All 24 entries tagged Ethics

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April 12, 2006


It occurs to me that I, and sometimes others, have been talking a great deal on these 'ere blogs about responsibilities. It is a common observation, I believe, that many of the younger generation have the constant urge to shirk their responsibilities, even going so far as to deny things they have been seen doing (I have lots of first-hand experience of this). I personally think this attitude is becoming a real problem.

But why is it happening?

Another modern phenomenon, which seems to be linked, is the increase in numbers of individuals suing companies for apparent negligence, or for the emotional results of bullying or prejudice. Now of course I would never advocate maltreatment in any form, but some of the recent cases do seem a little ridiculous: the deputy headteacher who tried to claim £1,000,000 for the emotional scarring left after having, in her office, a chair which made farting noises; the guy who bought a bike from Taiwan and was badly injured because the Taiwanese wire their brakes the opposite way around and he put on the front brake instead of the back when going quickly down a hill (apparently the manufacturers didn't make this quite clear enough in the instructions, despite detailing the wiring of the brakes).

Is this attitude a logical result of the regulations that are being put in place to try to make things more rigid? Essentially, when a company writes a list of instructions, they are declaring that they take responsibility for the safe working of a product when following them. When they begin to consider common sense as part of the required instructions can it not then be inferred that the user is not expected to use any common sense in their approach, other than that detailed? It also occurred to me that there may be a link between the regulation of teachers and the attitude of pupils. Teachers are now having to follow incredibly strict instructions regarding everything they do. They are being observed and checked up on constantly (some schools have even installed CCTV cameras with sound feedback and two-way mirrors), and they have to document every tiny incident to cover their backs and all punishments have to be standardised and approved. If you take away the responsibilities and independence of teachers how can they instil in their pupils the need for accepting responsibility? If teachers lose more and more authority (for example, parents can refuse to let their children stay for detentions) how can we expect them to be respected?

Is this change good for us? Health and safety regulations are dictating that we now need to put instructions on the back of bags of nuts to say 'may contain nuts' and on clothing labels to say 'please remove before washing'. I'm sure, a few years ago, these things would have been dismissed as being far too painfully obvious to bother with. These helpful hints are, I assume, supposed to assist users in being safe. However, we now have a situation where companies have to cover all ridiculous eventualities and yet still get sued because they missed just one loophole.

March 23, 2006

Animal testing – a viewpoint

Follow-up to Clinical trials and the ethics and practicalities of animal testing from Musings of a blonde

An editorial in New Scientist from a few weeks ago:

The climate of fear in the UK created by animal rights activists has suddenly changed, as those that support necessary animal testing took to the streets
In the past decade, a particularly nasty form of animal rights extremism has emerged in the UK. Researchers have been attacked. Employees and shareholders of companies that carry out animal experiments, and of firms that do business with them, have been threatened with violence – not only to themselves but also their homes and families.

These tactics nearly closed down an animal testing company and have convinced the University of Cambridge to abandon plans for a new primate centre. But their biggest impact has been to create a climate of fear that has left debate over animal experiments in the UK seriously one-sided.

That changed last week when nearly 1000 students, scientists and members of the public marched through Oxford in support of animal experimentation. Small it may have been, but it was symbolic. At last, the other side of the debate received a public airing.

Of course most people, including biomedical researchers, would rather animal experiments were not needed, but in some areas of science they are simply unavoidable. Much of our understanding of physiology and pathology stems from animal work, and if we want to understand the brain and its diseases, animal experiments will be indispensible.

There is no doubt that alternatives to animal experiments need to be adopted where possible, and that unnecessary test and mindless cruelty must be stopped. The quickest way to bring about such changes is through open debate, which has become impossible in the UK. Last week’s marchers began to dispel the climate of fear. More power to them.

March 21, 2006

Creationism and the views of Archbishop Rowan Williams

Writing about web page,,1735730,00.html#article_continue

My dear friend Phil pointed out this story to me when we bumped into each other in front of the newspapers in Costcutter this afternoon.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has stuck his neck out and said in an interview that he thinks creationism should not be taught in schools. His reasoning is that if creationism is presented as a stark contrast to evolutionary theory it will lower the value of Christian, and particularly creationist, doctrine. Williams is, quite rightly, concerned that, when held up as an equal to evolution, creationism falls far behind: indeed, evolution is accepted by the vast majority of the scientific community. However, he is likely to be heavily criticised by members of the Christian community for admitting that a part of the Bible might not be literally true. He seems to, though the transcript of the interview does not suggest that he presents his ideas particularly clearly, suggest that he himself believes in God as a creator but not in the way that is described in Genesis.

  • How many Christians, or indeed non-Christians, still believe in strict creationism? How do they explain the discrepancy between their beliefs and evolution?

  • Is it time that the Church caught up with the times and accepted that a strict belief in the word of the Bible is completely at odds with convincing scientific theory? Is it then time for more daring changes, such as the admission of gay clergypeople? After all, if you bend the rules once, why not again?

  • How significant is Williams's admission in terms of a giving in to the possible inaccuracy of the Bible? Does it not weaken the authority and reliability of the rest of the text?

  • Will this declaration cause Williams and the church to gain or lose respect within the agnostic and atheist community? Why?

  • Should religious teachings form any part of the curriculum for secular state schools? Surely any theory explaining the creation of the Earth or any other mystery should be given equal consideration, thus giving those that learn the chance to make up their minds based on the evidence. Williams seemed to be suggesting that removing creationism from the syllabus would strengthen it because it would not be criticised when compared to scientific theory, but is this tantamount to pulling the wool across people's eyes?

  • Williams is obviously in a position of huge authority and his opinions are important, but in terms of theological reasoning he is just one man and he cannot possibly hope to represent the entire Church of England unless he never makes a decision on a contentious subject. How much influence should his ideas be credited with? Would is be better for him to keep quiet on this subject as he will always otherwise disagree with some of his church?

  • How significant are the current issues dividing the church viewed in terms of its credibility? Is it merely a case of the old-fashioned coming head-to-head with the more liberal or is it more damaging than that? How can the church maintain its popularity as it gradually begins to be more at odds with the changing times whilst avoiding giving in to the extent that its very foundations are removed?

March 15, 2006

Clinical trials and the ethics and practicalities of animal testing

Writing about web page

I'm sure no-one can have missed the reports in the news over the past few days about the men hospitalised as a result of taking part in a clinical drugs trial. Many murmerings of incompetancy have surrounded the reports, and I'm sure someone from TeGenero AG will have to answer some very tough questions in the not-too-distant future.

This story raises many, many issues, including:

  • The manufacturer said that there was no indication in previous trials that such an extreme reaction would occur: clearly in some cases the results of trials are extremely unsual and at odds with previous testing. In order to take part in the trials the men would have to have acknowledged and accepted the risk involved: they were going in with their eyes open. That's why people often get paid large sums to take part, I guess. Provided that the manufacturer abided by the regulations, surely they cannot be held responsible for something they could not have forseen.

  • The manufacturer will undoubtedly be criticised, but if there was not way of testing this reaction before clinical trials came about how could they have done more? It is very difficult to pin any neglect on the company if the means whereby they could have avoided it does not exist.

  • Should more testing be done before drugs are put under clinical trial? If you examine this and any other case it might be argued that more thorough testing could have been carried out beforehand. But does the extra time and money spent balance out the risk? And are any extra tests actually possible or, if they are, likely to expose the problems?

  • I'm going to be controversial here: this is an example of why we need to use animal models for drugs testing. This in an extreme case where the non-human recipients (including mice, I believe) did not share the same reaction as the humans. However, in most cases animal testing does give a good reflection of the human reaction, and as such has prevented many potentially harmful drugs from being tested on humans. The reaction from animal rights activists will be that we are animals too and that we shouldn't harm them before ourselves. But the problem is that if we want new drugs to be approved they have to be tested. If we cannot test on animals, many more humans will have to suffer and, potentially, die. Step forward all volunteers to take the place of laboratory mice…

March 13, 2006

The penal system

I read in this morning's paper that jail terms for rape could be shortened and that in some cases those guilty of domestic violence may walk free if they promise to reform, as recommended by the independent Sentencing Guidelines Council.

The reason given for this action is that prison is apparently 'more demanding' now than it has been in the past.

This prompted me to think about another article I read, maybe last week, about the facilities in which prisoners live. This article stated that the exercise facilities provided by many prisons are better than public facilities in local towns. It was also asserted that, in many cases, more money is spent food for prisoners than on food for school children.

Now, I have to admit that I am torn on this issue. The argument in favour of good facilities and educational services in prisons is, of course, that if prisoners improve their education and fitness whilst in the inside and learn to occupy their time productively, they are more likely to have changed lives when they leave and thus less likely to reoffend. This may be true for some, but how large a proportion fall through this net? One of the prisons mentioned in the earlier article had full sports facilities, but they were only used by 10% of the inmates. In some cases the conditions inside may well be far better to those a prisoner is used to when free. Has the change in prison environment taken the punishment out of the penal system?

March 07, 2006

Banking as a human right

There was a discussion on Radio 4, I think yesterday morning, which concerned banking and the 'essential' commodity of a current bank account.

One of the guests was arguing that the possession of a bank account was a human right, as life without one in this day and age is incredibly difficult. He said that he thought banks should not be allowed to refuse potential customers.

Now, I can understand the sentiment, but banks are ultimately profit-making organisations, and any other business would not be forced to do something they felt would be financially dubious, even if it were disadvantageous to a potential customer.

Also worth considering is that, for most of our other 'essential services', public organisations exist to cater for our needs: the NHS to provide healthcare, the police to enforce the law, state schools for education. Why not for banking?


  • Should banks retain the ability to reject a person's custom if they want?

  • Is banking a human right?

  • If it is, but if we unhold the rights of the banks to reject customers, how do we resolve the problem?

March 03, 2006

Whose right to life?

There was an article in this Monday's Metro that struck a chord with me. It was a follow-up to this article written in October about two-year-old Charlotte Wyatt, a child born prematurely with brain, lung and kidney damage and who is currently being kept alive on a ventilator.

Now, I know there are many people out there who do not believe in euthanasia in any form. I myself am not entirely sure where I stand on the issue. But suspend your judgement for a moment.

Even if we accepted that it was morally admissable to allow someone to die when they are mortally ill and suffering, there is still a further problem to consider. Who should have the responsibility of making the decision?

In the case of Charlotte, her parents disagree with the health professionals and the judge presiding over her case: they want her to be kept alive by every means possible. I can see both sides of the argument. The health professionals can objectively assess her condition and recognise that her quality of life is terrible. They believe that Charlotte's parents are being unjustifiably hopeful. But should a parent be forced to relinquish their control over the care of their own child?

It seems that in situations where a person cannot lucidly make a decision about their own life, the case becomes very difficult.

February 28, 2006

The mystery of unsolved puzzles

I read a letter in the National Geographic the other day that bemoaned the loss of mystery through scientific discovery.

The author of the letter was responding to an article describing developments in neurobiology. They said that the author of the article had 'abolished the human spirit' by suggesting that the brain worked through firing synapses and denied the possibility that the mind is simply what the brain does. This made me think:

  • Are we destroying our fascination with the worlds around us and within us by finding out how it all works?

  • Cannot understanding the workings of something increase one's fascination? I become increasingly amazed by life and its processes the more I learn, because it's all so incredibly complex.

  • Has history shown that trying to understand our surroundings is something innate in us as humans?

  • Does everything work by a set of rules and mechanisms that are always obeyed and are definable? If not, we require the intervention of something mystical.

  • Will we ever figure everything out, or are some things just too complex for our comprehension or investigation?

February 23, 2006


My co-workers and I were having an interesting discussion over coffee a few mornings ago about attitude changes over the generations and conceptions of appropriate behaviour. This got me thinking…

Many people, including myself, admire Madonna for the way she has sustained her success over the years and seemingly managed to juggle career, home live and children with aplomb. However, I do cringe somewhat when I see her cavorting around a stage, with men, in hot pants. For some reason I have a conception that it is not appropriate to behave in such a way when you have children. Similarly, my Mum's boss (and mine for a year) is in her early forties with two young children, and yet regularly goes out and gets drunk to the point of amnesia and lets her kids see her like that. But am I being an old-fashioned prude by thinking badly of them?

The subsequent generations change so significantly. In maybe twenty years the image I have of a 'grandparent' will not exist any more: no longer will OAPs have blue-rinse perms, wear flat caps and always dress in skirts and trousers.

It is, of course, true that maturity increases with age, but to what extent? Should we change our behaviour as we get older and our circumstances change, or do we have a right to continue behaving as we did when we were in our teenage years or twenties?

February 20, 2006

The male contraceptive pill

An article I read last week discussed the merits of the male contraceptive 'pill', and it had me thinking. It turns out that the male contraceptive is not going to be as simple as the female one, and will involve an implant and regular injections. The early trials have had problems because very few man have volunteered to take part.

  • Would a man be willing to take responsibility for contraceptives, particularly when it involves a relatively invasive procedure?

  • Will women be willing to trust men with keeping up the medication regularly or being honest about whether they are protected, bearing in mind that it's the women who's left, literally, holding the baby?

  • Do men feel strongly that they should have the chance to take responsilibity for their fertility, and have more options than just condoms?

  • Do men feel that it's a woman's job to worry about such things and they shouldn't need to consider it?

  • Will there be a stigma surrounding the treatment since it involves the release of a female hormone: will some men feel it would undermine their masculinity?

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