Tag: utilitarianism

Bioethics Blogs

Human-pig ‘chimeras’ may provide vital transplant organs, but come with ethical dilemmas too

Growing human organs in pigs mean they’re doing our dirty work for us.

Organ transplantation is one of modern medicine’s success stories, but it is hampered by a scarcity of donor organs. Figures for the UK published by the NHS Blood and Transport Service show that 429 patients died in 2014-2015 while awaiting an organ. What’s more, many of the 807 removed from the waiting list will have been removed because they became too ill to receive an organ, and are likely to have died as a result.

So while there is a strong ethical imperative to increase the supply of donor organs, many of the methods tried or proposed – presumed consent, allowing organs to be bought and sold, and using lower-grade organs such as those from donors with HIV – are themselves controversial. And even if we accept these approaches it’s unlikely they will be sufficient to meet the demand.

Gene editing techniques such as CRISPR could provide the answer. These techniques allow us to make precise changes in the DNA of living organisms with exciting prospects for treating disease – for example by modifying human DNA to remove genes that cause disease or insert genes associated with natural immunity to conditions such as HIV/AIDS. However, gene editing the DNA of animals could prove equally important for the medical treatment of humans.

Scientists are now working on a technique that would allow human organs to be grown inside pigs. The DNA within a pig embryo that enables it to grow a pancreas is deleted, and human stem cells are injected into the embryo.

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-pig ‘chimeras’ may provide vital transplant organs, but they raise ethical dilemmas

Growing human organs in pigs mean they’re doing our dirty work for us.

Organ transplantation is one of modern medicine’s success stories, but it is hampered by a scarcity of donor organs. Figures for the UK published by the NHS Blood and Transport Service show that 429 patients died in 2014-2015 while awaiting an organ. What’s more, many of the 807 removed from the waiting list will have been removed because they became too ill to receive an organ, and are likely to have died as a result.

So while there is a strong ethical imperative to increase the supply of donor organs, many of the methods tried or proposed – presumed consent, allowing organs to be bought and sold, and using lower-grade organs such as those from donors with HIV – are themselves controversial. And even if we accept these approaches it’s unlikely they will be sufficient to meet the demand.

Gene editing techniques such as CRISPR could provide the answer. These techniques allow us to make precise changes in the DNA of living organisms with exciting prospects for treating disease – for example by modifying human DNA to remove genes that cause disease or insert genes associated with natural immunity to conditions such as HIV/AIDS. However, gene editing the DNA of animals could prove equally important for the medical treatment of humans.

Scientists are now working on a technique that would allow human organs to be grown inside pigs. The DNA within a pig embryo that enables it to grow a pancreas is deleted, and human stem cells are injected into the embryo.

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

Guest Post: Should you give to beggars? Yes, you should.

Written by Richard Christian.

 

In a stimulating and controversial post on this blog, and later in a paper published in Think, Ole Martin Moen has argued that you should not give to beggars. His argument is simple and familiar. It is that the beggar one encounters in the rich world is, in the scheme of things, doing very well for herself. The London beggar is hungry, ragged, addicted, and schizophrenic; but she is like unto a king in comparison to the starving Ethiopian. If she receives only a few pounds a day and falls asleep in a doorway, she is still much better off than the millions of people in the world now dying for lack of food or clean water. It follows that a pound put in the hand of that beggar is a pound wasted: it should have gone to the person whose need is most urgent. Moen counsels you to ignore the beggar as you pass her on the street, and to give all your spare pounds instead to charities that assist the world’s most needy. In general, in your action, you should aim to do the most good you can. I wish to say here a word in favour of the beggar, and to show what I think is wrong with this currently fashionable line of reasoning in applied ethics.

Let us put some initial objections aside in order to focus the argument. We assume that you, the rich passer-by, have a right to your money. We assume that it is possible to know that by donating your pound to charity you would send it to the most needy and would assist them.

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

Animal suffering and the pointlessness of moral philosophy

Consider the infamous Chinese dog market. Dogs are rounded up, sometimes beaten while still alive (ostensibly to improve the flavour of their meat), killed, and eaten.

Everyone I know thinks it’s obscene, and that the suffering of the dogs cannot possibly be outweighed by the sensual satisfaction of the diners, the desirability of not interfering, colonially, with practices acceptable in another culture, or by any other consideration. It’s just wrong.

‘It’s just wrong’ is the observation that moral philosophers exist to denounce. They draw their salaries for interrogating this observation, exploding its naivety, and showing that the unexamined observation is the observation not worth making.

