Tag: terrorism

Bioethics Blogs

The goodness of being multi-planetary

The Economist has a leader “For life, not for an afterlife“, where it argues that Elon Musk’s stated motivation to settle Mars – making humanity a multi-planetary species less likely to go extinct – is misguided: “Seeking to make Earth expendable is not a good reason to settle other planets”. Is it misguided, or is The Economist‘s reasoning misguided?

The article, after cheering on Musk for being visionary, says:

How odd, then, that Mr Musk’s motivation is born in part of a fear as misplaced as it is striking. He portrays a Mars colony as a hedge against Earth-bound extinction. Science-fiction fans have long been familiar with this sort of angst about existential risks—in the 1950s Arthur C. Clarke told them that, confined to Earth “humanity had too many eggs in one rather fragile basket.” Others agree. Stephen Hawking, a noted physicist, is one of those given to such fits of the collywobbles. If humans stick to a single planet, he warns, they will be sitting ducks for a supervirus, a malevolent artificial intelligence or a nuclear war that could finish off the whole lot of them at any time.

Claptrap. It is true that, in the long run, Earth will become uninhabitable. But that long run is about a billion years. To concern oneself with such eventualities is to take an aversion to short-termism beyond the salutary. (For comparison, a billion years ago the most complex creature on the planet was a very simple seaweed.) Yes, a natural or maliciously designed pandemic might kill billions.

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

DNA papers, please

Kuwait is planning to build a complete DNA database of not just citizens but all other residents and temporary visitorsThe motivation is claimed to be antiterrorism (the universal motivation!) and fighting crime. Many are outraged, from local lawyers over a UN human rights committee to the European Society of Human Genetics, and think that it will not be very helpful against terrorism (how does having the DNA of a suicide bomber help after the fact?) Rather, there are reasons to worry about misuse in paternity testing (Kuwait has strict adultery laws),  and in the politics of citizenship (which provides many benefits): it is strictly circumscribed to paternal descendants of the original Kuwaiti settlers, and there is significant discrimination against people with no recognized paternity such as the Bidun minority. Plus, and this might be another strong motivation for many of the scientists protesting against the law, it might put off public willingness to donate their genomes into research databases where they actually do some good. Obviously it might also put visitors off visiting – would, for example, foreign heads of state accept leaving their genome in the hands of another state? Not to mention the discovery of adultery in ruling families – there is a certain gamble in doing this.

Overall, it seems few outside the Kuwaiti government are cheering for the law. When I recently participated in a panel discussion organised by the BSA at the Wellcome Collection about genetic privacy, at the question “Would anybody here accept mandatory genetic collection?” only one or two hands rose in the large audience. When

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

A satisfied customer at American University

Patricia Aufderheide, University Professor of Communication Studies at American University, reports her satisfaction with the IRB at that institution. It’s great to hear some good news, and Aufderheide’s essay points to the importance of having the right people in positions of power. But it also raises questions about how good and how replicable AU’s experience is.

[Patricia Aufderheide, “Does This Have to Go Through the IRB?,” Chronicle of Higher Education, August 17, 2016.]

Aufderheide writes that the AU IRB, “which primarily deals with social-science and humanities research, has been more helpful to me than I ever expected it to be.” IRB staff review, she writes, helped her and a colleague think through reasons why the people they interviewed might hesitate to be interviewed, and the protocols they worked out gave them “a clear signal at the start of our work together that we were conscientious and considerate professionals.”

Aufderheide credits the people involved. The IRB includes faculty in marketing, public opinion research, government, psychology, international relations, as well as a librarian. This is a far larger range of disciplines than most social scientists can hope to face, and AU is to be applauded for securing such intellectual diversity. Moreover, Aufderheide credits the unfailing patience of Matt Zembrzuski, the research compliance manager, who directs IRB operations.

But Aufderheide’s raises some troubling issues as well, which suggest that not everything is as rosy at AU as she suggests, and that other universities may have trouble replicating the experience.

Why is Aufderheide destroying records?

The only research project that Aufderheide describes in any detail is an ongoing collaboration with Peter Jaszi to interview “creative colleagues on how they did their work, given their understanding of copyright.”

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

Kuwait becomes first country to demand universal DNA tests

Every country in the world examines your passport before you enter. Kuwait is about to become the first to examine your DNA. All citizens, visitors and expatriates will have to provide DNA samples for a government database.

