay, Schmoll emphasizes the role that legislation plays in influencing public opinion. Regarding the legalization of PAS he writes:

“Such laws communicate the idea that suicide can be a reasonable, moral, and socially acceptable choice, because some lives are no longer valuable. Suicide is prohibited in all other circumstances, sending the message that most lives have value that ought to be protected by law, even when the person in question does not see that value. In certain circumstances, however—specifically, when an individual is losing his or her own independence—such protections need not apply. Society is affirming, by legalizing physician-assisted suicide, that it is better to be dead than disabled. It is better to be in the grave than to live with reduced independence. This message is sent both to people with disabilities like me and everyone else who interacts with us.”

Schmoll’s piece is an important reminder of the persuasive power of legislation as well as the danger of measuring the value of life in terms of independence.

Source: bioethics.net, a blog maintained by the editorial staff of The American Journal of Bioethics.

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

No Place for Reasoned Discussion?

Current events have provoked personal concern that we are losing our ability, willingness, and even desire to engage in respectful, rational debate about the critical issues of our day, especially when significant disagreement exists.  Anger, threats, and violence have replaced cool heads seeking common ground in the pursuit of truth.

Officials at UC Berkeley, considered the birthplace and bastion of the Free Speech Movement, canceled a speaking engagement by conservative pundit Ann Coulter, arranged by College Republicans and scheduled for April 27.  Citing security concerns, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said police had “very specific intelligence regarding threats that could pose a grave danger” to Coulter should she show up to speak.  Perhaps there were genuine reasons to worry about Coulter’s safety.  After all, the same campus suffered more than $100,000 in property damage caused by protestors expressing their displeasure over the visit of controversial former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos.   Of course, no one planned to force students, faculty, or guests to attend Coulter’s lecture, much less to agree with her.  Neither attendance nor agreement was required.  Even liberal comedian Bill Maher came to Coulter’s defense, likening the cancellation of her speech to “the liberals’ version of book burning.”

Even more disconcerting is the rise of an ideology that views “hate speech” as a kind of “violence” that deserves to be met with actual physical violence in the name of “self-defense.”  I’ll grant that there might be speech that actually qualifies as “hate speech.”  To what degree it should be silenced, when it falls short of making actual threats, is another matter and another discussion.  However, many people view “hate speech” as the expression of any viewpoint with which they disagree.  In the April 12 edition of the “Wellesley News” (Wellesley College), student editorialists ventured to make the case for using physical force to stifle free speech.  Offering an intellectual defense of a very narrow reading of the First Amendment, the authors argued: “The spirit of free speech is to protect the suppressed, not to protect a free-for-all where anything is acceptable, no matter how hateful and damaging.”  Yet, the “free-for-all” about which they express such vehemence may be nothing more than a reasoned viewpoint or an opinion on a critical issue with which they disagree.

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

Four Reasons Canada Needs Universal Pharmacare

Steve Morgan gives us four reasons to support universal pharmacare and then invites us to sign the Parliamentary Petition e-959 (Health care services).

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Ontario has just announced that it will offer a publicly funded pharmacare program for children and youth in the province. This is a small step in the right direction, one that is arguably most important for its symbolism in a national debate.

Why just a small step? Because Ontario is adding universal, comprehensive pharmacare coverage to the age group that least uses medicines. Many working-age Ontarians, who are far more likely to require medicines than children, will not be insured.

Why symbolic? Ontario’s new pharmacare program is evidence of at least one government taking responsibility for this component of health care, integrating it with medical and hospital care.

Several national commissions on Canada’s health care system have recommended adding prescription drugs to our publicly funded universal medicare system. To date, however, no federal government has acted on those recommendations.

By creating ‘pharmacare-junior,’ Premier Wynne and Minister Hoskins are, in essence, calling on the federal government to help finish the job by creating a pharmacare program for all Canadians of all ages.

Here are four reasons why Canada needs a universal, public pharmacare program – and what Canadians can do to make it happen.

The most important reason for universal pharmacare in Canada is that access to essential medicines is a human right according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO recommends that countries protect that right in law and with pharmaceutical policies that work in conjunction with their broader systems of universal health coverage.

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.