Category Archives: Bioethics

The Unlikely Ethics Dunce, And Why Nobody Pays Attention To Ethicists And I Don’t Blame Them

Wait, how can the nation's most famous ethicist be an Ethics Dunce? It's not easy...

Wait, how can the nation’s most famous ethicist be an Ethics Dunce? It’s not easy…

Ethicists have managed to make ethics nearly invisible in our cultural debates, and nearly useless as a decision-making tool, when it ought to be the most useful tool of all. They accomplished this over centuries of work, making the discipline of ethics abstruse, elitist, abstract, and worse of all, boring. Nobody should be bored with ethics, hence my statement, “Ethics isn’t boring, ethicists are.” Once ethics was pigeon-holed in the realm of philosophy, however (it belongs with “crucial life skills” and “critical thinking”) and philosophy became associated with scholarship, advanced degrees and academia, the jig was up.

The problem is that academic ethicists teach and write about abstract ethics, and life is not abstract. Their quest is for one formula to determine right from wrong, and life and human beings are more complicated than any one formula can encompass. When I started this blog, I got a lot of grad students writing me who demanded to know whether I was a Utilitarian,  Kantian Deontologist, a follower of Natural Law Ethics,  a Virtue Ethicist or a devotee of Stakeholder theory. My answer was “all of the above and none of them.” All of these and more are useful tools of analysis, but none work all the time, and the amount of words loaded into jargon to explain and debate the nuances of any of them render them all useless except for  writing scholarly papers.

The ethics that the public learns, as a result, are what pop culture and society teach them, and most of that isn’t ethics at all. For example, in the cable series “The Affair,” a well-educated older man was advising a young woman, the mistress in the affair, about how to think about the illicit relationship that broke up he lover’s marriage. Wise and thoughtful, he described his own adulterous affair, and then said, “What you did wasn’t wrong. You didn’t kill anybody. You didn’t break any laws.  Don’t be so hard on yourself.”  There is no ethics in that statement. Itis just employs two popular and facile rationalizations (#4. Marion Barry’s Misdirection, or “If it isn’t illegal, it’s ethical,” and #22, the worst of all, #22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”) with another lurking but unspoken one, the Cheater’s Special, #23. Woody’s Excuse: “The heart wants what the heart wants,’ underlying the whole scene.

That’s ethics, I would guess, to about 90% of the population. Scary. This is, however, where ethicists have taken us. They could be so important to the culture, if they would get their heads out of their asinine models and explain ethical principles that are relevant to real lives in a manner that doesn’t make normal people become hostile to the subject.

This brings us to Peter Singer, Princeton’s acclaimed professor of bioethics who has been called the most influential ethicist alive. It is admittedly faint praise, but probably correct. Continue reading


Filed under Bioethics, Character, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Health and Medicine, Professions

Debate Questions No Democrat Will Ever Be Asked (2): “Do You Agree With The Obama Dept. Of Education That A School Must Allow A Physically Male Student Who Identifies As Female And Is A Member Of A Girl’s Sports Team To Change And Shower In The Girls’ Locker Room Without Restrictions?”


It is ironic that so soon after Rachel Dolezal finally admitted the undeniable and agreed that she is, in fact, white, the federal government accepted the Caitlyn Jenner Fallacy and declared that all it takes to turn a male into a female for school policy purposes is feelings, no re-assembly required.

From the New York Times:

Federal education authorities, staking out their firmest position yet on an increasingly contentious issue, found Monday that an Illinois school district [Township High School District 211] violated anti-discrimination laws when it did not allow a transgender student who identifies as a girl and participates on a girls’ sports team to change and shower in the girls’ locker room without restrictions. 

To be blunt, and I mean blunt, this means that if a human being with a fully functioning penis says he’s a girl, a public high school is obligated by the Constitution to pretend he does not have said penis, and he must be treated as a girl and no different from any other girls in all respects. This right that nobody ever heard of before thereby means that the boy-with-a-penis-who-identifies-as-a-girl-without- one is legally able to demand that he is allowed to embarrass, upset and threaten girls who do not have cocks by forcing them, rather than him—oops, her— to dress and shower away from the group.

