The title might seem melodramatic even though we are all on the edge right now. Humanity has survived many epidemics, two world wars, natural and technical disasters such as tsunamis or reactors exploding. The costs have been high though, and ethics has often shied away from providing answers for these tough times. In this post, I will argue that philosophers must be prepared to undertake a form of non-ideal emergency ethics to be able to help with the pressing moral questions, for instance in the medical sector.
Category: Health (Page 1 of 2)
In this post, guest contributor Gottfried Schweiger reflects on recognition of “everyday heroes” in the current COVID-19 crisis and what it says about our recognition regime.
Times of crisis are times when heroes are made and tales of heroism are written. The COVID-19 pandemic knows some heroes: all the medical staff in the front line, but also the many other people who keep society going and fight the pandemic. There are also more and more voices publicly acknowledging these “everyday heroes” (for example, Owen Jones in this recent opinion piece for The Guardian).
While some professions, such as doctors, are used to being at the top of the recognition hierarchy, people who are normally excluded from such public recognition are now also benefiting from it. These include the poorly paid employees in supermarkets and warehouses, but also the many who provide care and assistance in hospitals, nursing homes or private arrangements for the needy and chronically ill.
Two questions arise: how do recognition regimes shift in times of crisis and what about all those who are not everyday heroes, what does the crisis do to them?
Schools are closed. Flights cancelled. Highways and trains deserted. People are asked to minimise social contact. At first, the coronavirus appeared to be not much different from a normal flu. But then it spread in almost no time across 100 states around the world. Initially, the measures taken by the Italian government seemed extreme, perhaps exaggerated – now several countries are following the Italian example, including Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. The most urgent ethical issue raised by the coronavirus will be the allocation of limited resources, including hospital space. There are also concerns of global justice, given the huge differences between states with regard to their ability to deal with the virus. Despite the fatal effects of this pandemic, we also hear voices that view it as a chance and express the hope that it might bring about some positive changes in society. How will covid-19 affect us – as individuals and as a society? Will it make us more egoistic (“My family first!”) or will it bring us closer together, making us realise how much we depend on each other? Can we expect anything positive from this crisis, and what could that be?
This is the third interview in our Beyond the Ivory Tower series (previous interviewees: Onora O’Neill and Marc Stears). Back in December, Diana Popescu spoke to Jonathan Wolff about his experience working on public policy committees and what philosophers have to learn from engaging with real-life problems and social movements.
Jonathan Wolff is the Alfred Landecker Professor of Values and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. Before coming to Oxford, he was Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Arts and Humanities at UCL. He is currently developing a new research programme on revitalising democracy and civil society. His work largely concerns equality, disadvantage, social justice and poverty, as well as applied topics such as public safety, disability, gambling, and the regulation of recreational drugs. He has been a member of the Nuffield Council of Bioethics, the Academy of Medical Science working party on Drug Futures, the Gambling Review Body, the Homicide Review Group, an external member of the Board of Science of the British Medical Association, and a Trustee of GambleAware. He writes a regular column on higher education for The Guardian.
On January 11, 2020 The New York Times (NYT) published an opinion piece by their Editorial Board: “The F.D.A. Is in Trouble. Here’s How to Fix It”. The F.D.A. is the US Food and Drug Administration, a regulatory body with gatekeeping powers over pharmaceutical markets. Since 1962, patients can access new medical treatments only after the F.D.A. has declared them safe and effective, on the basis of evidence gathered in clinical trials. This is a form of pharmaceutical paternalism: patients’ right to try whatever treatment they see fit is partially restricted – they will find in chemists only those drugs that the F.D.A. judge good for them. Yet, argues the NYT Editorial Board, “libertarian groups bent on deregulation at any cost” are exploiting the frustration of patients who don’t find any treatment option in the market to put pressure on the F.D.A., curtailing its “already diminished powers.” I think that the NYT is right to be concerned with this trend, and in a recent article, I provide an account of why exactly we should value pharmaceutical paternalism.
In this post, John Tillson discusses issues raised by the recent decision by ITV to pull the Jeremy Kyle Show from our television screens.
A guest of the Jeremy Kyle Show has (likely) taken his own life a week after failing the show’s lie detector test taken to prove his fidelity. His partner subsequently ended their relationship. In light of these events, the show was permanently cancelled by its network. The House of Commons Select Committee has announced an inquiry to “ask whether enough support is offered both during and after filming, and whether there is a need for further regulatory oversight.” One proposal the inquiry could consider is whether production companies ought to establish Ethics Review Boards (ERBs) whose approval shows would require in order to enter production, and whether networks ought to make such ethical approval a precondition of broadcasting.
In 2017, US-scientists succeeded in transferring lamb foetuses to what comes very close to an artificial womb: a “biobag”. All of the lambs emerged from the biobag healthy. The scientists believe that about two years from now it will be possible to transfer preterm human babies to an artificial womb, in which they have greater chances to survive and develop without a handicap than in current neonatal intensive care. At this point in time, developers of the technology, such as Guid Oei, gynaecologist and professor at Eindhoven University of Technology, see the technology as a possible solution to the problem of neonatal mortality and disability due to preterm birth. They do not envisage uses of it that go far beyond that. Philosophers and ethicists, however, have started thinking about the use of artificial womb technology for very different purposes, such as being able to terminate a risky pregnancy without having to kill the foetus, or strengthening the freedom of women. If we consider such further going uses, new ethical issues arise, including whether artificial womb technology could promote gender justice. Should we embrace this technology as a means towards greater equality between men and women?
In a world where “wellness” has become a cultural signal of the American elite (think yoga and spa treatments), employers have not been afraid to market wellness programs as a one-way ticket to greater health, wealth, and happiness. Watching this kind of rhetoric on display in the wellness movement, it’s hard not to think that wellness programs actually strengthen biases against what they’re intended to combat: disability, economic stagnancy, and mental illness. In this post, I articulate precisely this worry.
In recent months, both the central UK Government at Westminster, and the Scottish Government have released strategic plans for addressing obesity. In both cases, among the measures being considered is a ban on multi-buy discounts for unhealthy foods and drinks, such as confectionery, crisps, cakes and sugary sodas. This would outlaw price promotions that offer a discount for purchasing a larger quantity of the product – for example, ‘buy one, get one free’, or ‘2 for £3’. Promotions of this sort have been illegal for alcohol in Scotland (though not England) since 2011.
Critics of these plans see them as “draconian” government interference with private individuals’ freedom to make their own choices regarding what to eat and drink. Indeed, on the face of it, policies like the multi-buy discount ban look like a clear example of paternalism, infringing John Stuart Mill’s famous harm principle:
There is currently a lot of attention on the UK’s “housing crisis”. One issue here is the quantity of available housing. There are commitments to address the shortage of housing in the 2017 manifestos of both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. Another issue is the quality of housing. On this issue, the Labour Party have restated the commitment they made in a 2015 Homes Bill to require that all homes meet the standard of being “fit for human habitation”. In this post, I explore the reasons in favour of this commitment.