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Author Archive: Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby

About Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby


A Tribute to Baruch Brody (1943-2018)

by Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby

The field of bioethics mourns the loss of a leader and visionary in the field. But those of us who were fortunate enough to know Baruch personally mourn the loss of a friend and colleague. As the years march on, students and scholars of bioethics will read his writing and apply his theories, arguments, and ideas to emerging and perennial issues. He was a crystal clear thinker, a creative thinker, full of case examples and stories to make his point. He leaves a body of work that is not to be ignored and will enrich the arguments and analyses of those who engage with it.…

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Twisted Self-Deception

By: J.S. Blumenthal-Barby

 In his book, Self-Deception Unmasked, philosopher Ale Mele writes about two types of self-deception. There is the straight-forward kind, where a person falsely believes—in the face of strong evidence to the contrary—things that she would like to be true. And then there is the “twisted” kind, where a person falsely believes what she would not like to be true. Mele gives the example of a spouse who [falsely] believes that his wife is cheating on him despite evidence to the contrary and despite not actually wanting it to be the case that she is cheating on him.…

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In Defense of Intuition- Or, a Lesson for Empirical Bioethics

by J.S. Blumenthal-Barby, Ph.D.

On March 17, 2016 philosopher Peter Railton delivered the Ethics, Politics, and Society lecture at Rice University. Railton is Gregory S. Kavka Distinguished University Professor, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, and John Stephenson Perrin Professor at The University of Michigan. His talk was titled, “Homo prospectus: A new perspective on the mind.”

Railton’s main aim was to counter a current trend in the social sciences that involves a distrust of our intuitive responses to the world. This skepticism has crept into moral philosophy as the empirical literature showing the effects of various framing effects on moral judgments increases.…

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This entry was posted in Featured Posts, Neuroethics, Philosophy & Ethics. Posted by Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby. Bookmark the permalink.


Does Bioethics Tell Us What to Do?

by J.S. Blumenthal-Barby, Ph.D.

 Applied ethicists—including bioethicists—are in the business of making normative claims. Unlike, say, claims in meta-ethics, these are meant to guide action. Yet, when one examines the literature and discourse in applied ethics, there are three common barriers to these claims being action-guiding. First, they often lack precision and accuracy when examined under the lens of deontic logic. Second, even when accurately articulated in deontic language, they often fall into the category of claims about “permissibility,” a category that yields low utility with respect to action guidance. Third, they are often spectrum based rather than binary normative claims, which also yield low utility with respect to action guidance.…

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Can Health Care Providers Love Their Patients?

by J.S. Blumenthal-Barby

Ms. Clara [name changed] is one of our patient partners on a PCORI funded project. PCORI is unique in that they aim to include patients and other stakeholders in all stages of research—from conceptualization of projects and their aims to the dissemination of results. We’ve been working closely with Ms. Clara and other patient partners for almost two years now. A few months ago, when visiting Ms. Clara in the hospital, her eyes became teary and she exclaimed, “I love you guys. I just feel like you really care, and you mean so much to me.”

This gave me a great deal of pause: can we tell one of our patient partners that we love her in return?…

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This entry was posted in Clinical Ethics, Featured Posts, Health Care, Philosophy & Ethics and tagged . Posted by Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby. Bookmark the permalink.


What Should Clinicians and Bioethicists Tolerate?

by J.S. Blumenthal-Barby

Last week I attended a talk by German philosopher Rainer Forst on “Toleration and Democracy”. Professor Forst, a student of Habarmas, was named “the most important political philosopher of his generation” in 2012. Forst began by noting the tension between toleration and democracy. On the one hand, democracy demands something more than mere tolerance of others and their perspectives—something more along the lines of recognition and respect. In this way, and paradoxically, every tolerance is a form of intolerance. As Goethe said, “To tolerate is to offend.” Yet on the other hand, democracy cannot get by without toleration.…

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Human Subjects Research “Vulnerability”

by J.S. Blumenthal-Barby, Ph.D., MA

Revisions are being suggested to the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects through the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). The changes being suggested are numerous (helpful summaries can be found here and here My aim is not to review those changes, but to point out a curious conceptualization of vulnerability affirmed in the NPRM.

Consider the following section (regarding conditions for IRB approval) of the original regulations:

46.111(b) – When some or all of the subjects are likely to be vulnerable to coercion or undue influence, such as children, prisoners, pregnant women, mentally disabled persons, or economically or educationally disadvantaged persons, additional safeguards have been included in the study to protect the rights and welfare of these subjects.…

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The Age of Contractualism in Bioethics?

by J.S. Blumenthal-Barby, Ph.D.

Various ethical theories underlie approaches to resolving bioethical dilemmas. Consequentialist theories hold that the moral evaluation of an action is based solely upon the goodness or badness of its consequences for all of the relevant parties. Deontological theories, on the other hand, hold that the moral evaluation of an action is based at least in part upon its intrinsic nature and its resulting conformity to moral rules. Popular deontological theories utilized in bioethics include Kantianism, Natural Rights theory, or theories about Special Obligations (e.g., physician fiduciary duties). One relatively neglected deontological theory that seems to underlie a significant amount of recent work in bioethics is Contractualism.…

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Welcoming the Concept of Alief to Medical Ethics

Welcoming the Concept of Alief to Medical Ethics

 by J.S. Blumenthal-Barby, Ph.D.

Philosopher Tamar Gendler has introduced (circa 2008) a new concept in the philosophical literature that could be of interest to medical ethicists. The concept is that of ‘alief’ and it is meant to contrast with the concept of ‘belief.’ An example Gendler discusses to tease out the difference between the two concepts is the example of a woman who believes African American and Caucasian people to be of equal intelligence, yet in her behavioral responses it seems as if she believes differently (e.g., she is more surprised when an African American student of hers makes an intelligent comment than she is when a Caucasian student does, she more quickly associates intelligence with her Caucasian students, when grading exams she might grade the same quality exam differently if written by an African American student than a Caucasian student, etc.).…

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The Impossibility of Regret: Implications for Medical Decision Making Disability Ethics

by J.S. Blumenthal-Barby, Ph.D.

In his recent book, “The View From Here: On Affirmation, Attachment and the Limits of Regret,” philosopher R. Jay Wallace enters interesting philosophical territory that has significant implications for bioethics topics such as medical decision making and disability ethics. Wallace begins his book by introducing the example of a young girl who becomes pregnant as a teenager, has the child, and is now an adult “looking back.” Wallace holds that it is impossible for the now woman to regret the decision she made to have a child so young because of the attachment she now has to the child, despite the fact that she recognizes that this was, objectively, a “bad” or unjustified decision.…

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