practical ethics

Do Vaccines Cause Autism? It Doesn’t Matter. Vaccinate Anyway.

Vaccines have been on the news a lot lately, primarily because people don’t want to be giving their children shots that would result in a neurological disorder (like autism) or something else. Now, while I regard this position as ultimately unsound and not informed on the scientific issue of vaccines as a whole, I believe that even if we grant this fundamental premise of the anti-vax crowd, there is still a very good reason to be pro-vaccine.

Put simply, even if vaccines did cause autism, it would still be irresponsible for parents to not vaccinate their children.

vacine_poison123Vaccines are great at doing what they were intended to do. Namely, prevent certain diseases. It is virtually impossible to deny that the vaccines do their job. Unless, of course, you think that the scientific community is some kind of conspiracy organization, then you can deny it all you want. But you’d be wrong about vaccines and vaccines would still work.

Throw a conspiracy theory at something and you can deny or embrace anything, including decades of research.
And the moon landing.
Tell you what. If you’re a fan of conspiracy theories, I suggest you take a little time out of your day to study epistemology. Start here, on my blog! ❤ (more…)

Resource Recommendation: “Should America Prohibit Genetically Engineered Babies?”

Hi! A lot of things have been changing in my life lately, which caused this blog to take ‘back-burner’ status, unfortunately. However, I am giving myself a more strict posting schedule so that I can post stuff more consistently.
We’ll see whether or not my goals for this blog pan out!

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 9.49.55 PMAs some of you may know, I did an independent research project on genetic engineering and human children while attending Buff State. Before I started my research, I was under the impression that I would be arguing for a limited freedom perspective; where we should use genetic engineering for treatment and not for enhancement. However, as my research continued, I changed my mind to my ultimate conclusion: That we should have the moral (and likely legal) freedom to safely genetically engineer our children for both treatment and for enhancement. Not many people are comfortable with that conclusion due, at least in part, because genetic engineering (as a science) is relatively new. I can sympathize with that concern.
You can find that paper here: Genetic Engineering and Human Children

That being said, I strongly suggest anyone interested in the discussion of genetic engineering to check out this debate, hosted by Intelligence Squared Debates.

Should America Prohibit Genetically Engineered Babies?

The debaters are:
For the motion (we should prohibit genetically engineered babies):
Sheldon Krimsky & Robert Winston
Against the motion (we should not prohibit genetically engineered babies):
Nita A. Farahany & Lee M. Silver

For more information on the debaters and the event, NPR has a really good overview of everything, here: Should We Prohibit Genetically Engineered Babies? (debate audio included)

This discussion is really good, on both sides of the issue. If this is your first introduction to the topic, you may feel like you’re drinking from a firehose… but don’t worry. Its interesting enough for you to want to Google things afterwards (or likely during).

If this is the first time you’ve heard/seen Intelligence Squared Debates, you should definitely check out the other stuff they put out. It’s always incredibly interesting. You can find that here: Intelligence Squared Debates; Top Thinkers Debate Today’s Most Important Issues

Thanks for reading!
Feel free to leave a comment or question below 🙂

Genetic Engineering and Human Children

regulate-designer-babies_1Most of us would do anything to help our children have the best future possible. We would make sure they had the best prenatal environment, the best diet and be sent to the best schools, all so that they could have the best possible future opportunities. But what would we do if we could, before they were born, alter our child’s genes in order to guarantee that advantage? The choice of genetically engineering our children is rapidly becoming a scientific reality, and we are faced with the question: If we are able to safely engineer a child at the genetic level… should we?

Genetic engineering is a topic that is greeted with a combination of curiosity, skepticism and apprehension. Those in favor of genetic engineering have been accused of “playing God”, whereas those opposed have been characterized as being against scientific progress. Many people view genetic engineering as something confined to the domain of science fiction; something so far in the future that it needn’t be worried about. However, with the advance of modern technology, this attitude towards genetic engineering is not only misguided, but can be dangerous.

Nearly every advance in technology comes with unanswered questions, and genetic engineering is no different. What should we do? What will happen if we make certain decisions? How will our decisions affect society? If we have the ability to do it safely, is it ethically permissible to genetically engineer our children? Is there an ethical difference between genetic enhancement and genetic  therapy? As people living in the time where genetic engineering is a real possibility, it is vital that we address the bioethical issues surrounding this controversial topic. If we procrastinate in this area and do not address these issues before they  come up, we will inevitably make poor decisions that could have been avoided. Like  many advancements in science and technology, genetics provides us with an  opportunity to be good stewards with what we have. But it also offers us a unique  opportunity as well; “… we can begin to determine not simply who will live and who will die, but what all those who live in the future will be like” (Harris & Burley, 2004)

p016q9gp This article is designed as a form of philosophical preventative maintenance,  with very real ramifications for the near future. Because it is meant to address  issues of genetic engineering specifically, other issues will be avoided. I will  assume that genetic engineering will not destroy human embryos and will not  result in any unintended changes. These issues need to be addressed by  scientists, doctors and ethicists today, but will likely be circumvented with the  advance of technology. The purpose of this paper is to ask, “What philosophical  issues arise from genetic engineering itself?”