Everyone except the victimized members of the school’s team are wrong on this one, and there will be consequences. The school was wrong to pander to a nascent transgender social justice warrior by allowing him-becoming-her to be on the girls team in the first place.”Here’s the rule,” they should have said, “The only way we can separate girls and boys is the same way doctors do when a baby is born. How you feel is irrelevant. Which team you want to be on is irrelevant. If you have a penis, which you do, and no vagina, which you do not, then you play on the boy’s teams, or no team at all. Your choice.” Unfortunately, most school are not just run by liberals, but cowardly, intellectually lazy liberals. Nor did they see that transgender activists, like most activists, will push for more and more until they end up alienating many who support their basic argument.

Then there is the boy/girl, who was offered reasonable accommodations by the school, and decided to be a trailblazer for all similarly encumbered self-identifying females [ I made a cheap and vulgar reference here, and deleted it. I am ashamed.] and fight for their right to parade such male accessories in the faces of young women who should not have to be confronted with them in the girl’s shower.

Read my commentary on this problem. I am sympathetic, and I believe that the transitioning male-born kid who is certain that he has no snakes and snails and puppy dog tails inside should be respected and treated with dignity and compassion on his way to her-dom. He shouldn’t be bullied and he shouldn’t be discriminated against. But a rule that holds “No penises in the girl’s shower ” is not discrimination. It is common sense. It is manners.

Nor does transitioning genders make it ethical to be an asshole. Continue reading


Filed under Bioethics, Character, Childhood and children, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights, U.S. Society

In Alabama, A Blood Sucking Judge

Judge: 'If you don't have money, you can pay your fine in BLOOD!' Wait...WHAT?

Judge: ‘If you don’t have money, you can pay your fine in BLOOD!’ Wait…WHAT?

Not to hold you in suspense, this is unethical. In fact, it’s incredibly unethical.

In Alabama,  Perry County Circuit Judge Marvin Wiggins is prevented by Alabama law from jailing those who owe a debt to the state.t—debtors prison was abolished long ago. Wagner, however, has been recorded in his court telling indigent parties owing money  that they have the option of contributing their blood or paying up, and if they opt for neither, “he sheriff will have handcuffs waiting” for them.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a judicial ethics compliant, Explained the SPLC on its website.

“Defendants in more than 500 criminal cases, which can be as minor as hunting violations, were mailed notices to appear before Wiggins on Sept. 17. Dozens showed up to pack the courtroom for a hearing on the restitution, fines, court costs and fees they still owed. When Wiggins took the bench, he offered defendants with empty pockets and full veins an option.Wiggins said to consider the option of giving blood “a discount rather than putting you in jail.” However, no one who donated blood received any “discount” on their court debt; they simply received a reprieve from being thrown in jail. Most of the people in the courtroom still owed thousands of dollars to the court – even after years of making payments, according to the complaint. Virtually every case included fees that indigent defendants had been charged to recoup money for their court-appointed counsel, the complaint states. Without speaking to the judge about their financial situation, many indigent defendants gave blood out of fear of going to jail.”

The complaint outlines several ethics violations, SPLC says, including failure to demonstrate professional competence and failure to uphold the integrity of the law. It also describes how forced blood donations violate the U.S. and Alabama constitutions. I would think that most educated American could name several of these. Due Process? No law exists making forfeiture of blood a legal penalty for anything. Cruel and usual punishment, per the 8th Amendment?
Continue reading


Filed under Bioethics, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights

NPR Was Going On Today About The Terrible Scourge Of Sex-Selection Abortion In India, And How Girls In India, “Have To Fight For Their Rights Before They’re Even Born”…Wait, WHAT???

You're exaggerating: they were just potential baby girls...

You’re exaggerating: they were just potential baby girls…

Driving from Boston to Providence, I had an opportunity to listen to a Public Radio International report (via Boston’s NPR station, WGBH) about the shortage of women in India as a result of sex-selection abortion. I heard an  interview with an activist in Mumbai who was fighting to get more laws passed to prevent the process as a violation of women’s rights. “The most basic right of all,” intoned a female reporter. “The right to exist.”

