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Animal Liberation: Sacrificing the Good on the Altar of the Perfect?

24 Apr, 15 | by Iain Brassington

For my money, one of the best papers at the nonhuman animal ethics conference at Birmingham a couple of weeks ago was Steve Cooke’s.*  He was looking at the justifications for direct action in the name of disrupting research on animals, and presented the case – reasonably convincingly – that the main arguments against the permissibility of such direct action simply don’t work.  For him, there’s a decent analogy between rescuing animals from laboratories and rescuing drowning children from ponds: in both cases, if you can do so, you should, subject to the normal constraints about reasonable costs.  The question then becomes one of what is a reasonable cost.  He added to this that the mere illegality of such disruption mightn’t tip the balance away from action.  After all, if a law is unjust (he claims), it’s hard to see how that alone would make an all-else-being-equal permissible action impermissible.  What the law allows to be done to animals in labs is unjust, and so it doesn’t make much sense to say that breaking the law per se is wrong.

Now, I’m paraphrasing the argument, and ignoring a lot of background jurisprudential debate about obligations to follow the law.  (There are those who think that there’s a prima facie obligation to obey the law qua law; but I think that any reasonable version of that account will have a cutoff somewhere should the law be sufficiently unjust.)  But for my purposes, I don’t think that that matters.

It’s also worth noting that, at least formally, Cooke’s argument might be able to accommodate at least some animal research.  If you can claim that a given piece of research is, all things considered, justifiable, then direct action to disrupt it might not have the same moral backing.  Cooke thinks that little, if any, animal research is justified – but, again, that’s another, higher-order, argument.

One consideration in that further argument may be whether you think that there’s a duty to carry out (at least certain kinds of) research. more…

Conference: Compassion Fatigue: Changing Culture in the NHS

18 Apr, 13 | by Iain Brassington

26-28 June, Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, Birmingham

(via Andrew Edgar)

Can the language of compassion capture the moral problems confronted by the NHS, or might it obfuscate and distract us from more subtle and demanding issues?

Through a series of plenary addresses, workshops, panels and shared opportunities for discussion, “Compassion Fatigue” will provide an opportunity to explore the language of compassion, and the impact that it has on the practice of health care provision.

More details below the fold. more…

CFP: “Neurotechnological Interventions: Therapy or Enhancement”

6 Sep, 12 | by Iain Brassington

Submissions (of 300 words max) are invited for inclusion at the TILT authors’ workshop on the theme of “Neurotechnological Interventions: Therapy or Enhancement” in Tilburg on 15-16th November 2012.  The workshop is part of the FP 7 RoboLaw project, and will lead to the publication of a volume with papers.

Abstracts shoud describe briefly how the paper that you intend to submit will shed new light on the traditional distinctions and arguments in the debate on human enhancement.  The use of casuistry from cognitive enhancement, neurotechnology or robotics is welcomed, but not a necessary condition.  Contributions from law, ethics, philosophy of technology, science and technology studies, economics and general regulation studies are especially appreciated, but scholars in the social sciences, science and technology should not hesitate to submit.

Although individual papers may take casuistry from the fields of neurotechnology and robotics as their starting point, the workshop papers and the volume to be published will primarily focus on some often returning fuzzy distinctions and arguments in the debate on human enhancement in general.  The distinction between therapy and enhancement itself is exemplary in this respect.  The distinction is often not meant to merely serve the theoretical purpose of creating definitional clarity; it is also often implicitly used to depict a class of actions  as morally unproblematic (therapy) and a class of actions as morally problematic (enhancement).  The distinction has of course been criticized  because of the blurred lines between therapy and enhancement as it builds on a presupposed vague notion of normal health conditions.  The implicit normative connotations, however, also tend to cause a lot of confusion.  In addition, many of the ethical concerns explicitly put forward in the general debate on human enhancement, especially those in which notions such as unnaturalness, cheating,  injustice, dignity et cetera occur, appear to be multilayered and often overlapping with other arguments.  In their clustered compound guise they can easily obfuscate original intuitions or emotions of indignation, but also block possibilities of resolution and agreement.  When they are meticulously analyzed and reduced to underlying constituents these arguments often become more persuasive or at least manageable.

Authors should email an abstract of their paper (relating to the theme and its elaboration) before 15 September, and upon acceptance on the basis of the abstract, a draft of the full draft paper (in .doc, .docx, or .pdf format) before 1 November 2012, so that the papers can be circulated in due time and the reviewers/ commentators can prepare themselves appropriately.  Only a limited number of external invited contributors to the volume can be reimbursed for their costs. Whether a paper will be included in the volume to be published will be decided after receiving the very final version of the paper after the author’s workshop.

Important Dates

Before 15 September: Send an email to anton.vedder{at} with a 300 words abstract of the paper you intend to submit

22 September: Notification of acceptance

Before 1 November: Submission of full paper

Before 8 November: Circulation of papers

15-16 November 2012: Workshop

7 December: Selected final papers to be handed in.


via Sheelagh McGuinness

CONF & CFP: 9th International Conference on Clinical Ethics Consultation

13 Jul, 12 | by Iain Brassington

From Ralf Jox (Munich)

Call for Abstracts: “Clinical ethics: bridging clinical medicine and ethics”.