But what can the moral philosophers bring to the discussion about the Chinese dogs? Alone, and unaided by science, not much. The philosophy turns out to be either (a) reheated science or (b) a description of our intuitions, together with more or less bare assertions that those intuitions are either good or bad. Why might it be ‘wrong’ to treat the dogs like that? There are, broadly, two possible categories of reasons: reasons to do with the dogs, and reasons to do with the humans who kill and eat them.

Reasons to do with the dogs

(a)        They are in pain

The statement ‘they are in pain’, is of course in danger of being anthropomorphic – of assuming that animal pain is akin to human pain. For it to be uncomplicatedly akin to human pain, animals would have to have consciousness. C.S. Lewis thought that animal pain was not as much of a challenge to the notion of a good, omnipotent God because animals have no sense of self.

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 justifies parents’ influence on their children?” written by Yutang Jin

This essay was a finalist in the Graduate Category of the 2nd Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Written by University of Oxford Student, Yutang Jin

In a family, parents can exert enormous influence on their children. Parents tend to implant in their children’s mind, for good or ill, values and ideas which go on to guide their whole lives. This essay focuses on this relationship and discusses what justification we can have for parental influence over their children.

The dominant discourse in addressing the parent-child relationship is that of moral rights. I argue, however, that the liberal discourse of rights, sound as it may be, has lots of drawbacks that disqualify it from being a cogent account of family relationships. I then go on to craft a Confucian framework whereby to discuss how parents and children should behave to each other. My main argument is that parents’ influence is justifiable insofar as parents comply with moral rules that regulate their relationship with children, and these rules are subject to public justification and rectification.

I.
One way to think of where parents’ discretion over their children ends is to be found in the liberal tradition of rights. According to natural rights theories, children are entitled to basic human rights as any others. This account, however, suffers two drawbacks. First, childrearing prima facie demands more of parents than providing basic needs as prescribed by general human rights. The second problem is what I call a ‘redistribution dilemma’, namely that it fails to convincingly account for why a child should not, upon their birth, be redistributed by the state to suitable stepparents in a way that makes her future life better off than if she stays with her biological parents.

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

Bioethics and natural law: an interview with John Keown

Bioethics discourse is often divided into two broad categories: utilitarian perspectives and so-called deontological or Kantian approaches to ethics. An alternative viewpoint that receives far less attention is a natural law perspective on ethics and medicine. The natural law approach emphasizes interests or ends common to all members of humanity, and offers a teleological account of morality and human flourishing.

Professor John Keown of Georgetown University’s Kennedy Institute for Ethics recently co-authored a book on natural law with the late Georgetown Professor Alfonso Gómez-Lobo. The book is entitled Bioethics and the Human Goods: An Introduction to Natural Law Bioethics. The Deputy Editor of BioEdge, Xavier Symons, interviewed Professor Keown about his latest work. 

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Xavier SymonsWhat led you to write Bioethics and the Human Goods: An Introduction to Natural Law Bioethics?

John Keown: The book was largely written by my distinguished colleague and friend, the late Professor Alfonso Gómez-Lobo, who held the Ryan Chair in Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy at Georgetown. Before his untimely death at the end of 2011, he had submitted a manuscript to Georgetown University Press. With the kind permission of his widow, and with the approval of the Press, I completed the project, incorporating amendments that he had indicated, in his comments on the referees’ reports, that he wanted to make, and some amendments that I thought appropriate. About a third of the book is material I added to his original manuscript. I thought it important, given the regrettable dearth of introductory books on bioethics from a natural law perspective, that his manuscript should be enlarged, updated and completed

What contribution do you think natural law can make to the field 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

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Should We Take Moral Advice From Our Computers? written by Mahmoud Ghanem

This essay received an Honourable Mention in the undergraduate category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Written by University of Oxford student, Mahmoud Ghanem

The Case For Computer Assisted Ethics

In the interest of rigour, I will avoid use of the phrase “Artificial Intelligence”, though many of the techniques I will discuss, namely statistical inference and automated theorem proving underpin most of what is described as “AI” today.

Whether we believe that the goal of moral actions ought to be to form good habits, to maximise some quality in the world, to follow the example of certain role models, or to adhere to some set of rules or guiding principles, a good case for consulting a well designed computer program in the process of making our moral decisions can be made. After all, the process of carrying out each of the above successfully at least requires:

(1) Access to relevant and accurate data, and

(2) The ability to draw accurate conclusions by analysing such data.