Waiiit a minute. As the Robot used to say on “Lost in Space,” “That does not compute.”

This same network routinely features angry, self-righteous and mocking feminists who condemn as the paleolithic enemies of women any one who dares to question the ethics of abortion on demand. The unborn have no right to exist, says NOW, NARAL, Nancy Pelosi, the casual harvesters of little livers at Planned Parenthood, and when they are talking about the U.S., NPR.

In India, however, there is a right to exist, and feminists are fighting for it.

Sorry to be obtuse, and I realize I may be missing something, but what is the outrageous distinction here that makes an Indian mother’s abortion of a healthy, gestating girl because dowries are too expensive and boys are more lucrative a human rights violation, worthy of that special tone of sadness and superiority NPR announcers get, but Laura from Nebraska’s abortion of her healthy, gestating boy because she doesn’t want to interrupt graduate school and isn’t wild about the father a noble expression of modern female power? Continue reading


Filed under Around the World, Bioethics, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights

Update: More Abortion Advocate Struggles With Ethics In The Midst Of The Planned Parenthood Videos Revelations


As the pro-abortion lobby has rushed to defuse the ticking time bomb of comprehension that might make lazy and inattentive American think. “Wait, that’s what happens in an abortion?,” its dishonest, desperate, and unethical arguments have been as revealing as the videos themselves, and as damning.

Frankly, I’ve been surprised: they really don’t have much that makes ethical sense, just “it’s legal!” and “It’s Our Bodies And We’ll Kill If We Want To!” (a little known B-side flop by the recently departed Leslie Gore.)  I recently wrote about their defenses in the posts Planned Parenthood Videos Surprise: Forced To Defend Abortion Ethics Acknowledging The Existence Of A Second Human Life In The Equation, Advocates Run Out Of Arguments (Part One) and Part Two: Bad Analogies. As I wrote in the latter: “If an advocate has persuasive, honest, strong arguments not based on fallacies and rationalizations, I assume that those would be the ones he or she would use.”

More evidence that they don’t possess them and also don’t care to have an honest debate recently came to light.

The most bizarre was an article in the Washington Post ostensibly about the ongoing drama at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The female panda there gave birth to twins (“Awwwww!”) then abandoned and neglected the smaller one (“OH NO!!!”) which soon died. Before the little panda’s demise, those clever abortion advocates of the Post saw an opportunity, and had a female reporter, Sarah Kaplan, author an article which the Post titled “The perfectly sensible reason why panda mothers and other creatures selectively abandon babies.”

If you want to think it’s a coincidence, go ahead. I don’t. To Kaplan’s credit, she avoided any overt analogies to human beings, and played it straight, as she always does. (She’s a terrific reporter.) Still, there is that headline. It’s sensible to “abandon” babies that will be too difficult for the mother to care for, “abandon” in the wild being the equivalent of “kill.” This points to  Rationalization #51—the latest on the Ethics Alarms list-–as a defense for abortion: “It’s natural.” Continue reading


Filed under Animals, Bioethics, Childhood and children, Gender and Sex, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media, Religion and Philosophy

Planned Parenthood Videos Surprise: Forced To Defend Abortion Ethics Acknowledging The Existence Of A Second Human Life In The Equation, Advocates Run Out Of Arguments, Part Two: Bad Analogies

The involuntary liver transplant from Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life." Why, you're RIGHT, Amanda! It's EXACTLY like a pregnancy!

The involuntary liver transplant from Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life.” Why, you’re RIGHT, Amanda! It’s EXACTLY like a pregnancy!

(Part One is here.)

If an advocate has persuasive, honest, strong arguments not based on fallacies and rationalizations, I assume that those would be the ones he or she would use.

