Afternoon Ethics Flotsam And Jetsam, 9/16/2019: Ethics Movies, Clowns And Harvard Professors

…As I prep for a CLE road trip…

1. I finally saw “Doubt,” the film adaptation of the John Patrick Shanley stage drama about a parish priest suspected of child abuse. It’s an ethics film, and unlike many ethics films, made a profit at the box office.

I had seen the play on stage, and found it didactic and contrived; the film did not, I’m sure because the cast was so excellent. Meryl Streep, Viola Davis and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the priest were all wonderful, especially Davis, whose single scene in which she runs down a series of desperate arguments and rationalizations to justify allowing her son to be molested—maybe—is an ethics cornucopia. Unlike the stage production I saw, the movie benefits by having its protagonists appear less sympathetic than its apparent villain.

This goes on the ethics movie list, which is due for an update.

2.  Yet another ethics movie of more recent vintage is 2019’s “The Challenger Disaster,” a fictionalized recounting of how the decision was made to allow the doomed space shuttle to launch despite the warnings of Morton Thiokol engineers.  I wrote about this depressing ethics case study here , in a tribute to the primary Cassandra in the tragedy, Roger Boisjoly, and here,  about his troubled colleague, Bob Ebeling. The film’s hero appears to be an amalgam of the two. Here is an excerpt from a review on The Engineering Ethics Blog:

Even if you are pretty familiar with the basics of the story, as I was, the film is almost agonizing to watch as the launch time draws closer….The focus is always on Adam [the fictional hybrid of the engineers opposing the launch]: his belief going in that the truth is always a sufficient argument (it’s not, as it turns out), his doubts that he’s done enough to stop the launch, and his retrospective descriptions of what went on in the hours leading up to the launch…. the generally underlit atmosphere symbolizes Adam’s darkening mood as the critical conference call comes and goes, and the decision is made to launch. After Adam drives home that evening, he just sits out in the driveway in his car until his wife comes and gets into the seat beside him. …Later, during the  hearings that Adam and his fellow engineers attend, they come forward out of the audience and interrupt the proceedings after they hear a Morton-Thiokol manager lie about his knowledge of the seal problem. After the hearing, a sympathetic commission member finds Adam and reassures him that there are whistleblowing laws to protect him from repercussions of his testimony.

While it is never good to kick a man while he is down, I wish the film had taken time to show in more detail the intensity of the ostracism that forced the real-life Boisjoly to resign from Morton-Thiokol after his participation in the hearings made him persona non grata at work. … Boisjoly made a new career out of giving talks to engineering students about his experiences. …For a complex, historically accurate, and thought-provoking take on the Challenger disaster, I cannot think of a better medium than “The Challenger Disaster”  for conveying the seriousness of the emotion-laden decisions that have to be made at critical times. It is not a fun movie, but it’s a good one. And I hope it does well in video-on-demand release, because engineers need to see it.

Also lawyers, doctors, corporate executives, military officers, government officials, journalists, students… Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “The Euthanasia Slippery Slope: A Case Study”

 Ethics Alarms master commenter Mrs. Q has the highest ratio of Comments of the Day to comments of any of the erudite participants here. If she would consider it, I’d love to feature her ethical musings in a regular column on the blog. This is the first of two Mrs. Q compositions you will see this weekend; it concerns the issues of euthanasia and consent, which were explored in twoposts this week, and a poll. Regarding that: here is the still live survey regarding the hypothetical I posed in this follow-up to the one about the Dutch doctor:

As you can see, those supporting the opposite position of Mrs. Q (and me) are in a distinct minority.

Here is Mrs. Q’s Comment of the Day, a reply to another commenter,  on the post, “The Euthanasia Slippery Slope: A Case Study.”

My God fearing Catholic grandma had the opposite response to yours. She was 102 & 7mo. and after breaking her hip it was too late to even think of surgery. She continued to weaken & lose weight yet she fought by drinking milkshakes & trying to greet her many family/visitors.

Before she got to this point a few years prior, her care coordinator somehow changed her directive to DNR, which as a Catholic she wouldn’t have agreed to, yet this person tried to convince the family that my grandma said yes to the change. If my family hadn’t checked the paperwork, my grandma’s incorrect and unauthorized change would have remained; however our family changed it back. My understanding is such acts are not uncommon in these facilities.