Both of which are things that computers are very good at.

To make a case otherwise is to claim one of two things: either that humans have access to morally relevant data, which is in some way fundamentally inaccessible to computers, or that humans can engage in a kind of moral reasoning which is fundamentally uncomputable. I will address these two points before moving on to a suggestion of what such a computer program may look like. Finally, I will address the idea that consulting computers will make us morally lazy, by showing how a well designed program ought to, in fact, achieve the opposite.

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 things Christians need to know about ethics #2

Understanding the problems of consequential ethics

Another very common ethical idea in our surrounding culture is that the morality of an action can be determined by its consequences. If one’s sense of morality is primarily based on feelings, but the there are situations in which feelings are unclear then one can look at the consequences of an action to determine if it is right or wrong. In moral philosophy this way of seeing ethics is represented best by utilitarianism, but for many in the culture around us the consequential ethics they use is not as well thought through as utilitarian ethical theory. It is primarily the simpler idea that one can morally justify doing something that would otherwise be wrong if the outcome is good.

This is not a way of thinking that is compatible with biblically grounded Christian ethics. We should be concerned about the consequences of our actions, but there is a clear understanding among Christian ethicists that consequential ethics can lead to many wrong moral decisions. The value and dignity of persons in the minority or otherwise on the fringes of society can be abandoned when decisions are made on the basis of the good of the majority. It does not fit with a biblical understanding of moral truth to say that we can do what is wrong to achieve a good outcome. The ends do not justify the means. Consequential arguments are commonly false rationalizations to justify ourselves for doing something we know to be wrong. King Saul tried to justify his disobedience of God’s command to kill the livestock of the Amalekites by saying that bringing the best of the animals home with him would allow him to give them to God as sacrifices.

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

Guest Post: Does Humanity Want Computers Making Moral Decisions?

Albert Barqué-Duran
Department of Psychology
CITY UNIVERSITY LONDON

A runaway trolley is approaching a fork in the tracks. If the trolley is allowed to run on its current track, a work crew of five will be killed. If the driver steers the train down the other branch, a lone worker will be killed. If you were driving this trolley what would you do? What would a computer or robot driving this trolley do? Autonomous systems are coming whether people like it or not. Will they be ethical? Will they be good? And what do we mean by “good”?

Many agree that artificial moral agents are necessary and inevitable. Others say that the idea of artificial moral agents intensifies their distress with cutting edge technology. There is something paradoxical in the idea that one could relieve the anxiety created by sophisticated technology with even more sophisticated technology. A tension exists between the fascination with technology and the anxiety it provokes. This anxiety could be explained by (1) all the usual futurist fears about technology on a trajectory beyond human control and (2) worries about what this technology might reveal about human beings themselves. The question is not what will technology be like in the future, but rather, what will we be like, what are we becoming as we forge increasingly intimate relationships with our machines. What will be the human consequences of attempting to mechanize moral decision-making?

Nowadays, when computer systems select from among different courses of action, they engage in a kind of decision-making process. The ethical dimensions of this decision-making are largely determined by the values engineers incorporate into the systems, either implicitly or explicitly.

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

Can wars ever be just or are wars merely justifiable?: The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Photo via freedigitalphotos.net.

STUDENT VOICES

By: Louise Boshab

The concepts of justice and injustice are not effective in defining war in an objective manner but on the other hand easily bring on a subjective understanding of war among populations, which will then influence either their opposition or their support of war (Gaoshan 280).

In a lecture at the Carnegie Council, David Rodin of the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law, and Armed Conflict addresses the issue of the ethics of war and conflict, and caused me to reflect upon what makes a war just. I will explore the ideas of justified and unjustified wars discussed in Rodin’s talk through the example of the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One of the initial reasons behind the intermittent conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo taking place since 1997 has to do with the status of the Banyarwanda—Congolese people of Rwandan descent—and of the Congolese Tutsi within Congolese society. The strong anti-Rwandan feelings that existed before the war only grew worse.

In African Affairs, author Filip Reyntjens attributes this deterioration of relationships between ethnic groups to the behavior of the Banyarwanda and Congolese Tutsi towards the general population. Reyntjens explains that “local populations were harassed, insulted and humiliated; the ‘liberators’ seized household appliances, communication equipment, cars, cattle and houses” (243). He then adds: “already by the end of 1996, a number of organizations and movements started to emerge whose stated objective was to fight ‘Tutsi hegemonism’ and which used violent anti-Tutsi language” (243).

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.