Tag Archives: Great Britain

Comment Of The Day (1): “Observations On Britain’s Charlie Gard Ethics Fiasco”

I thought that the Charlie Gard story would stimulate some excellent thoughts on ethics and public policy from readers, and for once I was right. This is the first of two superb Comments of the Day it generated, and there were several others as well.

Here is Ryan Harkins’ Comment Of The Day on the post,  “Observations On Britain’s Charlie Gard Ethics Fiasco.”

The idea of the state telling me I could not seek medical aid for my child when I had both the money to pay for it and a provider willing to give me the services is terrifying. My sixteen-month-old daughter has been receiving the majority of her sustenance through a feeding tube for the past six months. Prior to that, we had been struggling to get her to eat enough calories so that she would gain just an ounce or two, only to find that weight gain vanish when she caught a cold or a stomach bug. Granted, the gastroparesis she suffers is not a severe condition, but without the feeding tube she would risk starving. The thought that the state might step in, tell me that they not only would not pay for my daughter’s tube and care any more, but also expressly forbid me from feeding my daughter through the tube, makes me shake uncontrollably. If I have to fight for my daughter without the state’s help, fine by me. But for the state to forbid me from fighting for my daughter? That is unconscionable.

However, at this time, I don’t have to face that issue. I live in a place and a time when I don’t have to contend with general threat, and my daughter’s condition is not terminal and readily treatable. I hope that my child-rearing and my fear for my daughter helps me to have empathy for the parents of Charlie Gard. I also hope that I can step back away from the emotional turmoil this issue raises and try to understand what is happening here.

The principle dilemma in the case of this poor baby boy lies in the fundamental tension between the fact that human dignity demands we do fight for life, while at the same time we know that we will all ultimately die. Because human life bears an intrinsic dignity, its wrong to deprive a human being of what it needs to survive. Because all humans ultimately die, it can become, through the use of extreme or unethical means, against human dignity to fight against death when death is inevitable.

Why would it be wrong, in some circumstances, to keep fighting against death? The most clear-cut examples are when the means of preserving life are unethical. Bathing in the blood of virgins, selling one’s soul to the devil, killing an innocent to harvest his organs, transferring one’s consciousness into the unwilling body of another — all these (fantastical as some of them are) represent tactics to extend life that obviously violate ethical principles.

What about less obvious examples? Let’s consider a man in a coma. His state is persistent, perhaps even vegetative, but his body is capable of processing food and drink, although he is incapable of eating and drinking orally. A feeding tube could provide him with all the nourishment he needs, and he could be kept alive for years in such a fashion. To stop feeding him through the tube would be to deliberately deprive him of sustenance he needs to survive, and thus would be unethical. Death is not inevitable in this case, except in the most sweeping sense.

In times past, a feeding tube would not have been possible, or if possible, not recommended because of infection, and thus this would not have been a serious alternative. Absent any means of delivering food to the man in the coma, no one could be faulted for not providing food. And if trying to use a feeding tube would actually kill him quicker, or have negligible effect, then the extreme measure of using a feeding tube would not be ethical. However, since we are at time with the technology that makes the use of a feeding tube fairly easy and safe, we no longer have that excuse to deprive a person of nutrients.

What about a slightly different case, when the man in the coma can no longer process foods even through a feeding tube? Then providing food actually causes harm without any gain. Perhaps nutrients could be provided through an IV, but one would be justified, and perhaps is even obligated, to stop providing food through the feeding tube.

Now, the most challenging cases are when a person is terminally ill, but there are procedures that exist that can extend life. To what extent are we obligated to provide care? It depends on the nature of the treatment, the cost of the treatment, and the effects of the treatment. A person is fully justified in accepting that death cannot be stopped and let the terminal illness run its course. A person is not justified in taking steps to deliberately end that life, but is justified in procuring palliative care that eases the pain of the dying, even if it hastens death. But one is not obliged to pay for or undergo an extensive, dangerous, expensive procedure that will not provide a cure, but only a short extension of life.

It should be clear, though, that just because one is not obliged to pay for or undergo extreme care, it does not follow that one is obliged to never pay for or undergo such procedures. If a person has the money and desire to attempt such care, and that care is available, that person should not be denied.

Is there any instance, then, when that person could be denied that extraordinary care? Again, we are assuming that the person can pay for it and the care is available, so we aren’t discussing an instance in which the terminally ill patient is displacing someone else’s care.

I personally cannot think of an instance in which we could rightly deny that care. What I do know is that, in Catholic theology, death does not mark the end of the existence of a person. The soul survives death, and the soul will be reunited with the body at the Resurrection. There is danger in pursuing treatments at any cost, and that danger lies in the denial of the afterlife. That has consequences for one’s eternal soul. Continue reading

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Observations On Britain’s Charlie Gard Ethics Fiasco

A recipient of Great Britain’s national health care, infant Charlie Gard was born with  a rare genetic condition resulting in what is probably irreversable brain damage.  He cannot move his arms or legs, eat or even breathe without a ventilator.

