Category Archives: Bioethics

Comment of the Day: “Ethics Hero Emeritus: Edna Gladney (1888-1961)”


I love when a well-considered comment is entered on an older post. It draws my attention back to topics I may have forgotten about, and as in the case of this Comment of the Day, it reminds me of people and things I really shouldn’t forget.

Rebecca, in her first visit to the comments wars, entered this reaction to the post about Edna Gladney (that’s her on the right above, with Greer Garson, her screen avatar, on the left), an amazing woman who should be better known than she is for her  pioneering work on behalf of orphans and unwed mothers. I suggest that you read the post about Edna first, and then read Rebecca’s Comment of the Day. Here it is:

I just recently saw the TCM movie and was instantly taken by her courage and perseverance, especially since I, too, consider myself a child and family advocate. However, once I read about the historical Gladney, I am saddened that Hollywood thought it necessary to change the storyline to “soften” the blow of Edna’s own illegitimacy. Just goes to show how much was (and still is) wrong with the media. Also goes to show how media perpetuates certain attitudes about our societal issues. For example, even though the movie was retrospect, and even though Gladney may have been successful in removing illegitimate designations on birth certificates, society itself was still hell bent on being judgmental….couldn’t even tell the story like it was for fear it wouldn’t be accepted.

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Bioethics, Childhood and children, Comment of the Day, Ethics Heroes, Family, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, History

Health And Survival Rationing Ethics


Beginning in 2012, Dr. Lee Daugherty Biddison, a critical care physician at Johns Hopkins and some colleagues have held public forums around Maryland to solicit the public’s opinions about how life-saving medical assistance should be distributed when there are too many desperately ill patients and not enough resources. The exercise was part of the preparation  for Biddenson’s participation in preparing official recommendations for state agencies that  might end up  as national guidelines regarding when doctors should remove one patient from a ventilator to save another who might have a better chance of surviving, or whether the young should have priority over the old.

Ethically, this is pure ends justifying the means stuff. The Golden Rule is useless—How would you like to be treated? I’d want to be left on the ventilator, of course!–and Kantian ethics break down, since Immanuel forbade using human life to achieve even the best objectives…like saving a human life. Such trade-offs of life for life (or lives) is the realm of utilitarianism, and an especially brutal variety….so brutal that I doubt that it is ethics at all.

When Dr. Biddenson justifies his public forums by saying that he wants to include current societal values in his life-for-a-life calculations, she is really seeking current biases, because that’s all they are. On the Titanic, it was women and children first, not because it made societal sense to allow some of the most productive and vibrant minds alive to drown simply because they had a Y chromosome, but because that’s just the way it was. Old women and sick children got on lifeboats;  young men, like emerging mystery writer Jacque Futrelle (and brilliant young artist Leonardo DiCaprio), went down with the ship. That’s not utilitarianism. That’s sentimentalism.

The New York Times article mostly demonstrates that human beings are incapable of making ethical guidelines, because Kant was right: when you start trading one life for another, it’s inherently unethical, even if you have no choice but to do it. Does it make societal sense to take away Stephen Hawking’s ventilator to help a drug-addicted, habitual criminal survive? Well, should violating drug laws sentence a kid to death? TILT! There are no ethical answers, just biased decisions. Continue reading


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

A Deft And Appropriate Rebuke To Climate Change Hysteria

FLASHBACK: Jonestown combats climate change

FLASHBACK: Jonestown combats climate change

On her blog, Ann Althouse delivered a devastating and ethically profound defenestration to Jennifer Ludden, a  correspondent for NPR’s “All Things Considered” who delivered a mad feature she called “Should We Be Having Kids In The Age Of Climate Change?”  Now, the very question is incompetent and irresponsible, as it treats a speculative future event—she even admits that it is speculative!–of unknown cause, arrival, duration and seriousness as the equivalent of certain nuclear war or a zombie apocalypse. The essay and her attitude represent hysteria, cowardice, scare-mongering and an insufficient appreciation for the importance of continuing the species, or at least having people smart enough to spell “climate change” contributing to the gene pool so “Planet of the Apes” doesn’t become reality. No, the pre-emptive extinction of the human race is not a rational response to the problems posed by climate change, Jennifer, and why the hell are my tax dollars being wasted to hire people who want people to think it is?

That would be my crude response to this cretinous piece. Ann Althouse, however, is far cleverer, constructive, less confrontational and effective in her response, which in its own way is more damning than mine. She launches from this quote from the NPR piece:

“I said to [my children], ‘I hope you never have children,’ which is an awful thing to say. It can bring me to tears easily,” said 67-year-old Nancy Nolan, who had children before she learned found out about climate change.”

Prof. Althouse, contrary to my inclination, doesn’t counter with, “Oh? And what did you ‘find out,’ Nancy? Here are computer printouts of climate trends and projections from five different models. Which is correct? Explain it to me, please. Show me you understand what the hell you’re talking about that is so devastating that you wish your children had never been born, you silly, silly twit!”

Instead, she writes,

If anybody really cares about carbon emissions, stop your crying and be hard-headed about what emits carbon. It’s not the person per se, but what the person does. Back in 2010, I made a list of changes you could make to your behavior. No air conditioning isn’t on the list, because that is already a given. If you haven’t done that yet, Nancy and the Weepers, you are crying crocodile tears. So get up and switch that off. Forever. And now, read my list:

It includes such “common sense’ advice as this…

“Do not go anywhere you don’t have to go. When there is no food in the house to make dinner, instead of hopping in the car to go to the grocery store or a restaurant, take it as a cue to fast. As noted above, your weight should be at the low end of normal, and opportunities to reach or stay there should be greeted with a happy spirit.”

