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Politics

Crime and the Less-Polluted City Solution

10 Jan, 13 | by Iain Brassington

People who listen to Today may have heard an article in the prime 8:10 slot on the 9th about the correlation between a drop in the use of leaded petrol, and a drop in violent crime rates.  (Mother Jones actually beat the BBC, having published a piece on the same research last week: I meant to post something then, but was buried by other stuff.)

The nub of the story is this: that violent crime has been falling in the past few years, and though this pattern seems to lag about 20 years behind a fall in the use of lead in petrol, the fit is pretty good: a decline in leaded petrol predicts a decline in violent crime by about two decades – which is just about the time that we might expect would elapse between the formation of the brain and the highest likelihood of violent behaviour in humans.  Neat.  The Mother Jones piece provides lots of links to the relevant research – links to this (from 1999), and this (from 2007), and this (from 2012).

If the lead hypothesis is sound, it seems to be ethically interesting in a couple of ways. For one thing, it opens the way to at least some antisocial behaviour to be seen as being symptomatic of a deeper public health problem.  That’s interesting enough as it is, but – admittedly – it might be little more than interesting, on the grounds that leaded petrol is pretty much a thing of the past anyway (Wikipedia says that, as of 2011, leaded petrol was widely available only in 7 countries).

But the other way in which it’s interesting has to do with arguments about so-called “moral enhancement”. more…

Even by the Mail’s Standards, this is Low

30 Nov, 12 | by Iain Brassington

The Liverpool Care Pathway provides a rubric for managing the care of the terminally ill as they approach death.  A helpful pamphlet explaining what it is and what it does is available here.  Ideally, I’d quote the lot; but for the sake of efficiency, I’ll make do with an edited quotation:

What is the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP)?

The LCP is a pathway/ document that outlines this best care, irrespective of your relative/ friend’s diagnosis or whether they are dying at home, in hospital, in a hospice or a care home.

Medication/ treatment

Medication will be reviewed and any medication that is not helpful at this time may be stopped and new medication may be prescribed so that if a symptom should occur there would be no delay in responding.

It may not be possible to give medication by mouth at this time, so medication may be given by injection or sometimes if needed, by a continuous infusion by a small pump called a Syringe Driver, which will be tailored to individual needs.

It may not be appropriate to continue some tests at this time; these may include blood tests or blood pressure and temperature monitoring.

The staff should talk to you about maintaining your relative’s/ friend’s comfort; this should include discussion regarding position in bed, use of a special mattress and regular mouth care. You may want to be involved in elements of care at this time.

Diminished need for food and drink

Initially, as weakness develops, the effort of eating and drinking may simply have become too much and at this time help with feeding might be appreciated.

Your relative/friend will be supported to take food and fluids by mouth for as long as possible.

When someone stops eating and drinking it can be hard to accept, even when we know they are dying. It may be a physical sign that they are not going to get better. Your relative/friend may neither want or need food and/or drink and decisions about the use of artificial fluids (a drip) will be made in the best interests of your relative/friends for this moment in time. This decision will be explained to you and reviewed regularly.

This can be paraphrased further: medically futile treatment may be withdrawn; the main criterion for administering drugs will be symptom alleviation rather than life extension; some testing may be discontinued; it’s possible that there’ll come a point when artificial nutrition and hydration are no longer in the patient’s best interest, and they might be withdrawn if and when that point is reached.

None of this is particularly cheery; but death rarely is.  more…

Junk food feeders are criminal child abusers? Really?

15 Oct, 12 | by David Hunter

Public Service Announcement: Sensitivity Advisory Sticker – Caution Post contains sarcasm.
In the interests of our more sensitive readers not taking offence I recommend they skip this post on the grounds that it will contain gentle sarcasm, disagreement and a certain amount of me asking “Is that really what they mean to say?”*

Blog Post:
The Oxford Practical Ethics Blog is typically very good, hence when there are posts that seem shall we say not quite as thought through as they might be it seems worth mentioning this and raising some debate. Presently Charles Foster has an interesting post: Should you be prosecuted for feeding junk food to your child?

more…

Mouse Eggs: A Cool Solution to a First-World Problem?

8 Oct, 12 | by Iain Brassington

The news that Japanese researchers have successfully induced skin cells to behave like viable eggs, which have then been fertilised to create a new generation of mice, may well come to be seen as a scientific milestone.  And if it’s not that, it’s definitely very, very cool.  (The original paper is here.)

