Philosophy & Ethics

How much risk can health workers be asked to take on? Mike Segar/Reuters

By Catherine Womack, Bridgewater State University

Taking care of sick people has always involved personal risk.

From plague to tuberculosis to smallpox to SARS, health-care workers have put themselves in danger in the course of fulfilling their duties to care for others. Many have lost their lives doing just that.

In 2005, John Ioannidis wrote a paper in PLOS Medicine showing that most published research findings are false. 

There are many different conceptions of God, and endless questions. Credit: Waiting For The Word, CC BY-NC-SA

By Graham Oppy, Monash University

Disputes about the existence of God — like most disputes about religion, politics, and sex — almost always generate heat but not light.

The question of the existence of God seems intractable. As with other philosophical questions, there is no method to follow in seeking to answer it. Moreover, there is no prospect of reaching an agreed answer to it.

Should academics be disciplined by their universities for things said over Twitter? Credit: Flickr, CC BY-SA

By Janna Thompson, La Trobe University

Academic freedom has been put in the spotlight with two universities recently coming down hard on academics for comments on social media.

It is difficult for pharmaceutical companies to have good public relations in an immediate news and social media world - no matter how many trials are done, people can still have adverse effects or even suffer real harm - and social media detractors can just claim they are corrupt and convince a large segment of their followers. 

To make sure the public has as much confidence as possible in new products, all drugs have to undergo exhaustive, time-consuming and expensive testing. When high-profile media events like ebola, which killed 1/13,000th as many Americans this week as heart disease did, happen, there are calls to throw ethics and testing protocols out the window.

Image: author provided

By David Glance, University of Western Australia

In June of this year, Facebook provoked a widespread public outcry after it became known that it had tried to manipulate the emotions of nearly 700,000 of its users as part of a social “experiment.”

Look at a fan rotating its blades. Now look somewhat to the side of it. It seems to rotate slower now. Now shift your gaze slowly back toward the center of the fan. The fan seems to pick up speed. There are not just two appearances of its speed, one fast if I stare at it, and one slow if it is in the periphery of my visual field, but instead the fan seems to pick up speed gradually!

In the future, new organs will be created from a patient's own stem cells and they will require no waiting lists, no immunosuppressive drugs, and no stickers on drivers licenses making people available for organ donations.

Currently, organ transplantation is "opt in" - you have a choice. A new paper by psychologists examines whether it might be better to have organ donation be opt-out.

From government control of health care to new reproductive technologies in this century, we'll need to be able identify key issues, articulate their values and concerns, deliberate openly and find ways forward.

The Hastings Center and the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues have teamed up to publish a series of essays to highlight the best practices in teaching bioethics and to identify gaps in our knowledge of how best to inspire and increase moral understanding, analytical thinking in the moral domain, and professional integrity. The first three of these essays, which appear in the current Hastings Center Report, focus on bioethics education for practicing clinicians.

Eyes – windows on the soul?Credit: Ángelo González, CC BY-SA

By Tracy Long-Sutehall, University of Southampton