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WTF?

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…

Oh, and since we’re talking about assisted dying…

18 Jun, 12 | by Iain Brassington

… read this from Current Oncology - “Pereira’s Attack on Legalizing Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide: Smoke and Mirrors” – if you haven’t already.

(via the Bioethics International FB group… and a million others.)

Well, Consider my Jaw Dropped.

2 Jun, 12 | by Iain Brassington

I know it’s not long since I last posted about the Christian Medical Fellowship’s blog, and I would ordinarily leave it a bit longer… but I’m about to go off on one.  Forgive me.  I’ve had a hard week marking exam scripts, and I’m tired and stressed and cranky, and this is just… well…  Look: I hear that ginger is quite a good anti-emetic.  You might want to go and find some.

You will, of course, be aware of the recent killings in Houla: 108 civilians shot at close range or stabbed in what the UN says may amount to a crime against humanity.  You may also have read about the arrest of Mick and Mairead Philpott, suspected of the murder of their six children in a housefire.  Peter Saunders, on the CMF blog, under the title “There are Few Things More Horrifying than the Slaughter of Innocent Children”, writes that

Every child’s death is a tragedy but there are few things more reprehensible than the killing of children by adults. Children are rightly seen as amongst the most vulnerable and defenceless members of society and deserving of special protection.

It is therefore not surprising that Western governments are acting quickly at the highest level to expel Syrian diplomats and impose sanctions and the police are giving high priority to investigating the Derby fire for which the children’s own parents are now suspects.

Whether or it turns out that the Syrian government was directly involved in the latest atrocities, or whether or not the parents are charged with starting the fire, it is nonetheless deeply ingrained in the human psyche that public authorities have a duty to protect the vulnerable and that the strongest advocates for children should be their own parents.

As I read that, I had a horrible feeling about what was going to come next.  I suspect many people reading this now will have the same feeling.  The same creeping nausea.  He’s used the phrase “slaughter of innocent children”.  He’s not going to say… is he?

Reader, he is. more…

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…

How Abortion Law Works in Texas

16 Mar, 12 | by Iain Brassington

Remember a little while ago there was a rash of proposals in the US that’d force women to see a sonogram of the foetus, or to listen to detailed descriptions of it, before having an abortion?

Yeah: them.  Well, via Ophelia, here’s an account of what really happens.

Halfway through my pregnancy, I learned that my baby was ill. Profoundly so. [...] “I’m worried about your baby’s head shape,” she said.  “I want you to see a specialist—now.”

[... B]efore I’d even known I was pregnant, a molecular flaw had determined that our son’s brain, spine and legs wouldn’t develop correctly.  If he were to make it to term—something our doctor couldn’t guarantee—he’d need a lifetime of medical care.  From the moment he was born, my doctor told us, our son would suffer greatly.

So, softly, haltingly, my husband asked about termination.  The doctor shot me a glance that said: Are you okay to hear this now?  I nodded, clenched my fists and focused on the cowboy boots beneath her scrubs.

She started with an apology[...]

That’s not a good start, is it?  An expression of sympathy, maybe.  But an apology?  It’s as if she knows that things are about to get worse.  And they are. more…

Calling Charlton Heston…

27 Jan, 12 | by Iain Brassington

It’s been a while since the last post, and there’s a couple of serious entries on the way – but they’ve been displaced by a bit of silliness from Oklahoma.  State Senator Ralph Shortey (or SHortey, if you follow his Facebook style) has introduced a Bill demanding that

[n]o person or entity shall manufacture or knowingly sell food or any other product intended for human consumption which contains aborted human fetuses in the ingredients or which used aborted human fetuses in the research or development of any of the ingredients.

Robin Marty elaborates:

The Republican has proposed a bill that will ban the use of “aborted human fetuses in food,” despite his admission that he doesn’t know of any companies that actually…well..use them.

So where did Sen. Shortey get this idea?  According to him, from the internet.

The “internet research” Shortey is referring to likely is an ongoing anti-choice crusade that began months ago, when an activist group began demanding a boycott of PepsiCo, which works with a research and development company that uses a line of embryonic kidney stem cells created in the 1970′s to test “flavor enhancers.” The boycotters, led by a group called Children of God for Life, say that’s the same as using aborted fetuses.

Ah: teh interwebz.  I see.  (For the record, the LA Times reports that “[a] U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman told the Associated Press that the agency has never gotten any reports of fetuses being used in food production.”)

Since there’s never likely to be a better excuse to link to [SPOILER ALERT] the final scene of Soylent Green on this blog, that’s precisely what I’ll do; I only wish I could get the clip to embed.

But there’s more to this than lampooning a typographically-challenged Senator, because the Bill, in its brutal simplicity, is brutally simplistic. more…

Should Organ Donation be Compulsory?

22 Jun, 11 | by Iain Brassington

Channel 4 is currently mid-way through a series of short talking-head films on the question of whether organ donation should be compulsory: as I write this, two have been broadcast, with another five to come.

The first one is by John Harris, rehearsing familiar arguments about the permissibility of mandated donation (as he did here) and live-donor organ sales (as he and Charles Erin did here).  I find myself thinking that he’s probably right, and straightforwardly so.

But I’ve really enjoyed Derek House’s contribution; sadly for him, my enjoyment is almost entirely of the pointing-and-laughing sort.  House objects to mandatory donation – or, by the sound of it, any donation at all – and explains this in terms of his being a Jehovah’s Witness.  He has two lines of argument against transplantation, and one really strange line that he thinks is an argument but is just bizarre.

Let’s get the bizarreness out of the way.  He has a couple of anecdotes about people whose personalities have changed after an organ transplant.  So, er…

Hmph.

OK.  Moving on.

The first of the more substantial arguments – comparatively more substantial, you understand – is an appeal to the Bible.  He basically says that an organ donation is “very close” to what the Bible says about blood.  (I’m not going to give time references: the whole thing’s only 110 seconds long.)  A heart transplant, he claims, is very like blood being given.  Why is that a problem?  Well, a quick scout around Google takes me to the Watchtower Society; it would appear that there’s a few verses in the Bible that refer to blood, and these are interpreted as referring to transfusion as well.  So the argument would seem to be that transplantation is a bit like blood transfusion, and that that’s a bit like a few things that worried a small group of ancients.  Or, put another way: if (1) you’re satisfied that a small group of ancients was correct to be worried about A, and (2) you’re satisfied that A is similar to B, and (3) you’re satisfied that B is similar to C, then that’s enough to show that (4) we ought to be worried about C.  And if C is the receipt of a transplanted organ, (5) we ought to be worried about D, the donation of an organ for a life-saving transplant.  No, I don’t understand the leap from receipt to donation either.

I don’t doubt that House is sincere in his beliefs.  But: really.  That’s just lamentably poor reasoning by anyone’s standard.

The second argument is that transplantation “is clearly against nature”.  Presumably, being against nature makes something wrong.  Let’s just ignore that this message is delivered by means of a device fabricated from materials not found in nature that allows instant communication with people thousands of miles away.  It’d be petty to point that out.

(Thanks to Aeron Haworth for the pointer.)

Medical Ethics at Keele to be Axed?

17 Mar, 11 | by Iain Brassington

This was supposed to be embargoed, but there’ve been enough leaks to make me think I can go public with it: news has emerged today that the Centre for Professional Ethics at Keele (PEAK) is facing the axe, as is the Keele Philosophy programme.

A Senate Paper detailing the proposed cuts is widely available, and people outside Keele can view it here.  The general gist of it is that most of PEAK’s activity is to go, with a small amount absorbed into the Law School.  The Philosophy programme is to go as well.  It also looks as though the problems faced by PEAK and the Philosophy department are attributable to a combination of the recession and bad management by the University; hardly unique, hardly incurable, and hardly grounds to close the academic department.

As far as I know, the decision hasn’t been finalised yet – I believe that the relevant meeting will be in April – so there’s still time to do something about it.

Any decision to shut PEAK would be senseless.  I’m informed that, not so long ago, the department provided Keele with 2% of its overall income.  But even if you put that aside, PEAK is an academic gem, and any half-sane university would do everything it could to keep it going.  PEAK boasts an absurdly high concentration of talent, with world-standard researchers in reproductive ethics, public health ethics, and research ethics (to name just three fields).  Its web of alumni and former staff demonstrates just how successful it has been over the years at attracting and honing talent, and sending it back out in to the world.

I have personal reasons to be very attached to PEAK.  At the start of my career, the Centre went out of its way to provide me with an office, library access, and enough teaching to keep me solvent, and did so for long enough that I could cobble together enough publications to stand a chance of getting my current gig in Manchester.  The three years I spent there were a joy.

And, of course, my co-blogger David Hunter is based at Keele.

This is a very bad day for Keele University, and a very bad day for bioethics in the UK, if not the world.

Facebook groups for both have been set up here (for PEAK) and here (for Philosophy).  If you would like to express your opinion of the proposal (politely please) the VC can be contacted here:
Prof. Nick Foskett, VC: n.h.foskett@vco.keele.ac.uk ; you could cc: Prof. Rama Thirunamachandran, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost: r.thirunamachandran@vco.keele.ac.uk, and Prof. David Shepherd, Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences d.g.shepherd@humss.keele.ac.uk – both of whom are signatories to the proposed restructuring.  Please, though, do keep things polite.

(Thanks to Andrew Willetts for the Senate Paper link)

Wow. Nebraska, Iowa and Georgia… just Wow.

28 Feb, 11 | by Iain Brassington

I mentioned a few days ago the proposed law in South Dakota that would provide a defence of justifiable homicide for to those accused of killing abortion doctors.  That proposal was shelved… but reports keep coming in of proposed laws, each of which is crazier than the last.

I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a big game of lunacy poker being played over there. more…

Wow. South Dakota… just Wow.

16 Feb, 11 | by Iain Brassington

I’m a bit bowled over by this.  There’s a Bill currently before the South Dakota legislature that would, if passed, change the scope of justifiable homicide laws.

FOR AN ACT ENTITLED, An Act to expand the definition of justifiable homicide to provide for the protection of certain unborn children.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA:
Section 1. That § 22-16-34 be amended to read as follows:
22-16-34. Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person while resisting any attempt to murder such person, or to harm the unborn child of such person in a manner and to a degree likely to result in the death of the unborn child, or to commit any felony upon him or her, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is.
Section 2. That § 22-16-35 be amended to read as follows:
22-16-35. Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person in the lawful defense of such person, or of his or her husband, wife, parent, child, master, mistress, or servant, or the unborn child of any such enumerated person, if there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony, or to do some great personal injury, and imminent danger of such design being accomplished.

The underlining’s in the original.  The proposed section 22-16-34 seems to me to say that it’s justifiable homicide for  A to kill B if A thinks B is about to kill them – but also that it’s justifiable for A to kill B if A is pregnant and thinks that B has laced her tea with abortifacient.  Well, I suppose that some kind of punishment is in order… but killing?  Could you not just tip the tea away and phone the police?

So that’s weird.  But the next section is jaw-dropping.  On the assumption – which seems reasonable – that being aborted could be seen as a “great personal injury” to a foetus in the eyes of the law (and being killed is a great personal injury if anything is), it seems to me that the proposed section 22-16-35 pretty much says that it’d be legally OK to kill a doctor if you believed that he was about to perform an abortion for your wife, mother, mistress, or servant, irrespective of her views on the matter.  You might also get away with killing that wife, mother, mistress or servant if the abortion is intentional.

Put another way: it may not be criminal to kill someone for doing something perfectly legal, and which may be medically required.  Say what you like about the rights and wrongs of abortion – but that’s just nuts.

(via PZ Myers.  More coverage available via Mother Jones.)

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