I won’t include any more here. The professor’s clear message: why don’t you make some sacrifices yourself rather than condemn the species to extinction?

Read the whole thing on her blog. Ann earned the click.


Filed under Around the World, Bioethics, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Journalism & Media, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology, U.S. Society

Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month: U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX)

I know this is like shooting fish in a barrel—dead fish, in fact— but I need some levity about now. Of course it’s no joke, and indeed tragic, that a certifiable fanatic like Gohmert can reach a position of influence in our government, and a greater tragedy that there are so many equally unfit officials, from both parties. Few, however, are willing or able to expose their cognitive deficiencies as deftly as Congressman Gohmert.

When a gay, progressive friend posted the story about this, I assumed that he had been caught (again) in a web hoax. Surely Gohmert isn’t THAT stupid. Nobody is that stupid in Congress, surely. Yet he is, and the story was correct and true.

This happened a while back, during the “general speeches” portion of House proceedings on May 26, 2016. It was little noted, because if it had been, I would hope that GOP leaders would have placed him in a padded room and denied him the opportunity to ever speak for the party again.

Here, in part, was Gohmert’s anti-gay, science fiction rant (the video of his whole speech is above): Continue reading


Filed under Bioethics, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials

The Ethics Lessons In The Tragic Death Of Harambe The Gorilla

The primary lesson is this: Sometimes bad things happen and nobody deserves to be punished.

The tragedy of Harambe the Gorilla is exactly this kind of incident.

In case you weren’t following zoo news over the long weekend, what happened was this. On Saturday, a mother visiting the Cincinnati zoo with several children in tow took her eyes off of a toddler long enough for him to breach the three foot barricade at the Gorilla World exhibit and fall into its moat. Harambe, a 17-year old Lowland gorilla male, took hold of the child, and zookeepers shot the animal dead.

Then  animal rights zealots held a vigil outside the zoo to mourn the gorilla.  Petitions were placed on line blaming the child’s mother for the gorilla’s death. Other critics said that the zoo-keepers should have tranquilized the beast, a member of an endangered species. The zoo called a news conference to defend its actions.


1. Animal rights activists are shameless, and will exploit any opportunity to advance their agenda, which in its craziest form demands that animals be accorded the same civil rights as humans. Their argument rests equally on sentiment and science, and takes an absolute position in a very complex ethics conflict. This incident is a freak, and cannot fairly be used to reach any conclusions about zoos and keeping wild animals captive.

2. Yes, the mother made a mistake, by definition. This is res ipsa loquitur: “the thing speaks for itself.” If a child under adult supervision gets into a gorilla enclosure, then the adult has not been competent, careful and diligent in his or her oversight.  The truth is, however, that every parent alive has several, probably many, such moments of distraction that could result in disaster, absent moral luck. This wasn’t gross negligence; it was routine, human negligence, for nobody is perfect all the time. You want gross negligence involving animals? How about this, one of the first ethics essays I ever wrote, about the late “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin holding his infant son in one arm while feeding and taunting a 12-foot crocodile? You want gross negligence amounting to child endangerment? Look no further than the 6-month-old waterskiier’s parents. Taking one’s eyes off of a child  for a minute or two, however, if not unavoidable, is certainly minor negligence that is endemic to parenthood. Zoos, moreover, are not supposed to be dangerous. Continue reading


Filed under Animals, Bioethics, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Law & Law Enforcement

Ethics Quiz: The Pregnant Bar Patron

"Boy, its a good thing nothing human is living in there!"

“Boy, its a good thing nothing human is living in there!”

This one is so rich with chewy ethical dilemma goodness that I had to interrupt writing another post to get it to you.

New York City’s Commission on Human Rights has ruled that bars and restaurants that refuse to serve alcohol or raw fish to pregnant women are committing discrimination. Such a policy by bars and restaurants  violate protections for pregnant women in the city’s Human Rights Law, and constitute illegal bias.

“While covered entities may attempt to justify certain categorical exclusions based on maternal or fetal safety,” the commission said, “using safety as a pretext for discrimination or as a way to reinforce traditional gender norms or stereotypes is unlawful.”

Interestingly, eighteen other states have laws that declare that the use  of alcohol during pregnancy is child abuse.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:

Is it ethical to refuse to sell liquor to a pregnant woman, when the establishment is doing so to protect the fetus from the toxic effects of alcohol, or is it unethical discrimination?

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Filed under Bioethics, Business & Commercial, Childhood and children, Citizenship, Family, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement, Quizzes

The Fraudulent Sperm Donor

Sperm Bank

The British cartoon above give me the willies the first time I saw years ago it, and it does still. I tracked it down after reading legal commentary on a nightmarish incident in Canada.

Canadian couple Angela Collins and Elizabeth Hanson chose a sperm donor for their planned child who claimed a 160 IQ, a neuroscience PhD, and a perfect medical history.  After their child was born, they learned the surrogate father’s name though an error by the sperm bank, and discovered that Dad had lied: he never graduated from college, was a convicted felon, and had a history of schizophrenia. His sperm bank profile picture was also a fake; I’m guessing he really looked like the guy in the cartoon.

Other than that, he was fine.
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Filed under Around the World, Bioethics, Business & Commercial, Character, Childhood and children, Family, Gender and Sex, Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement