Justice Everywhere

a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Category: Health (Page 2 of 3)

How will the coronavirus affect us – as individuals and as a society?

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?

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An Interview with Jonathan Wolff (Beyond the Ivory Tower Series)

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 drugsHe 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

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Against Pharmaceutical Libertarians

In this post, David Teira discusses his recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy defending pharmaceutical paternalism.


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.

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Why Isn’t Ethical Approval Required for Television Shows?

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.

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More Gender Justice Through the Artificial Womb?

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?

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How Workplace Wellness Programs Harm People with Disabilities

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.

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Are multi-buy discount bans paternalistic?

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

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Why should housing be fit for human habitation?

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.

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Maternity leave: why should employers pay?

Labour Market Injustice

Labour markets are rife with questions of justice. This series of blog posts; explore cases of injustice, highlight theoretical puzzles and point towards possible solutions. They emerged from debates at the ‘Labour Market Injustice’ Workshop co-hosted by Newcastle and Durham Universities and generously sponsored by the Society for Applied Philosophy.  In this fourth post Sarah Goff discusses bearing the costs of maternity leave.

In a 2004 interview, Donald Trump described pregnancy as an inconvenience” for business. Whether or not this remark reveals anything about President Trump’s intentions for his promised reforms to maternity leave in the U.S., it seems plausible as a statement of fact. For a business, it often will be an inconvenience for employees to have a legal right to take a leave of absence and return to their positions without penalty. Of course, the cost of providing paid leave is additional to any costs incurred from the inconvenience of the leave-taking itself.

Observing that there are costs to maternity leave does not imply new mothers lack a moral right to take it. The observation simply raises the question of who is responsible for bearing these costs. The case for employers to provide paid maternity leave is less strong than the case for employers to accommodate new mothers in taking a period of leave with a right to return to their jobs. While only employers can bear the cost of the inconvenience to business, there are many feasible arrangements for other actors to bear the costs of providing financial support during maternity leave. In fact, there is substantial variation across societies in: public provision for paid maternity leave, legal mandates on employers to provide paid leave, employers’ provision of paid leave in excess of legal requirements (particularly in high paying industries where there is a business interest in retaining skilled employees), and social and cultural practices of support for new parents from extended families and kinship networks.

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The Future of Disabilities: Will prenatal testing transform bad brute luck into a case of expensive tastes?

[This post is co-authored by Julia Mosquera and Fay Niker]

A few days ago, the UK’s Department of Health approved the roll-out of new non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT). The case in favour of NIPT is clear: it will provide diagnoses of Down’s syndrome with 99% accuracy and, as opposed to current tests like amniocentesis, will have no secondary effects on the mother or foetus.

But Sally Phillips’ BBC documentary ‘A World Without Down’s Syndrome?’, which aired earlier in the month, brought the issue to the attention of the general public in the hope of launching – or, more precisely, rekindling – the public debate concerning the ethics around technological developments in genetic screening. It asks us to think about the possible implications of NIPT for our society and, in particular, for people with Down’s syndrome – like her 11-year-old son, Olly.

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