Though the research does not necessarily translate into humans, it appears to demonstrate that the genetic material found in every cell in the body can be put to use in the creation of offspring. In principle, this offers infertile women the opportunity to have children that are genetically related, even if they do not have viable eggs of their own: cells from another part of the body could be used and “reprogrammed” to behave as eggs would.  (Putting the procedure to use in humans would be illegal under current UK law, since the synthesised eggs would not be what the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act calls “permitted”.  But the law is, after all, just the law.)

There will probably be concerns raised; but they aren’t obviously any more serious in relation to this technology than they would be in relation to others.

The most obvious concern – and, prima facie, the most powerful – would be about the safety of the procedure were it to be used in humans. more…

How Not to Respond to the Nicklinson Verdict

23 Aug, 12 | by Iain Brassington

Unsurprisingly, the ruling handed down last week in respect of Tony Nicklinson and “Martin” has generated a lot of comment.  A lot of that comment has disagreed with the ruling.  David Allen Green, the Staggers‘ legal correspondent and also known as the blogger Jack of Kent, tweeted that it was a “dreadful court decision… depriving a person of basic dignity“; and in the wake of Nicklinson’s death, added that he thought it was still “entirely open for courts to rule in his favour rather than blame Parliament“.  Over at the Practical Ethics blog, Roger Crisp suggests that the High Court might even have acted unlawfully.

Sympathetic as I am to Nicklinson’s basic moral claim, I think that such responses are mistaken.  Not in the sense of their being in any way disreputable – it’s just that I’d argue for a different conclusion.  But, as such, it’s the possibility of an argument that matters, and there’re arguments to be had either way, some of which will be powerful, and some of which will be less so.  That’s the nature of debate.

There are others, though, whose response seems to me to get things entirely wrong.  I’ll give one example from each side. more…

More on Circumcision in Germany

17 Jul, 12 | by Iain Brassington

Søren Holm sometimes jokes that, if you want your conference well-attended, you should have a paper on the ethics of circumcision.  I don’t know how well-attended the recent IAB satellite on the topic was – the first half clashed with Peter Singer doing his thing, which can’t have helped it, and I couldn’t go to the second because I was giving a paper of my own.

Anyway: though I mentioned the decision of the German court that ritual circumcision constituted assault, I’ve wanted to stay clear of saying more about it.  Partly it’s because I’ve been busy; but there’s another reason: it seemed too potentially toxic.  For example, Jonanthan Sacks’ column about the decision in the Jerusalem Post noted that many attempts to ban circumcision have been motivated by antisemitism; the not-so-subtly made claim is that there’s an undercurrent of antisemitism here.  (An appeal to human rights is, he claims “is the only form in which an assault on Jews can be stated today”.)  Of course, that won’t show that such attempts have to be motivated by antisemitism, or that thinking the court’s decision correct is an indication of latent antisemitism: they don’t, and it isn’t.  Even if it’s true that the only way to launch an assault on Jews is to use the language of human rights, it doesn’t follow that every human-rights claim is an assault on Jews – even when it touches on something that is associated with Judaism.  I didn’t want to open myself to an accusation of antisemitism, so thought it best to keep quiet.

But the debate is rumbling on (it was featured on the Today programme today, for example); and one of the notable things is the poor quality of most of the arguments brought against the decision.  This doesn’t in itself mean that the decision is correct – poor arguments might accidentally bring you to the correct answer – but if the general direction of the poor arguments is the same, and there haven’t been many decent arguments produced that go the same way, then that does raise questions about the conclusion in which they’re headed.  Having said that, there has been one better argument against the decision that I’ve come across; I’ll come to that later.  It’s some of the poor arguments, rather than the position in the service of which they’re advanced, that I have in my sights here. more…

Circumcision in Germany: The Courts Speak

27 Jun, 12 | by Iain Brassington

I’m writing this while listening to Mary Warnock talking at the IAB, so it’ll be unusually short and to the point: a court in Germany has ruled that male circumcision for religious reasons “amounts to bodily harm”.

In a decision that has caused outrage among Jewish and Muslim groups, the court said that a child’s right to physical integrity trumps religious and parental rights.

