Tag Archives: moral luck

Health And Survival Rationing Ethics

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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

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

Fourth Of July Ethics: The Signers, Snopes, And Fact-Checking

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I received  this inspiring bit of Americana from an old friend, a Marine and lawyer with a love of history. It’s a screed of unknown origin that has been circulating the internet since the 20th Century. Maybe you’ve seen it too:

The Price They Paid

Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56men who signed the Declaration of Independence?

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died.

Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.

Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured.

Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.

They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

What kind of men were they?

Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists.

Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners; men of means, well-educated, but they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.

Thomas McKean was so hounded by British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him – poverty was his reward.

Vandals or soldiers looted properties of Ellery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Rutledge, and Middleton.

At Battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson,Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.

Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.

John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his  gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished.

So, take a few minutes while enjoying your 4th of July holiday and silently thank these patriots.  It’s not much to ask for the price they paid.

Remember: freedom is never free! We thank these early patriots, as well as those patriots now fighting to KEEP our freedom!

I hope you will show your support by sending this to as many people as you can, please. It’s time we get the word out that patriotism is NOT a sin, and the Fourth of July has more MEANING to it than beer, fireworks, HOT DOGS,  and picnics……

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The purpose and primary message of the post is irrefutably true. Those who signed the Declaration did so at great personal risk and sacrifice. Had the new nation failed in its revolution—and really, it is amazing that it didn’t—all of them would have been hanged as traitors. It was an act of principle and courage, and what happened later is entirely moral luck. The signers would have been no less honorable, remarkable and heroic if every single one of them, by various strokes of good fortune, had become wealthy, powerful, prospered in everything they did and died in advanced years, like Franklin, Adams and Jefferson. Unfortunately, most citizens lack the education, acumen and tools to figure this out, so we get stuff that equates random and uncontrollable misfortune with enhanced virtue. Continue reading

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Ten Observations On The Trump Assassination Attempt

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Perhaps you missed it? Someone tried to shoot Donald Trump. From the Associated Press:

“A British man arrested at a weekend Donald Trump rally in Las Vegas tried to grab a police officer’s gun so he could kill the presidential candidate after planning an assassination for about a year, according to authorities. U.S. Secret Service agents said Michael Steven Sandford approached a Las Vegas police officer at the campaign stop to say he wanted Trump’s autograph, but that he then tried to take the weapon.”

Observations:

1. Wow. Talk about being incompetent at your chosen avocation! This guy has been “planning an assassination for about a year” and the big plan was “try to get a police officer’s gun”?

Assassins, like everything else, just aren’t what they used to be.

2. Remember, however, that the only difference between a failed assassination attempt and a successful one is moral luck.

3. The Washington Post asks why the incident didn’t provoke more news coverage. Isn’t that a strange question to come from one of the news organizations responsible for the lack of coverage? Why doesn’t Callum Borchers just ask his own editors at the Post?

The answer seems clear to me: the news media doesn’t want any public sympathy going Trump’s way, or to give him what would amount to positive publicity. This is the double standard we are being told that we need to get used to. Does anyone want to make the case that an assassination attempt on Hillary’s life would be a multi-day story, with a repeat of the U.S. Representative Rep. Gabrielle Giffords shooting mass accusation, now holding  that Republican “hate speech” and anti-Hillary rhetoric nearly resulted in a tragedy?  Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin were being fingered as the reason why a deranged man went on a killing spree in Tucson. Why not blame a Trump assassination attempt on Paul Krugman or Elizabeth Warren? Or me? Continue reading

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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.

