Tag: utilitarianism

Bioethics Blogs

Deterrence or Disarmament?: The Ethics of Nuclear Warfare

Corroral Missile in front of the Center Exchange, 1957.                                          Photo via NYPL Digital Archives.

STUDENT VOICES

By: Kayla Giampaolo

On July 16, 1945 at 5:29 a.m., a 30,000 foot mass of smoke rose in New Mexico’s desert: the first atomic bomb had just been successfully tested. At the time, most people were unaware that the course of warfare and ultimately the world was about to change irrevocably. Since that eerie summer morning, nine nations have developed the intelligence to create and possess nuclear weapons (Granoff, 2000, p. 1414). The United States is one of these nuclear superpowers, making the ethical issues associated with these weapons critical and relevant.

Is using a nuclear weapon morally permissible under some circumstances? Is it ethical to implement nuclear deterrence (threatening to use atomic weapons) as a self-defense strategy?

Most research across disciplines unanimously agrees that it is immoral to detonate an atomic weapon due to both short and long-term catastrophic effects. Therefore, this piece shall not focus on the actual use of nuclear weapons, but instead analyze the latter question. Using various philosophical concepts, it will explore the fundamental question as to whether any implementation of nuclear deterrence that involves a risk to civilians is morally acceptable. The models, though differing in origin and rationale, provide a unique lens from which to view this ethical dilemma.

Before analyzing various frameworks, it is first important to understand the concept of nuclear deterrence and why it is a pressing ethical issue.

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

Toward a Typology of Transhumanism

Years ago, James Hughes sought to typify the emerging political debate over transhumanism with a three-axis political scale, adding a biopolitical dimension to the familiar axes of social and fiscal libertarianism. But transhumanism is a very academic issue, both in the sense that many transhumanists, including Hughes, are academics, and in the sense that it is very removed from everyday practical concerns. So it may make more sense to characterize the different types of transhumanists in terms of the kinds of intellectual positions to which they adhere rather than to how they relate to different positions on the political spectrum. As Zoltan Istvan’s wacky transhumanist presidential campaign shows us, transhumanism is hardly ready for prime time when it comes to American politics.

And so, I propose a continuum of transhumanist thought, to help observers understand the intellectual differences between some of its proponents — based on three different levels of support for human enhancement technologies.

First, the most mild form of transhumanists: those who embrace the human enhancement project, or reject most substantive limits to human enhancement, but who do not have a very concrete vision of what kinds of things human enhancement technology may be used for. In terms of their intellectual background, these mild transhumanists can be defined by their diversity rather than their unity. They adhere to some of the more respectable philosophical schools, such as pragmatism, various kinds of liberalism, or simply the thin, “formally rational” morality of mainstream bioethics. Many of these mild transhumanists are indeed professional bioethicists in good standing. Few,

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

Not content with temporal parochialism

By Dominic Wilkinson @Neonatal Ethics, Director of medical ethics

Why should we care about what happens to future generations? What reason do we have to sacrifice our own well-being and interests for the sake of people who will exist after we are dead?

Last night Professor Sam Scheffler from NYU gave the first of the 2015 Uehiro lectures on this controversial and challenging topic.  (The Audio file of the lecture will be made available here as soon as possible)

He started by observing a phenomenon he described as ‘temporal parochialism’. Our world has become increasingly globalized, and cosmopolitan. We recognize and care about the impact of our actions on people on the other side of the planet. However, Scheffler argued that we have at the same time become increasingly isolated in time – both from our ancestors and from our descendants. We do not appear to consider the moral concerns of the past to be relevant to our age, and we struggle to be motivated by the plight of people in the future. Should we be temporally as well as spatially broad-minded? Should we care about the far future?

Questions like the ones above are obviously highly important and relevant for policies on climate change. The Paris climate change deal was motivated in part by concern for future generations. However, Scheffler noted that policies on climate change affect people (both living and not yet born) with whom we might have relationships. Given that relationships form the basis for much moral concern, it is more straightforward to appreciate why we might be prepared to sacrifice some of our own wellbeing for the sake of theirs.

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

Interview: David S. Oderberg

Interview: David S. Oderberg

David S. Oderberg is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading, UK, and has written extensively on bioethical issues such as abortion, euthanasia, genetic engineering, animal rights, and capital punishment from a natural law, anti-consequentialist viewpoint. He is also the editor of Ratio, an international journal of analytic philosophy. Xavier Symonds, Deputy Editor of BioEdge, asked him to comment on the state of contemporary bioethics.