Fast forward to her last days. She was increasingly given higher doses of morphine & we weren’t allowed to even give her sips of water, though she was clearly thirsty. Her last words ever spoken while she gripped onto me, and heard by everyone in the room were “I don’t want to die.” She didn’t want to go and the nursing home was killing her and she knew it.

I still feel complicit in her death, as I tried to “go along” with staff who I assumed knew best. Continue reading

Addendum: To “The Euthanasia Slippery Slope: A Case Study,” Hypothetical And Poll

The Euthanasia Slippery Slope: A Case Study, this morning’s post, has attracted a wider range of opinion than I expected. I considered attaching a poll to the original post; now I’m going to go a step farther, and base that poll on a hypothetical of the kind that I use in my legal ethics seminars.

Speaking of those, on Tuesday, September 17, in Richmond, VA, and Wednesday, September 18, in Fairfax, VA, I’ll be presenting  “The Greatest Legal Ethics Seminar Ever Taught!” for three hours of legal ethics CLE credit to Virginia lawyers and others. The title reflects, other than my own warped sense of humor (“The Greatest Story Ever Told” is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen), the fact that the legal ethics hypotheticals being discussed cover what I have found to be many of the most contentious, fascinating legal ethics issues extant over 20 years of doing these things. Moreover, I am being joined by my friend and colleague, John May, who approached these issues from the perspective of a practical litigator as well as one who often defends lawyers accused of ethical improprieties. He’s also one combative and clever pain in the ass who loves disagreeing with me, so I recommend bringing popcorn. The details are here.

Now here’s your hypothetical:

Continue reading

Funky Winkerbean vs. The NFL [CORRECTED]

The National Football League is moving inexorably toward another brain-wrecking season with scant resistance from the mainstream media or the ethics-blind public. It is heartening, therefore, to see comics section stalwart (since 1972) “Funky Winkerbean,” drawn and written by cartoonist Tom Batiuk, try to educate society, especially children, regarding the perils of football.

One of the rare comics that allows its characters to age and even die, “Funky Winkerbean” is beginning a 10 week story involving the deterioration of a regular character who once played in the NFL, as the symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, take over and destroy his life.

Such enlightening of the nooks and crannies of our culture is vital if the public is ever going to stop enabling this unconscionable sport, in which, on the professional level, the disabling of young athletes is monetized by paying them to risk a slow, early, horrible death that is far enough in the future that they can rationalize their choice to accept the deal.

The New York Times article about the strip’s latest story arc is odd, as well as suspicious. It never mentions the NFL. It refers to CTE as the result of “sports-related concussions” that “in extreme cases, can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a form of degenerative dementia.”

I classify this a deliberate misdirection, and I wonder why the Times would stoop to it. This is primarily a football problem that also can affect those who play soccer, hockey, boxing, lacrosse and baseball, but the CTE threat in pro football is hardly restricted to “extreme cases.” There is evidence that the condition may begin at the high school level of football or even earlier, and that nearly all NFL players may suffer from it to various degrees. Is the Times burying the lede here because its readers are passionate NFL fans, and in denial over their beloved barbaric sport? New York City does have two NFL teams.

When a comic strip shows more responsibility and candor than the nation’s “paper of record,” there is a problem.

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 9/8/2019, As Tumbleweeds Roll Through The Deserted Streets Of Ethics Alarms…

Is anybody out there?

1. What’s going on here? The AP deleted a tweet on September 5 tweet attributing the murders of Israeli athletes  to undefined “guerrillas.” Someone complained: it then tweeted, “The AP has deleted a tweet about the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics because it was unclear about who was responsible for the killings and referred to the attackers as guerrillas. A new tweet will be sent shortly.” Finally, this was the tweet decided upon:

“On Sept. 5, 1972, the Palestinian group Black September attacked the Israeli Olympic delegation at the Munich Games, killing 11 Israelis and a police officer. German forces killed five of the gunmen.”

2. Wait: ARE there really “AI ethicists,” or just unethical ethicists grabbing a new niche by claiming that they are any more qualified for this topic than anyone else?