Many moral philosophers and ethicists, when approaching complex ethical issues, have attempted to lay out a principle of moral reasoning that is designed to answer the question, “what ought I to do?” It seems reasonable, therefore, to follow a basic principle of moral reasoning, and philosopher Kurt Baier explores a fairly simple one in his book, “The Moral Point of View”. According to Baier, “The best course of action is… the course of action which is supported by the best reasons. And the best reasons may require us to abandon the aim we actually have set our heart on.” Baier’s two-step approach involves looking at the relevant facts surrounding an issue and determining the relative weight of those considerations “to decide which course of action has the full weight of reason behind it”. (Baier, 1969) Following this approach, it is our job to critically examine the arguments for and against genetic engineering and to support the most reasonable conclusion, given the strongest available arguments on both sides. (more…)

Virtue Ethics and The “Man of Steel”

Imagine a man who is powerful enough to enslave an entire planet of human beings and use them to satisfy his own desires, whatever those desires may be. Usually someone like this would need a military force behind him, but this man does not. The ‘Man of Steel’ (who everyone knows as Superman) is endowed with the strength of thousands of men, the ability to fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes, and breathe in space. Needless to say, Superman doesn’t need an army in order to become the slave-ruler of the entire Earth. But he doesn’t; in fact, Superman does the exact opposite. He decides that he will protect planet earth and its inhabitants. Why would Superman do this? The answer seems to fall squarely in the explanatory power of Virtue Ethics.


Right off the bat, it seems as though the directors wanted to make it  obvious that Superman’s home planet, Krypton, was an outworking of  Plato’s city analogy. Granted, Plato’s dialogue about the city was not  meant to be a political philosophy, but an analogy to the human psyche,  but Plato’s influence on Superman doesn’t stop there. In fact, some have  observed that the young Clark Kent was gaining some wisdom from  Plato in the movie. Additionally, Plato’s ‘Ring of Gyges’ story seems to  play a pretty significant role in the formation of Superman’s character. His actions are dictated by something other than the consequences of being caught behaving in a certain way.

You Can’t Bring Them with You – Virtue Ethics & Organ Donation

           Biomedical technology is one of the fastest growing areas of research in modern society. Whether it is reproductive technologies, cloning, genetic engineering or any other topic, people generally approach these with an attitude of both awe and hesitation. Most of us recognize the seemingly limitless potential of new technologies when it comes to curing diseases, elongating lifespans or increasing quality of life. At the same time, we also recognize that these new technologies bring difficult (and seemingly unanswerable) ethical questions. It seems that the reason many people find these questions so hard to answer is that they don’t have a well-established ethical framework from which to answer them. Once we establish an ethical framework, we can explore the answers to the difficult questions. In this paper, I am going to take a virtue ethics perspective on the topic of post-mortem organ donation. I don’t plan on defending virtue ethics as a theory, but I will clarify some of the important issues as they relate to the donation of organs after death.

Screen shot 2014-02-19 at 9.54.50 PM

A brief look at the medical statistics reveals a significant problem; there is ahuge disparity between those who are waiting for organs and the number of organs available. “According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) 83,472 people were waiting for an organ transplant in the United States as of January 2004. From January to October of 2003, 19,101 transplants were performed” (Glannon, 2005). As of today (December 3, 2013), there are 120,845 people waiting for organs in the United States ( The number has increased by approximately 37,000 people in only 9 years, and doesn’t show any signs of decreasing. It is obvious that the human body is a valuable resource, and until medical technology researchers develop fully functional artificial organs, the human body is the primary source for the ‘spare parts’ used in organ transplants. It is also clear that “… we are being prodigally wasteful in our funerary practices and stupidly selfish in our use of vital organs while we live and even more so when we die”. (Fletcher, 1979) So what should we do? Should we donate our organs after we die? When approached from a virtue ethics perspective, we may have a moral obligation to donate our organs after our death. Donating our organs may be how we could continue behaving virtuously even after our life is over.