After 10 months of being kept alive, Charlie’s caretakers, the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, announced that it was time for Charlie to die. Chris Gard and Connie Yates, Charlie’s parents, wanted to take him to the United States to try an experimental treatment available here. The doctors at the hospital refused to allow them to take the child, and vetoed their decision, even though the parents had received sufficient funds from donations to pay for the effort.  In  the resulting lawsuit, British courts sided with the hospital. The parents then brought the case  to the European Court of Human Rights, which declined to hear the case last week. The previous court rulings that it was in Charlie’s best interest to withdraw life support and that the state, not the parents, got to make this life and death decision stood.

The  parents, Chris Gard and Connie Yates, appeared on a video this week,, sobbing and saying their son would be removed from life support at the hospital. “He’d fight to the very end, but we’re not allowed to fight for him anymore,” Gard said in the video statement. “We can’t even take our own son home to die.”

Initially, the hospital would not delay the fatal  disconnection of the child from life support so family members could gather and say goodbye. It has since relented.

Observations: Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Bioethics, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement, Religion and Philosophy, Rights

Ethics Hero: London Terror Attack Witness Richard Angell

Richard Angell, the director of a British Labour Party think tank called Progress,  was dining with friends at the Arabica Bar and Kitchen at London’s  Borough Market when he witnessed Saturday’s terrorist attack on London Bridge, like everyone else, he was focused on the unfolding scene, which he described in detail to Buzzfeed.

Unlike everyone else, Angell returned to the establishment, now closed indefinitely,  on Sunday morning so he could pay his tab and tip the staff.

“I’ve got to pay my bill. Also, we haven’t given the staff a tip and they looked out for us when they should have been helping themselves. It was lovely food and I want the rest of my main course,” he said.

He was displaying exemplary ethics. Yes, perhaps he was grandstanding a bit too: I’m not sure how this came to be publicized. I’m hoping that the restaurant owners reported what was meant to be an example of someone quietly doing the right thing when nobody was insisting on it. In fact, that’s what I’m going to believe what happened. Whatever his motives, Angell did the right thing. He deserves the benefit of the doubt, and I need an Ethics Hero.

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The Most Unethical Sentencing Fallacy Of All: Lavinia Woodward Gets “The King’s Pass”

Oxford University student Lavinia Woodward, 24,  punched and stabbed her boyfriend in a drunken rage, then hurled a jam jar, a glass and a laptop at him. This, in the U.S., would be called a criminal assault, and maybe even attempted murder.  Ah, but British Judge Ian Pringle knows better. He agrees these acts would normally mean a prison term, but Lavinia is a star student, and wants to be a surgeon. He hinted that he would spare her prison time so that her “extraordinary” talent would not be wasted. As poor Lavinia’s barrister, James Sturman, argued, his client’s dreams of becoming a surgeon would be “almost impossible” if she had to serve time.

Well, we certainly mustn’t jeopardize a violent felon’s dreams.

This kind of reasoning is infused with The King’s Pass, also known as The Star Syndrome, the rationalization making the perverse unethical argument that the more talented, prominent, useful and important to society a miscreant is, the less he or she should be accountable for misconduct that nets lesser lights serious and devastating consequences:

11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?”

One will often hear unethical behavior excused because the person involved is so important, so accomplished, and has done such great things for so many people that we should look the other way, just this once. This is a terribly dangerous mindset, because celebrities and powerful public figures come to depend on it. Their achievements, in their own minds and those of their supporters and fans, have earned them a more lenient ethical standard. This pass for bad behavior is as insidious as it is pervasive, and should be recognized and rejected whenever it raises its slimy head.  In fact, the more respectable and accomplished an individual is, the more damage he or she can do through unethical conduct, because such individuals engender great trust. Thus the corrupting influence on the individual of The King’s Pass leads to the corruption of others.

Judge Pringle is taking the King’s Pass/Star Syndrome to a new low: he’s arguing that Lavinia should receive special treatment based on how valuable to society she might be, given enough immunity from the consequences of her own conduct.  Continue reading

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Ethics Quote Of The Day: Charlotte Hogg, Ex-Bank of England COO

“However, I recognise that being sorry is not enough. We, as public servants, should not merely meet but exceed the standards we expect of others. Failure to do so risks undermining the public’s trust in us, something we cannot let happen. Furthermore, my integrity has, I believe, never been questioned throughout my career. I cannot allow that to change now. I am therefore resigning from my position. I will, of course, work with you through any transition.”

—-The Bank of England’s chief operating officer and incoming Deputy Governor for Markets and Banking, Charlotte Hogg, in her letter of resignation over criticism regarding a possible conflict of interest and her failure to report it.

Charlotte Hogg, a senior Bank of England official who had been named a deputy governor, resigned this week after a Parliament committee found that she had failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest: her brother held a senior position at Barclay’s during her time at the central bank. Hogg insisted that she never breached her duties or passed along any confidential information to her brother, but she had helped draft an industry ethics code of conduct policy required a disclosure of such conflicts. This creates doubts about her integrity, judgment competence, as well as the appearance of impropriety.