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Xavier Symons: In your opinion, what are the main philosophical concepts that bioethicists tend to misunderstand?

David S. Oderberg: There’s a lot of misunderstanding in the bioethics industry (because it is something of an industry), although I’d prefer to put it in terms of simple mistakes or confusions. I don’t think most bioethicists misunderstand what they believe or recommend at policy level, since most have a clear agenda, which is to pull apart as many “taboos”, i.e., commonsense traditional prohibitions, as possible.

A lot of the time, the ends justify the means inasmuch as bioethicists will use whatever argument they have to hand, whether good, bad, or indifferent, to advance a prior agenda. In that sense, I suppose you could say they misunderstand the function of argument, which is to get to the truth, not to advance a previously-adopted policy.

I recall reading, a number of years ago, a report by the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority, produced by a handful of bioethicists and devoted to defending human embryo experimentation. It was abundantly clear from the report that the authors (most of whom I had barely heard of as far as the philosophy profession is concerned) were intent on recommending embryo experimentation to the government as morally permissible, and they used whatever argument or “theory” they could to defend it.

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

In the Journals, October 2015 – Part II by Sultana Banulescu

This month’s “In the Journals…” brings us a body of articles discussing pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, female anatomy, substance abuse, and addiction, with a focus on risk, secrecy, stigma, and strategies of coping and self-preservation.

Critical Public Health

What’s the story on addiction? Popular myths in the USA and Finland

Matilda Hellman & Robin Room

The study inquires into popular myths on addiction in two countries: Finland and the USA. It provides evidence of the manners in which the typical media narratives incorporate basic value traits from their context of origin. We distinguish some main features in the narrative set-ups that support different solution repertoires for dealing with addiction. Belief and hope are crucial story elements associated with the US emphasis on group formation and local empowerment. The individual is assigned obligations and can be morally condemned. In the Finnish journalistic prose, there seems to be an inherent belief that the agenda-setting in itself will propel the question into the institutionalised welfare state solution machinery. The occurrence of a story resolution was customary in the US stories, whereas the Finnish stories were typically left pending. The evidence produced has implications for the ongoing debate regarding the mainstreaming of both definitions of and solutions to addiction problems.

Low income, high risk: the overlapping stigmas of food allergy and poverty

Leia M. Minaker, Susan J. Elliott & Ann Clarke

The aim of this study was to explore experiences and coping strategies of low-income families affected by food allergies. Of particular interest were experiences of allergy-related stigma within the context of poverty stigma.

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

Interview: Daniel Callahan on communitarian bioethics

Daniel Callahan is one of the most influential thinkers in contemporary bioethics. He is the founder and president emeritus of the Hastings Center, and has written or edited more than 40 books. Most recently he published a memoir, In Search of the Good: A Life in Bioethics (MIT Press), and The Roots of Bioethics: Health, Progress, Technology, Death (Oxford University Press). He also has a forthcoming work, Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Disease, Food, Water, Chronic Illness, Obesity (Columbia University Press, 2016).

Recently he spoke with BioEdge about the state of the discipline today. 

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Xavier Symons: You were present at the creation, so to speak, of “bioethics” in the 1970s. Are you surprised at how prominent the field has become? Where will bioethics be in another 50 year’s time? Will it defy sceptics and survive and thrive?

Daniel Callahan: When my psychiatrist colleague Willard Gaylin and I created the world’s first research center on bioethics in 1969, the Hastings Center–even before the term bioethics had been invented—we were confident it would survive and flourish. By the 1960s research advances in medicine and biology were creating a surge of ethical problems and dilemmas,  from the beginning of life to its end, and much in between. At the same time health care costs were rising and straining national  government  budgets. Not only did the new technologies that generated most of the dilemmas improve health and extended life they no less raised costs, creating ethical issues of allocation.   

We were welcomed  by a number of prominent doctors and biology researchers, urging us on, but also with some worry and suspicion from others.

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

Ageing and disability – XX General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life

Índice de natalidad en el mundo - Alemania y Japón tienen los más bajos lo que emvejece la población con grave efecto demográfico social y económicoThis text is a comment on the book “Ageing and disability” corresponding to the XX General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, celebrated in Rome from 26th February to 1st March, 2014.

