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Author Archive: Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby

About Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby

02/23/2015

Lying, Bullshitting, and Atul Gawande

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

Atul Gawande: “I came on board after she got diagnosed with that second cancer. And in my mind I was thinking ‘I wouldn’t offer this surgery because the lung cancer is going to take her life.’ And yet I didn’t feel I could say that to you. I think we started talking about the experimental therapy that you all were hoping to get on with the trial for the lung caner. And remember saying something I sort of regret, which was that ‘maybe that sort of experimental therapy will work for the thyroid cancer too.’ [laughs and shakes head] I said that.

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01/12/2015

The Philosophical Failing of Bioethics?

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

I begin this blog post with a long quote from Julian Savulescu’s article, “Bioethics: Why Philosophy is Essential for Progress,” just published in Journal of Medical Ethics:

“I left a promising career in medicine to do bioethics because I had done philosophy in 1982 and attended Peter Singer’s lectures in practical ethics. The field was new and exciting and there were original proposals and arguments. Singer, Glover, Lockwood, Parfit and others were breaking new ground, giving new analyses and arguments. Now medical ethics is more like a religion, with positions based on faith not argument, and imperiously imposed in a simple-minded way, often by committees or groups of people with no training in ethics, or even an understanding of the nature of ethics.

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11/24/2014

The Importance of the Collective Afterlife for Human Values: The Collective Afterlife and the “Afterlife Conjecture”

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

In his new book, Death and the Afterlife (comprised of his two Tanner Lectures on Human Values), philosopher Samuel Scheffler argues that the assumption of a “collective afterlife” (i.e., the assumption that humanity lives on here on earth after our own individual deaths) plays an essential role in us valuing much of what we do. He argues, provocatively, that if a collective afterlife did not exist we would cease to value much of what we do (his “afterlife conjecture”). This includes our valuing research in science, technology and medicine; social and political activism; building or reforming social or cultural institutions; improving the physical infrastructure of society; protecting the environment; and procreation.…

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10/14/2014

Cognitive (neuro)science and bioethics

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

In a recent article in Ethics, “Beyond Point-and-Shoot Morality: Why Cognitive (Neuro)Science Matters for Ethics,” Josh Greene argues that empirical research in moral judgment has significant relevance for normative ethics in that it (1) exposes the inner workings of our moral judgments, revealing that we should have less confidence in some of our judgments and the ethical theories that are based on them, and (2) informs us of where we tend to rely on intuition or automatic processing (which is often heavily emotive), but ought to rely more manual, controlled processing (such as consequentialist reasoning).…

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

09/09/2014

Is partiality justified? How/why?

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

Partiality is a common phenomenon. We are partial to our significant others, children, friends, employers, colleagues, neighbors, fellow citizens, etc. In the health care setting, clinicians are partial to their patients (as opposed to non-patients or others’ patients), and even to certain patients (as opposed to other ones). This partiality can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Clinicians may order tests or procedures that their patients would benefit from or desire as opposed to being centrally concerned with stewardship of health care goods and costs. They may prioritize a particular patient for a scarce resource such as an organ (or an experimental drug…).…

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08/07/2014

The Ethics of Ebola and Scarce and Experimental Drugs

by: J.S. Blumenthal-Barby

Yesterday I was contacted by the L.A. Times to answer a simple question: Should we give people access to the experimental Ebola drug, ZMapp?

The Drug and Clinical Trial Phases
So, I did a little digging to try to find out some more details about the drug. From what I could find in published news reports, the drug was developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., with support from the NIH and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. It has been tested on 8 monkeys. 4 of them were given the treatment 24 hours after being infected and all 4 survived.…

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07/16/2014

de Beauvoir’s A Very Easy Death

My dissertation advisor recommended that I read Simone de Beauvoir’s A Very Easy Death when I was writing my dissertation on ambivalence.  Apparently de Beauvoir was ambivalent towards her mother. But when I read that book, I wasn’t struck by quotations on ambivalence, but by these. They speak for themselves and are absolutely moving, haunting, and manage to so accurately capture so much about human experience—especially the experience of witnessing others’ deaths, hospitalizations, and suffering.

When picking out her mother’s funeral clothes:  “Before, I went through all this without seeing it.  Now I know that it will form part of my life for ever.” (48).…

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

06/12/2014

How Old Are You? Philosophy of Age and Its Relevance for Bioethics

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

How old are you?

Robert Pogue Harrison, Literature Professor at Stanford University, recently reflected on this question during a monologue on his radio show, “Entitled Opinions.” (Plug for this great show, by the way: http://www.stanford.edu/dept/fren-ital/opinions/)

Strikingly, he makes the case that although several scholars have offered a philosophy of time (most notably Martin Heidegger), a philosophical analysis of age has been lacking. To remedy this, Harrison begins to offer a philosophy and phenomenology of age.

Harrison argues that we have a tendency to reduce age to time or to think of age as a function of time; but really, age gives time a measure of reality.…

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05/07/2014

Philosopher Calls for End to Animal Experimentation (and more): Is there a “reasonable” conception of animal rights?

by J.S. Blumenthal-Barby, MA, PhD

According to Christine Korsgaard, one of the leading moral philosophers in the Western world and Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University, the answer is yes.

But by “reasonable” she means that the view is grounded in sound reasoning–not that it will be easy to accept or uncontroversial. She articulated this conception in a recent lecture at Rice University as part of the Lecture Series on Ethics, Politics and Society.

Her argument (in a nutshell) was this: We often think that we have duties of beneficence to animals–to be kind to them, to not cause them undue suffering, etc. …

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This entry was posted in Animal Ethics, Featured Posts, Research Ethics. Posted by Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby. Bookmark the permalink.