The ostensible motivation for the Gattaca-like measure is greater security in times of terrorism. But it also gives the government a way to exclude about 10% of Kuwaitis from citizenship and expensive social benefits.

According to the Kuwaiti constitution, citizens must be able to prove that they or their forebears have lived in Kuwait since 1920. If this is strictly applied, about 10% of the Kuwaiti population are not citizens. They are Bidoons–Arabs who didn’t apply for, or didn’t qualify for Kuwaiti citizenship after independence from Britain in 1961. (The name comes from the Arabic words bidoon jinsiya, “without nationality”.) There are an estimated 100,000 of them in Kuwait.

Life for the bidoons is tough. The government regards them as stateless people. As non-citizens their access to social services, including education and health, is limited. The government is even negotiating with Comoros, an impoverished island nation in the Indian Ocean, to grant the bidoons citizenship – which would allow the government to deport them.

According to a report in Fusion, “Essentially, the law will allow the government to restrict access to citizenship based on verifiable bloodlines, while punishing those who skirted the system to get citizenship. The benefits that come with citizenship would be stripped.”

“I think that we reserve the word ‘draconian’ for instances such as this one,” Wafa Ben Hassine, a Tunisia-based legal expert and former Electronic Frontier Foundation fellow, told Fusion.

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

Announcement: Research Fellow – Global Terrorism and Collective Moral Responsibility

Applications are invited for a full-time Research Fellow in Philosophy to conduct research and related activities for the ERC Advanced Grant Research Project Global Terrorism and Collective Moral Responsibility: Redesigning Military, Police and Intelligence Institutions in Liberal Democracies (the ‘Project’) under the supervision and direction of Professor Seumas Miller (Principal Investigator). The Fellow will conduct research at the interface between the international laws and moral principles pertaining to counter-terrorism.

The post is fixed-term for 4 years from the date of appointment which is anticipated to be October 2016. The multi-disciplinary Project is hosted partly at the University of Oxford and partly at Delft University of Technology but this post is fully located in central Oxford at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, which is part of the Faculty of Philosophy; the Director of the Uehiro Centre is Professor Julian Savulescu.

The postholder will conduct collaborative research in moral philosophy, applied ethics and international law relevant to the Project’s research themes. Collaborative research will include the provision of research assistance for Professor Miller and literature reviews, the postholder will also participate in other project activities such as grant applications, event planning, preparation of policy papers, public engagement, development of collaborations and other occasional duties.

The postholder is to have received the degree of PhD (or equivalent) in philosophy by the start date. Also essential are excellent research skills, an outstanding research record and proven track record in publishing articles in philosophy with a specialism relevant to the Project. Experience of working at the interface of international laws and moral principles pertaining to counter-terrorism is desirable.

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

A Sporting Chance: Had We Been Willing, We Could Have Moved or Delayed the Rio Olympics

by Adam R. Houston, JD, MA, LLM

It looks like the Rio Olympics are indeed going to happen; fingers crossed that all the things that could go wrong – from filthy aquatic venues, to collapsing infrastructure, to threats of terrorism – do not. The most notorious among these concerns has been the risk posed by hundreds of thousands of international visitors from over two hundred countries returning home with the unwanted souvenir of Zika virus, facilitating its global spread. In response, more than two hundred public health experts signed a letter to the World Health Organization, recommending that the Rio games be either postponed or moved to another venue.

One thing largely missing from the subsequent conversation, however, has been the actual feasibility of moving or postponing the Games. Obviously there are numerous vested interests, from the International Olympic Committee to the Brazilian government to a host of corporate sponsors, who are exceedingly reluctant to have their plans disrupted. Being unwilling, however, is not the same as being unable. Unfortunately, starting from the assumption that moving or postponing the Olympics is simply not possible frames the conversation in a way that directs it towards justifying the refusal to act, as opposed to conducting a proper assessment of the risks and benefits of doing so. The purpose of this piece is not to speculate on whether the Olympics should have been moved or delayed, whether for Zika or any other reason, something extensively debated elsewhere. It is to highlight the fact that if the decision had been made to move, postpone, or even cancel the Games, it could have been carried out.

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 Forgiveness in Florida June 16, 2016 Like so many others around the world, this past week…

June 16, 2016

by Sean Philpott-Jones, Chair, Bioethics Program of Clarkson University & Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

No Forgiveness in Florida

Like so many others around the world, this past weekend my husband and I watched in disbelief as the deadliest mass shooting in American history unfolded in Orlando. What started out for many as a joyous evening of drinking and dancing turned into a horrifying morning of chaos and mayhem after a deranged gunman used a legally obtained semiautomatic rifle to kill 49 people and wound 53 others at a popular gay nightclub called Pulse.

In the four days since the shootings in Orlando, we still know little about the gunman’s motives. However, the opportunistic motives of so many others capitalizing on this tragedy are clear.

Consider the motives of the radical terror group ISIS, which has been quick to claim credit for the assault. In chilling calls to 911 and a local television station during the attack, the gunman pledged allegiance to that militant organization. While there is no evidence that the shooter was acting on direct orders from ISIS leaders, the virulent homophobia of ISIS is well known. In the regions of Iraq and Syria that group still holds, those suspected or accused of the crime of being gay are put to death. So routine are these executions, in which men hurled from the tops of five-story buildings as bloodthirsty crowds watch from below, that they scarcely make the news anymore.

As sickening as that sounds, imprisoning or executing people simply because they are gay is commonplace.

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

Deliberating Over Ending Two Species When We Are Bringing Tens of Thousands to the Brink of Extinction

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

One of the first news articles I ever wrote in journalism was as an intern at Stanford Magazine. This piece was on research into a human vaccine that would do nothing for us, but would kill any mosquito who happened to bite an inoculated person. The researcher’s ethical question at the time was whether anyone would consent to getting a vaccine that does nothing for her or his personal health.

Twenty-five years later, and this month Smithsonian Magazine published an article on CRISPR-9 gene-editing techniques that will allow for the eradication of mosquitoes.  A group of scientists introduced a mutation into female mosquitoes that caused infertility—the mutation spread to 75 percent of that specific mosquito specie’s population. This possibility raises the question of whether such a mutation should be released that has as its goal, the elimination of an entire species.

The same question has been raised by the WHO which is debating whether the remaining samples of the smallpox virus should be destroyed. The only two sources (that we know of) are at the CDC in Atlanta and the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology in Russia. For many years, the argument in favor of keeping it around was in case we needed to create a vaccine. But such vaccines can now be made without the virus. One fear is that if someone got a hold of the remaining stock, that a bio-terrorism weapon could be created. The other fear is whether humans should deliberately eradicate any species.

In the 1950s we began a program to eradicate the screwworm (a bane to ranchers) by sterilizing the males of the species using radiation, a process that has taken decades and has not quite led to the extinction of the species.

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

BioethicsTV: Containment Fails to Go Viral

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

The CW network began airing a “limited” series (what used to be called a mini-series) drama about a bio-terrorism outbreak in the city of Atlanta. Similar to the far superior film Contagion, this television show explores how lives change and the tough decisions that are made in an epidemic.

Containment demonstrates many of the real tools public health has for controlling an epidemic of little known origin and lacking cure or vaccine: closing public places, compulsory leave at businesses, cordon sanitaire, curfews, sanitation, isolation, price controls, quarantine, screening, surveillance, testing, and travel restrictions.…

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 Ethics of Non-Human Primate Research

Andrew Fenton and Syd M. Johnson criticize the acceptance of non-human primate research.

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At the end of 2015, the US National Institutes of Health announced that it would no longer support biomedical research on chimpanzees and that it would send the last of its chimpanzees to sanctuaries. In support of its decision, the National Institutes of Health cited both the reduced need for chimpanzees in biomedical research, and the principles set forth by the Institute of Medicine in its much-needed report on chimpanzee research. This was one of many recent developments that evince ongoing, informed reconsideration of the scientific use of non-human primates. At the same time, some in the biomedical research community have railed against what they consider to be misinformed and extremist propaganda that jeopardizes research on these animals.

In May, 2015 the journal Nature Neuroscience carried an editorial decrying the impact of “animal rights extremists” on the climate surrounding non-human primate research. The impetus for the editorial was the announcement by Nikos Logothetis (a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics), that he was discontinuing his research using rhesus macaques because of “‘never ending abuse’ by animal rights activists.” The editorial called for a significant show of researcher solidarity, greater enforcement of anti-harassment laws, and a push to counter the “distortions” and “terrorism” of animal rights activists with the “truth” about the importance and benefits of harmful non-human primate research in areas like neuroscience.

To be clear, we agree that violence or threats of violence have no place in civil society (though this should not be confused with acts of civil disobedience).

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.