Lessons:

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

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

Ethics Hero: Bobbi McCaughey, Mother Of The McCaughey Septuplets

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Kenny, Kelsey, Natalie, Brandon, Alexis, Nathan and Joel McCaughey, the world’s first septuplets to survive infancy, graduated  from Carlisle High School in Iowa over the weekend. Alexis, who has cerebral palsy, was co-captain of the cheer squad and graduated at the top of her class. The miraculous siblings were born nine weeks premature in November 1997, weighing between two and four pounds. Their mother Bobbi rejected calls for the group to be culled by “selective abortion” while they could still be claimed to not possess a right to have a chance at life.
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The Amazing Saga Of Big Papi And Maverick Schutte: This One Has Everything, Folks: Baseball! The Bambino! Courage! Kindness! Compassion! Heroics! Moral Luck! Hubris! Consequentialism! And Dammit, I’m Crying Again

Let’s see if I can through this to the Ethics Quiz portion without shorting out my laptop.

Maverick Schutte, a 6-year-old from Cheyenne, Wyoming, has required over 30 surgeries, including five open chest procedures,  to treat a heart condition.He still must be hooked up to a ventilator most of each day to allow oxygen to reach his lungs, and more surgery will be needed, as he is in constant danger of heart failure.

The child’s greatest joy is baseball, and he has adopted his father’s team, the Boston Red Sox, as his passion. The Children’s Miracle Network put the family in touch with former Red Sox player Kevin Millar, now an MLB host and broadcaster, and Millar contacted Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, Maverick’s favorite, after the family explained that Maverick was in the hospital again and needed a morale boost. With Millar, Ortiz made a video for Maverick, ending with Ortiz promising to hit a home run that night, just for him. I didn’t believe it when I heard the story, but it was true. “Stay positive, keep the faith, and I’m going to hit a home run for you (Friday night),” Ortiz says in the video. “Remember that.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for today before, as Paul Harvey would say, you learn “the rest of the story”…

Was it ethical for Ortiz to make such a promise to Maverick?

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An Ethics Alarms Audit: Who Or What Is At Fault For The Rise Of Donald Trump?

I have intentionally avoided most of the many articles that have used the unsettling rise of Donald Trump as a Presidential contender to attack their favorite targets—talk radio, Republicans, Obama, the Tea Party, the “elites,” the news media, reality TV…it’s a long list. One of the few I did read was this one, by Peggy Noonan. Its main thesis:

“The unprotected came to think they owed the establishment—another word for the protected—nothing, no particular loyalty, no old allegiance. Mr. Trump came from that…What marks this political moment, in Europe and the U.S., is the rise of the unprotected. It is the rise of people who don’t have all that much against those who’ve been given many blessings and seem to believe they have them not because they’re fortunate but because they’re better….This is a terrible feature of our age—that we are governed by protected people who don’t seem to care that much about their unprotected fellow citizens. And a country really can’t continue this way.”

Yup. That’s how populist uprisings always start, and Noonan properly diagnosed this one. Still, it was neither pre-ordained nor necessary that the individual such a movement would unite around had to be such a dangerous, unstable and unworthy one, or that the citizens supporting him would display such complete absence of logic and responsibility.

Reading the debates between Trump supporters and detractors on various websites, I am reminded of the classic “Simpsons” episode where Springfield split into two warring factions, the Mensa group, and the anti-Mensa group. The latter was characterized by angry stupidity, and if a member made a logical and coherent argument against the astute and educated opposition, he would be instantly ejected with the cry, “You’re one of them!”

Herman Kahn, the futurist, used to say that even the best plans, organizations, and systems could be unsettled by “the 2% contingency of bad management or bad luck.” The United States has been very fortunate in its approximately 250 years’ experiment. Bismarck famously said that “There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America,” and at times it has seemed that way. When the nation’s management failed, the U.S. has been astoundingly lucky. When it has been unlucky, brilliant leaders have been on hand to manage the problem. The Trump phenomenon illustrates the fact of existence that luck eventually runs out: so far, bad luck and bad management have joined forces to produce the threat of a Donald Trump presidency.

There are many people, groups and institutions responsible for Trump getting this far, and it is dishonest, incompetent and unfair to blame one without identifying the rest. Each was arguably essential to the chaotic mix, and thus nothing and no one deserves to be cited as “the” cause.

Here, in rough but not definitive particular order, are the main miscreants. I’ve limited myself to eleven, but the list could easily be longer.
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