 

Introduction

The increased life expectancy of the world population, due to better quality of life, hygiene-healthcare measures available to increasing numbers of people, and progressively expanding prevention efforts, raises new and serious challenges to which we must provide answers.
Greater longevity is also associated with an increase in morbidity with respect to other stages of life. In the elderly, these often manifest as multiple pathology, which complicate the situation of disability and dependence typical of old age.
Confronting this issue from a proper perspective requires solid ethical principles that allow the elderly and disabled to be treated as individuals in all their aspects, i.e. by respecting their dignity, providing human and material resources proportionate to their physical and psychological needs, and also facilitating the spiritual guidance that allows them to accept the loneliness, dependence, the disability itself and the event of death from a perspective of reason, which may relieve their suffering and open their hope to transcendence.
Dignity of the elderly and disabled
Post-modern society often experiences a distortion of the concept of human dignity. The influence of utilitarian theories and hedonist ethics leaves little or no room for the treatment and care of the disabled or elderly.
Dignity and usefulness often appear as closely related concepts, so that the first is inconceivable without the second. It seems that productivity (mainly economic) and the level of autonomy (applied in all senses) are what determine the level of personal dignity that might be attributed to someone.

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

Of big beasts and straw men

I wrote recently on this blog about the disappointingly peremptory resolution by the US National Institutes for Health that they would not fund any use of genome editing technologies in human embryos. Although an understandable default, given the history, personalities and politics involved, my point was that while there may be ethical reasons not to support the research there may also be ethical reasons to support it, and to decline to examine these in the novel conditions created by, for example, wide ranging debates on pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and cell reconstruction techniques for the avoidance of mitochondrial DNA disorders, and innovations in biotechnology (notably the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing system), amounts to an abdication of responsibility if you exert a major influence on the production of scientific knowledge for your society. The US Department of Health and Human Services has now commissioned the National Academy of Science to deliver a report on the scientific, medical and ethical considerations relating to gene editing and the Academy has set up an advisory group (which, despite earlier calls from its chair and other members for an international and interdisciplinary debate, apparently has only one non-US and one non-scientist member).

A major influence on the production and transfer of scientific knowledge on this side of the Atlantic is the Wellcome Trust, the world’s second largest non-governmental funder of medical research.   The Trust is currently supporting the consensus-building, interdisciplinary (though science-driven) Hinxton Group to examine genome editing and (it must be declared) is one of the three, hands-off funders of the Nuffield Council (along with the Nuffield Foundation and the Medical Research Council).

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: Why Don’t We Do More to Help the Global Poor?

Simon Keller, Victoria University of Wellington
Read more in the current issue of the Journal of Practical Ethics

There is good reason to believe that people living comfortable lives in affluent countries should do more to help impoverished people in other parts of the world. Billions of people lack the nutrition, medicines, shelter, and safety that the better-off take for granted, and there exist organizations that do a pretty good job of taking money donated by the relatively rich and directing it towards those who need it most. If I can address myself to others who count among the global rich: we could do more to help the global poor, but we don’t.

It is not just that we do not do much to help the global poor; it is also that our patterns of helping do not respond to the most morally significant aspects of global poverty. We will give more in response to a disaster, like a hurricane or a tsunami, than to ongoing systemic poverty. We are more likely to give when confronted with a photograph of a starving family, or when we take ourselves to be sponsoring a particular child, than when faced with truths about how many people are suffering and how much they need our help.

In a recent article in Journal of Practical Ethics, I try to say something about what explains our patterns of helping behavior, as directed towards the global poor. Part of the explanation, of course, is our selfishness, laziness, and willful ignorance; and part of it is the power of personal stories and photographs to engage our emotions while statistics and geopolitical truths leave us numb.

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

Taking Care of Nana

According to the Center for Disease Control, the United States has reached an unprecedented time in its history: Americans aged 65 years or older will double in the next 25 years to over 72 million of the US population, accounting for roughly 20% of said population by 2030.[1] As Americans age the cost of medical and health care continues to rise.[2] Coupled with this is the reality that medical resources are not infinite.

An aging population and limited medical resources has led to ethical questions surrounding the care of individuals. How do we decide who gets the liver, dialysis, or the last ICU bed? More specifically, how do we care for an aging population that drains our health resources and financial stability?

Allocating medical resources is predominantly filtered through utilitarianism, an ethical theory that works from the principle of utility; one must choose that which produces the maximal balance of good over bad. Regarding this theory: “It is often formulated as a requirement to do the greatest good for the greatest number, as determined from an impartial perspective that gives equal weight to the legitimate interests of each effected party.”[3] In relationship to medical needs, utilitarianism seeks to maximize the outcome of health care while minimizing its cost.[4]  

This ethical framework has had a direct impact on aging men and women in the US. Various utilitarian theories have held that older people should receive limited medical or health-care resources due to their perceived limited productivity, long term benefit to society, or the fairness of treating them at the expense of the young.

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.