The Parliamentary committee recently issued a report finding that Ms. Hogg’s professional competence “short of the very high standards” required to be deputy governor, adding that her failure to disclose her brother’s role was a “serious error of judgment.”

This is one of my favorite kinds of conflicts, because it may be only appearances at stake. What if, as is often the case (sadly), Hogg and her brother are estranged? What if she doesn’t speak to him? What if they hate each other? Never mind: the public, not knowing this,  will suspect that she might use her position to favor him or his bank, so disclosure is crucial to maintaining public trust. Not disclosing, in contrast, raises suspicions. Why didn’t she let everyone know about her brother? What was she hiding? Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Business & Commercial, Ethics Quotes, Finance, Government & Politics, Public Service

The Ethical Christmas Carol

Considering that Christmas is our culture’s ethical holiday, it is remarkable that only one traditional carol—and no modern holiday songs—celebrates ethical conduct. The one carol is “Good King Wenceslas,” and a strange one it is.

The lyrics are by J. M. Neale (1818-66), and were first published in 1853. Neale is a superstar in the Christmas Carol firmament: he also is responsible for the English lyrics of “Good Christian Men, Rejoice,” and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” both of which you hear much more frequently than “Good King Wenceslas.” One reason is that the ethical carol tells a story in ten verses, and if you don’t sing them all, the story doesn’t make sense. There are very few recordings of the song in which all the verses are sung. Ten verses is also a lot to remember for any song. My elementary school used to teach the whole carol to sixth graders for the Christmas assembly, but let them have crib sheets. This was before it was decreed that allowing children to learn, sing and listen to some of the most lovely and memorable songs in Western culture was a form of insidious religious indoctrination.

Here is the whole carol:

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even;

Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
Gath’ring winter fuel.

‘Hither, page, and stand by me,
If thou know’st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?’

‘Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence,
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.’

‘Bring me flesh and bring me wine,
Bring me pine logs hither,
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear them thither.’

Page and monarch forth they went,
Forth they went together,
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.

‘Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.’

‘Mark my footsteps, good my page,
Tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.’

In his master’s steps he trod,
Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

For one thing, “Good King Wenceslas” has little to do with Christmas Day, and doesn’t mention Jesus or the Nativity. The Feast of St. Stephen is also known as Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, December 26. It is a British Commonwealth tradition that never caught on in the U.S. In some European countries like Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries, the day is celebrated as a Second Christmas Day. Continue reading

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Warning From Great Britain: The “Lawscam” Excuse Is Coming To Colleges

It was all the fault of imperial Indian history....

It was all the fault of imperial Indian history….

The controversy died down a bit in 2016, but it is still out there: unemployed young lawyers are still blaming their law schools for the fact that their degrees didn’t deliver riches and success in a competitive field. When a ballyhooed lawsuit by one such lawyer failed last April, it briefly muted the howling, but the central misconception is still virulent. From the Ethics Alarms post about that law suit:

The rejection of Alaburda’s law suit sends a message that young lawyers need to hear, and heed. If they thought a law degree was going to guarantee their success, they have been tragically confused by the culture’s hucksters and politicians, not the law schools.  For too long, education has been sold as the key to income and jobs, when it is nothing but a process designed to make more competent, able, creative and responsible human beings. By itself, a degree proves nothing. It only signifies that its owner has had access to useful knowledge and the chance to develop useful skills. It is up to graduates to use that knowledge and those skills to make a life for themselves. If they fail to achieve their goals, they cannot blame the law school because they perceived a promise that was never made.

One failed suit, however, couldn’t undo the destructive false message society and its leaders have been issuing for decades: “the purpose of earning a diploma is to get a good job.” As more and more young men and women are steered into college and a college degree becomes symbolic of nothing, there will be more law suits by college graduates like the one currently being fought in Great Britain, where Faiz Siddiqui, an Oxford graduate, is suing his alma mater for not giving him a first-class degree 16 years ago. (In British universities, graduating with a “first class degree” is roughly similar to graduating “with honors” in an American college. Based on a student’s grades, Oxford gives out three classes of degrees, first-class being the highest.)

Siddiqui is now 38 years old, angry and disillusioned. In his suit, he alleges that his life and career were stunted because he didn’t earn “a first,” as the degree is called, when he  studied modern history at Brasenose College and graduated from Oxford University in June 2000. “Negligent teaching” in a course on Indian imperial history, he says, pulled down his overall grade and ruined his life. Now he’s asking for a million British pounds in damages for his lack of lifetime earnings in a legal action against the Oxford chancellor, masters and scholars. His barrister, Roger Mallalieu, also claims that Oxford is responsible for Siddiqui’s insomnia and depression.

Apparently the history module was less than optimum while Siddiqui was a student, because half of the teaching staff responsible for Asian history were on sabbatical.  Mallalieu told the British high court that the inferior teaching resulted in his client’s lesser grade and thus “denied him the chance of becoming a high-flying commercial barrister.” Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Education, Law & Law Enforcement, U.S. Society