The Ninth International Conference on Clinical Ethics Consultation (ICCEC) 2013 will take place in Munich, Germany.

The conference’s intention is to strengthen the bridge between clinical medicine and ethics by providing a forum for the exchange of experience and discussions between clinicians, ethicists and ethics consultants.  In particular, the conference will feature
“role model consultations” based on real clinical cases from intensive care, dementia care, and oncology.  In addition, plenary sessions will focus on the needs for
ethics consultation from the perspective of clinicians and connect them to the experience of ethics consultants.  Ample time will also be provided for free oral or poster contributions based on an abstract competition.

All colleagues interested in ethics and medicine from all over the world are invited to
make the ICCEC 2013 a lively experience and a forum for fruitful exchange and helpful information.

The Scientific and Advisory Committees have identified the following four topic areas of interest: more…

IAB 2012: The Aftermath

30 Jun, 12 | by Iain Brassington

There seems to be general agreement among those to whom I’ve spoken, or who’re on Twitter, that this years IAB in Rotterdam was one of the best, if not the best.  Granted, the parallel sessions were very short – there’s not much you can do in 8 minutes – but the organisation was superb, and the range of plenary speakers excellent.  Solly Benatar is always worth hearing; and though Aubrey de Grey is – in my opinion – mad as a box of frogs when he’s on about aging, I could happily listen to him speak all day: he’s excellent.

And there was no magic dancing.  There was a bit of magic in the opening ceremony, and some perplexing dancing in the closing one… but no magic dancing.  Actually, there’s a part of me that regrets that a bit.  I did try to play the game where you try to work out and attend the really bad paper that got selected by accident – but I didn’t notice anything that came close to that.  The quality of the parallel papers was high.  Ditto the posters: I confess that I don’t really understand how poster sessions are supposed to work for ethics and law; but I liked the way they were thematised and treated as stimuli for mini-oral presentations.

For me, John Coggon’s paper at the “nudge” symposium was the best of the conference – and that’s not incestuous promotion of Manchester people, because he’s buggering off to Southampton.  I’d like to have seen Stephen Latham’s paper on political theory, too: I was elsewhere, but Christian Munthe was doing a fine job of live-tweeting everything he saw.

What were other people’s thoughts?  Do say in the comments.

In the meantime, we’ve already opened the #IAB2014 hashtag on twitter.  Mexico, here we come.

Why philosophical theorising about distributive justice in health care (mostly) doesn’t work

28 Jun, 12 | by David Hunter

I had the pleasure yesterday at the IAB 2012 to see Daniel Wikler run a symposium on population level bioethics – which primarily focused on prioritisation decisions. This was useful for me since it helped me coalesce why I think many if not all attempts to give a philosophical account of distributive justice in health care (and perhaps more generally) are doomed to fail. The methodology that Wikler et al adopted was to give a variety of cases which were in his words designed to isolate one element of tension for example fair chances vs efficiency so that we could evaluate and become more clear about what we value and why.

Now I don’t want to suggest such an approach is worthless – I do think it can help clarify what we think is and isn’t important, clarify concepts and so on. However much of the content of the symposium was similar to a symposium run by Wikler et al at the 2006 IAB in Beijing and for those of us who had attended both there was a sense that things hadn’t moved on much since then. I say that with no disrespect intended to Wikler et al – distributive justice in health is notoriously had and intractable so a lack of much progress is no sign of a lack of quality.

One of the cases they pulled up was interesting because it was iterative in nature – in the first case you have enough money to either vaccinate the 800 people who live in the city or the 200 people who live in the mountains. The majority of the audience chose the obviously efficient option. Then more money becomes available and you can now either vaccinate the remaining 200 in the mountains against that disease or vaccinate the 800 in the city against a new equally nasty disease. In this case Wikler reported that the majority of people they show the case to want to vaccinate those missed out in the first round which is puzzling since it is basically the same decision as in the first case but the opposite option is selected.

I think this case is useful to point out some flaws in this methodology and indeed in many approaches to distributive justice in health care. Taking isolated one off cases is of limited use because they make health care decisions too easy, health care decision making is (as I’ve argued elsewhere) inherently iterative if we spend money now to save X then that is likely to generate more health care needs and hence costs from X in the future. Hence decision making in health care prioritisation is embedded in time, and cannot be easily separated from its downstream impacts. As I’ve argued here: in regards to new technology this is unhelpful as a way to approach impacts. As I’ve argued here in regards to new technology this is unhelpful as a way to approach thinking about distributive justice because it prioritises justice at a particular point in time rather than justice overall. This is thinking about healthcare in the wrong way, it is like trying to understand a 3d scene by looking at a 2d snapshot – you can get an idea of what is happening but certainly not a complete understanding.