From the Defense Systems website:

After a rash of tech employee protests, the Defense Department wants to hire an artificial intelligence ethicist. “We are going to bring on someone who has a deep background in ethics,” tag-teaming with DOD lawyers to make sure AI can be “baked in,” Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, who leads the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, told reporters during an Aug. 30 media briefing.

The AI ethical advisor would sit under the JAIC, the Pentagon’s strategic nexus for AI projects and plans, to help shape the organization’s approach to incorporating AI capabilities in the future. The announcement follows protests by Google and Microsoft employees concerned about how the technology would be used — particularly in lethal systems — and questioning whether major tech companies should do business with DOD.

I’m hoping that the Defense Department isn’t doing this, as the article implies, because some pacifist, anti-national defense techies at Microsoft complained. [Pointer: Tom Fuller]

3. Campus totalitarians gonna totalitary!  University of Michigan students and alumni aare demanding that the University to sever ties with real estate developer Stephen M. Ross , who is the largest donor in the University’s history. This would presumably include removing his name from  Ross School of Business, which he substantially funded. (His name is on other buildings as well) Did Ross rape women willy-nilly? Has he been shown to be racist? No, he held  a re-election fundraiser for the President of the United States. Continue reading

Joe Biden’s Eye

“Joe Biden’s eye just started bleeding? This isn’t a joke what in the hell just happened,” tweeted one individual who for some reason had nothing better to do than to watch CNN’s “climate change town meeting.” Indeed it had, and in some universes, like social media, this was the big story of the night. The Washington Times and Washington Examiner reported it; so did Fox News and The New York Post.  If you couldn’t figure it out from those clues, it was the conservative news media that thought this was an event worth knowing about. In the parallel an corrupt universe of the mainstream news media—you know, the ones determined to  influence the election so Donald Trump is a one-term President? That one?—it was “Eye? What eye?”

The New York Times hasn’t mentioned it yet. On Memeorandum, the useful news aggregator that I thought was non-partisan but now I’m wondering, didn’t have a single link about it. Even CNN, which hosted the debate, ignored the moment. I couldn’t believe it, so I searched for “eye” in the debate coverage  on the CNN website, and got only “At times, candidates waged a bidding war to show liberal activists their plan was the most audacious — and even expensive. But with an eye on November 2020, others warned against throwing the economy out of the window.” The story was headlined “What happened during CNN’s climate town hall and what it means for 2020,” so as far as CNN is concerned, nothing happened. Politico, the left-leaning website, at least alluded to the eye by joking, “Even the shallow matter of what we now call “optics” went badly for Biden. He chose to sit through his appearance—Harris, Sanders, and Warren all stood—and by the end of it, a burst blood vessel in his left eye was noticeable.” Optics, get it? AOL, which I would call anti-Trump, distingished itself by importing coverage from the Wrap headlined, “Biden’s mysterious bloody eye overshadows CNN climate town hall.”

Wait: how could something “overshadow” the event, and simultaneously not be worthy of news coverage? Continue reading

The Division Of Conscience And Religious Freedom Vs. Basic Workplace Ethics [UPDATED]

In May, the Trump administration issued a new rule  that gives health care workers the power to refuse to provide services their religion disapproves of, such as abortion, sterilization or assisted suicide. A religious conviction isn’t even essential to trigger the rule; a matter of conscience is enough. The measure essentially revived a Bush rule that the Obama administration reversed.

It’s a bad rule, and an unethical rule, as Ethics Alarms has held before. If you can’t perform all the duties of a job, then don’t take the job. If an employee can get his or her employer to agree that he or she is exempt from certain duties, that’s freedom of contract. Fine.  The Trump rule, however, like the Bush rule before it, breaches a basic principle of the workplace, and common sense as well. It also leads inevitably to messes like this one:

The federal government has accused  the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, Vermont of violating  federal law by forcing a nurse to participate in an abortion despite her objections. The hospital denies it.

The nurse, who is Catholic, filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights. It  alleges, that she was misled by supervisors to believe she was assisting in a procedure scheduled after a miscarriage. “After [she] confirmed that she was, in fact, being assigned to an abortion, [her employer] refused her request that other equally qualified and available personnel take her place,” the complaint reads. She then participated in the procedure and “has been haunted by nightmares ever since.”

Now the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services has filed a notice of violation against the hospital, the  first since the Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom was added to HHS in  2018. Continue reading