The recent Center for Medical Progress videos featuring employees of Planned Parenthood and StemExpress describing in graphic detail the process by which fetal tissue is harvested for research, and in some cases showing the process itself, have made abortion advocates squirm by making it difficult for them to deny that a tiny, growing human being is sacrificed in the act of abortion. This makes the evasive “choice” defense of abortion inadequate. Why shouldn’t unborn lives matter? Either because of neglect (“It’s legal” and “it’s my right” have been used to cut off debate for decades), because the rationale for debate has been built on a convenient fiction (“Life? I don’t see any life!”), or because there really aren’t any ethically satisfying justifications for abortion on demand, the pro-abortion lobby’s attacks on the videos have been notable for their lack of substance and abundant desperation.

This has been especially true of the analogies offered for the relationship between a mother and unborn child, and the fetus itself.

In the Washington Post last week, Margo Kaplan, who as an associate professor at Rutgers Law School should be skilled at analogies, attacked anti-abortion advocates with what she seemed to think was a definitive “gotcha!” She notes that there is nowhere near the same level of attention paid to frozen embryos that are donated to research as aborted fetuses, and from this concludes all manner of horrible things about abortion opponents: Continue reading


Filed under Bioethics, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media, Rights, U.S. Society

Planned Parenthood Videos Surprise: Forced To Defend Abortion Ethics Acknowledging The Existence Of A Second Human Life In The Equation, Advocates Run Out Of Arguments (Part One)

The Center for Medical Progress released a trailer yesterday promoting its yet to be released eighth undercover investigative video, this one, like the last, focusing on StemExpress, a biotech company in northern California, that has worked with Planned Parenthood to obtain aborted fetus tissue to be used in research. In the clip, StemExpress CEO Cate Dyer explains that her company receives “intact” aborted fetuses from the abortion clinics they work with.

“Oh yeah, I mean if you have intact cases – which we’ve done a lot – so we sometimes ship those back to our lab in its entirety,” Dyer says on the trailer.

Later, she jokes about shipping little aborted heads. “Tell the lab its coming,” she chuckles. “They don’t want to open the box, go, ‘Oh God!’”

I can’t wait.

Undoubtedly the allies of abortion-on-demand feminists and progressives will attack this video as they have the rest, focusing on anything and everything but the single powerful issue it raises that the abortion movement has successfully obscured, denied and obscured since Roe v. Wade and before. These are small, helpless, innocent human beings being killed, chopped up and distributed like prime beef, and the adults doing it and insisting on it have devolved into callous, cold-eyed mutants incapable of considering what their conduct is. They have not had the courage or integrity to confront the ethical conflicts that abortion raises. These videos are making that avoidance increasingly difficult. As I wrote yesterday, bravo for the The Center for Medical Progress and their allies, who are finally forcing the passive public and cynical political class to consider the issues.

The most fascinating revelation is how weak the case for abortion appears to be, once its advocates are required to stop pretending that there is only one human being—the mother—involved. We know it is weak because the attacks on the videos have largely not addressed the ugly fact on display in them—that human, unborn babies with beating hearts and functioning organs are being killed—nor found a persuasive justification for it.

They haven’t had to do either since Roe v. Wade. “It’s my right!” has been enough, though this is a rationalization that does not address the question of right and wrong. Meanwhile, by adopting the deceitful and misleading label “pro-choice,” aided by lazy and sympathetic journalists to facilitate a deceptive framing of the issue (we are seeing the same process now as “immigrant” is substituted for “illegal immigrant”), the pro-abortion lobby has warped all policy debates into a discussion of the effect of an unwanted pregnancy on women, and never about the effect of ending those pregnancies on the women’s’ off-spring. (They die.)
Suddenly, the videos have made the existence of other human beings in the abortion dilemma is unavoidable, so what are the pro-abortion advocates and their allies doing? Let’s survey them; I’m not going to rehash all the earlier deflections of the videos by Planned Parenthood and pundits (“All medical procedures are hard to look at!”) and the usual hyperbolic accusations of evil motives (“This is a war on women! They want to control our bodies!”). I’ve covered them before, and they should be self-rebutting anyway.

“The videos are illegal!”

Continue reading


Filed under Bioethics, Character, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Family, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement