Ethics Quote of the Week: Washington Post Columnist Michael Gerson

“In determining who is a “major” candidate for president, let’s begin here. Those who support the legalization of heroin while mocking addicts are marginal. It is difficult to be a first-tier candidate while holding second-rate values.”

—-Washington Post columnist and former Bush advisor Michael Gerson, pronouncing presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul’s Libertarian endorsement of drug legalization ethically unacceptable.

Gerson’s deconstruction of the all-too-common and increasingly ominous calls for legalizing addictive drugs nicely captures the trio of ethical flaws of the advocacy: it denies the crucial and legitimate government role defining responsible conduct for society, it embraces the myth that recreational drug use “does no harm,” and it is arrogant and selfish, condemning the poor and reckless to problems that their fragile resources cope with, in order to bestow a dubious “freedom” that the drug advocates do not need. Continue reading

Fairness Dilemma:When Should Past Misdeeds Affect Present Trust?

The Shirley Sherrod case raises a broader ethical question that surfaces frequently, both in current events and in private life. When, if ever, is it fair to lower one’s opinion and level of trust in an individual’s character based on events that occurred long ago?

In Sherrod’s case, an twenty-four year old incident she cited in a speech before the N.A.A.C.P. as a lesson in how not to behave got her fired from her job at the U.S.D.A., condemned by the N.A.A.C.P., and called a racist by conservative news commentators. This is an easy call: her instance of racial anger and bias should not be held against her for several reasons: Continue reading

The Slippery Slopes of Religious Freedom and Female Genital Mutilation

The American Academy of Pediatrics slipped on the slipperiest of ethical slopes when earlier this year it attempted to balance multi-culturalism with pragmatism and traditional medical ethics. The topic was the genital mutilation of young girls in a form of (so-called) “female circumcision” practiced by some Muslims, in which the clitoris is cut and mutilated in order to make future sexual activity less enjoyable, thus ensuring a female’s “virtue.” The AAP argued that its members could ethically agree to inflict a lesser “nick”—a ritual drawing of blood— to fulfill a patient’s parents’ request for the ritual cutting, because to do otherwise might lead to greater harm to a girl’s genitalia if the parents sought a full-fledged mutilation abroad or elsewhere.

This policy effectively repealed the ancient ethical standard of “First, do no harm” by employing the versatile rationalization, “If I don’t do it, someone else will.” Predictably, women’s rights advocates were horrified. Equality Now proclaimed in May… Continue reading

The Ethics of Giving Up on Ethics

Paul Daugherty, a sportswriter for the Cincinnati Enquirer,recently wrote a column expressing a theme I hear all too often regarding politics, government, education, and society generally. Motivated by the steroid allegations against yet another hero, Lance Armstrong, Daugherty penned his surrender to a culture that doesn’t seem to care about ethics. Daugherty wrote:

“Everyone wants sports to be equitable. We all desire the level field. No one wants sports to be as drugged up as Woodstock in 1969. But it is. We’ve fought the ethical fight. We’ve lost. It could be time to let it go.
Even the athletes who lose still win. Mark McGwire got his, Barry Bonds got his, Brian Cushing got his. If you wait enough, deny enough, then rationalize believably, you get yours. Disgrace fades. Only Olympic athletes wear the stink of doping longer than the average 5-year-old’s attention span. In one respect, it’s not unlike the fight against legalizing marijuana. It has lasted so long, and now seems so pointless, I can’t even remember what we’ve been arguing about. We’ve become numb to it….It’s only a little outrageous now to suggest that a professional athlete be allowed to use performance-enhancing substances to his (enlarged) heart’s content, as long as he’s doing it legally….So what’s the point?”

“What’s the point?” Continue reading

Drug War Ethics: THIS Is Excessive Force…

Radley Balko, a senior editor at Reason Magazine, has been following the law enforcement tactic of paramilitary raids on American homes, some of which go horrible wrong, and many of which raise questions of propriety and proportion. One of the worst of these, a February raid on a family’s home in Missouri that featured the invading authorities shooting the family dog in front of a young child, is immortalized on this frightening video. The father was charged with marijuana possession and child endangerment, presumably because he used drugs in the presence of his.

Balko, who, like everyone at Reason, is a libertarian, uses the incident to press his opposition to the illegal status of recreational drugs. “This is the blunt-end result of all the war imagery and militaristic rhetoric politicians have been spewing for the last 30 years,” he writes… Continue reading