So what is the way forward in philosophical thinking about distributive justice in health care? Unfortunately I don’t have much positive to say, it is a matter I think of trying to be sensitive to the complexities of the actuality of health care decision making and muddling through.

CFP: Wellbeing and Public Policy

20 Apr, 12 | by Iain Brassington

This may be of interest to readers…

MANCEPT Workshops in Political Theory – Ninth Annual Conference
Manchester Centre for Political Theory (MANCEPT), University of Manchester
5th – 7th September 2012

Workshop on Well-being and Public Policy: Call for Abstracts

David Cameron, in a recent speech on introducing national measures of well-being to inform public policy, claimed that the UK government is aiming to measure the progress of the nation, “not just by how our economy is growing, but by how our lives are improving; not just by our standard of living, but by our quality of life.” In short, the UK government is looking to measure the nation’s well-being in order to “help make a better life for people.” Other governments and international organizations are also increasingly focusing upon well-being as a policy goal.

This workshop will focus on whether, and how, public policy can and should be informed, in some way, by considerations of the public’s well-being. There will be up to 12 speakers in total, who will be invited to give a 30 minute presentation, followed by a discussion. Potential areas of interest include (but are not limited to):

  • The role of well-being in public policy
  • The limits of political utilitarianism
  • Paternalism and well-being
  • The implications of different theories of well-being for public policy
  • The interaction between different measures of well-being and public policy

If you are interested to present during this workshop, please send to one or both of us an abstract of no more than 500 words with your full name and institutional affiliation before May 15th.

Sam Wren-Lewis (University of Leeds):
Tim Taylor (visiting research fellow, University of Leeds):

Further details about the conference available at

Workshop: The Baby Gaga Saga: Regulation of Human Products and the Politics of Breastfeeding

8 Mar, 12 | by David Hunter

Posted on behalf of Sorcha Uí Chonnachtaigh.

All are welcome to our multi-disciplinary workshop on the regulation of human breast milk and the ethics and politics of breastfeeding! Please circulate the programme and information below to anyone who may be interested.


Conference: “Other Voices, Other Rooms: Bioethics, Then and Now”

28 Feb, 12 | by Iain Brassington

Richard Huxtable has asked me to publicise this:

The EACME (European Association of Centres of Medical Ethics) annual conference will be hosted by the Centre for Ethics in Medicine at the University of Bristol, between 20 and 22 September 2012:

This conference will mark the 25th anniversary of the Association, which provides an ideal opportunity to reflect on the many contributions made in and to European bioethics to date.  The conference theme, “Other voices, other rooms: Bioethics, then and now” is borrowed from Truman Capote’s novel, which deals with issues of coming of age, including embracing one’s identity, understanding others, caring and being cared for, as well as searching for oneself and for those to whom one is relationally bound.

In keeping with these themes and the aims of the Association, we therefore invite speakers to reflect on the identity of European medical ethics, and the many places and people with whom it is intimately bound.  As such, we’re keen to hear from across the different disciplines which encounter bioethical issues, including (but not limited to) medical sciences, nursing, allied health, law, social sciences, philosophy, classics and drama. The deadline for abstracts is 1 March 2012.a

It’s a very tight turnaround to submit an abstract – but the conference as a whole could be very interesting, and touches on some of the worries I’ve articulated over the years here concerning what bioethics is.

CfP: Criminalizing Contagion: Ethical, legal and clinical challenges of prosecuting the spread of disease and sexually transmitted infections

3 Feb, 12 | by Iain Brassington

The BMJ Group journals Sexually Transmitted Infections and Journal of Medical Ethics, in conjunction with academics at the Centre for Social Ethics and Policy (University of Manchester) and the Health Ethics and Law Network (University of Southampton), would like to publish a collection of articles on the criminalization of disease and sexually transmitted infections. We invite article contributions to be published as part of this themed collection.

Funding has also been sought from the ESRC for a seminar series on the same theme and, if successful, authors contributing to this collection may also be invited to present their papers at one of the seminars (which will take place in winter 2012/13 and summer 2013 in Southampton, and winter 2013/14 and summer 2014 in Manchester).


The use of criminal law to respond to infectious disease transmission has far-reaching implications for law, policy and practice. It presupposes co-operation between clinicians and criminal justice professionals, and that people who infect others can be effectively and fairly identified and brought to justice. There is a potentially difficult relationship between criminal justice and public health bodies, whose priorities do not necessarily coincide. We are interested in receiving papers of broad interest to an international readership of medical ethics scholars and practicing clinicians on any of the following topics:

·      Legislative and policy reform on disease and sexually transmitted infections

·      Health services and the police: privacy, state interference and human rights

·      Evidence and ethics: prosecuting ‘infectious’ personal behaviours

·      Clinicians and the courts: the role of health professionals and criminal justice

·      The aims of criminalization and public health: a compatibility problem?

·      International comparative studies on disease and criminalization: policy, practice and legal issues

More details below the fold. more…

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