The ruling doesn’t quite say that the procedure is illegal – but

the court’s judgement said the “fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents”.  Circumcision, it decided, contravenes “interests of the child to decide later in life on his religious beliefs”.

Predictably enough, this ruling has not been warmly welcomed by the Jewish and Muslim communities:

The president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Dieter Graumann, called it “an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in the right of religious communities to self-determination”.

That’s telling.  The rights of the child give way to the right of a community to cut him.  Can communities have rights anyway?  I’m not at all sure.  If they can, and if self-determination is one of them, does that always have to come out trumps?  Again, I’m not at all sure.  It’s strange to see rights-talk brought to the table in defence of unconsented, irreversible, and non-therapeutic body modification.  If a boy decides that it’s important to get himself circumcised later in life, then that’s a different matter entirely: good for him.  But without any choice?  I may have missed something, but I don’t understand how the claim is supposed to work.  Can anyone help out?

There’s a satellite meeting on boys’ circumcision here at the IAB.  I’ll miss it: I’m speaking elsewhere at the time.  But if anyone reading this goes (or went), will (was) this case mentioned?

UPDATE: Contrarian-for-hire Brendan O’Neill ham-fistedly disagrees with the ruling in The Telegraph.  Ophelia tears him a new one at B&W.

Onwards, to the past! Especially when slavery is involved…

15 May, 12 | by Iain Brassington

Wow.

Steve Fouch has, on the Christian Medical Fellowship’s blog, offered advice on how to vote in the BMA ballot on industrial action.  Now, Fouch isn’t the same as the CMF, and I don’t suppose what he writes indicates the CMF’s position any more than what I write here represents the BMJ’s.  Even so, what he suggests is pretty remarkable; and, in keeping with a lot of stuff from the CMF, the general advice is that the solutions to all modern problems can be found in a set of writings edited and selected – highly selected – around 1900 years ago by men with beards.

Notably,

I would lay out the following biblical framework for thinking through the way we approach this dispute:

Firstly, industrial relations:

Col 3:22 ‘Slaves obey your earthly masters in everything’

1 Peter 2:18 ‘Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.’

1 Timothy 6:1 ‘Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honour, so that the name of God and the teachings may not be reviled’.

Philippians 2:14-16 also encourages us to not be grumblers and moaners in the workplace, but to be a positive influence.

It is clear that Paul and Peter, in writing these messages were urging slaves not just to do their jobs, but to be exemplary, going over and above the call of duty, and to have a positive attitude and spirit in so doing. While this is referring to the institution of slavery, the principles apply equally to modern employment.

Do they apply equally to modern employment?  There’s no obvious reason to suppose that they do – not least because modern employment practices don’t generally rely on slavery.  more…

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.

Convenors:
Sam Wren-Lewis (University of Leeds): samwrenlewis@gmail.com
Tim Taylor (visiting research fellow, University of Leeds): phltet@leeds.ac.uk

Further details about the conference available at
http://manceptworkshops2012.wordpress.com/.

Raised Glasses to Raised Prices?

26 Mar, 12 | by Iain Brassington

The proposal that there should be a minimum 40p/ unit price for alcohol, announced last week, has been broadly welcomed.  Not universally, but broadly.  There has been some dissent – but, by and large, it doesn’t seem to have been particularly vocal.

From a ethicist’s perspective, the objection that we might expect to hear articulated most has to do with paternalism: if the move is designed to coerce people into a certain kind of behaviour, and the motivation for this is a concern with people’s own good, then that might be presented as undue interference.  However, the response to this is simply to deny that paternalism of this sort is always a bad thing.  “Respect for autonomy” has become something of a dogma among many people working in bioethicists, but it’s not beyond question – and it’s certainly not enough simply to stamp your foot and say, “Yes, but AUTONOMY” to defeat a proposal.  At the very least, the idea that governments should not intervene to prevent self-harming behaviour needs argumentative backing.  (I know that this is a particular bugbear of Angus Dawson and a number of other people working in public health ethics.  I don’t agree with the suggestion in some quarters that the “rules” of PHE are different from the “rules” of the rest of bioethics, such that autonomy is not as important in PHE as it is in those other areas – I think that ethics is ethics is ethics; but this simply means that unquestioning deference to autonomy and liberty is philosophically bogus right across the board.)

But, actually, the minimum-pricing policy doesn’t have to be defended on public health grounds.   more…

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