Author Archives: June Yun

The public as a collective sentencing people to commit suicide

In “The public-shaming pandemic”, D. T. Max explores the rising trend of “public shaming” that aims towards patients of COVID-19 who, accidently, spread the disease to other people. Max gives several cases, such as that of Nga, an Instagram influencer and Rokita, a polish doctor and shows how the public shaming nature of citizens effected these people.

In a moral point of view, I believe that “public shaming” can play a helpful role in preventing dangerous and potentially harmful behavior towards the society. Knowing that going to parties during a global pandemic or being racist towards racial minorities could potentially receive public backlash, people would be discouraged to behave in such ways, reducing the overall risk of people and promote overall happiness.

However, there are shady sides of public shaming such as extreme violation of privacy, more than optimal amounts of hatred and being condemned for actions that people may have not committed.

The case of Rokita, who had committed suicide due to the harsh backlash he received due to spreading the disease, showcases that the public holds to much influence and power without much responsibility. To elaborate, people in the public, tend to become extremely emotional and aggressive towards people like Rokita due to the danger that COVID-19 poses on them. The motivation for public shaming, therefore, for the public is not to only solely prevent further cases of COVID for the public good, but also lash out their insecurities and emotions to someone that could be blamed for the cause of the threat.

However, because there are no public guidelines that restrict people from condemning people for actions that are factually proven, or take responsibility for falsely or overly accusing someone for doing something, seems to be unfair for the individual, who can not simply persuade or confront the collective public like he or she would with an individual in order to resolve the issue or resolve and misunderstandings.

At the end, we come to many questions such as whether public shaming needs to be restricted in order to prevent cases such as Rokita, suiciding. Another solution perhaps may come from the state, or government, that gives the right amount of backlash or punishment instead of the public people. However, it is questionable whether this limitation of public shaming is possible due to the rights to freedom of speech, and the limitations that government enacted laws and policies have in mimicking the effects that public shaming have on generating a social atmosphere that discourages wrongful doings.

**this is a post for Week 14, on “Public Shaming Pandemic”, not Week 13

COVID 19 and collectivism

Ed Yong explores various ways in which the U.S has failed to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, and during this exploration, reveals several ethical dilemmas and issues that was either highlighted due to the pandemic, or arose in the midst of responding to the pandemic. Issues such as the president’s lack of awareness and immediate action and the health care system not being funded properly can be thought to be caused by the country’s lack of care for the health care system, and their view on health care as an individual responsibility rather than a collective good.

Other issues, such as more cases of COVID 19 occurring in prisons and nursing homes due to a weak and vulnerable system can be seen as an ethical issue, as the system may be seen as directly endangering the health of the individuals located within the system, and thus violating their basic human rights to be protected and receive the minimal health care treatment that could prevent obvious and easily preventable spread of the disease.

Lastly, the article focuses on how the already existing inequalities within the United States, such as health care systems not being readily available for black patients due to Jim Crow influenced policies that purposefully distance health care treatment from these people, or the Native Americans who are unable to enact basic disease preventing actions such as washing hands or receiving sanitization due to a lack of water source.

I believe that all the issues discussed above are fundamentally caused by the deeply rooted individualism and a lack of care for the common good which is necessary when dealing with issues such as health care. By arguing for the emphasis on the common good, I do not necessarily mean that the U.S should completely except collectivist ideologies proposed by people such as Karl Marx or Hegel, which emphasizes the need for a sovereign state and control of the population by the government, as this would fundamentally diminish the freedom and autonomy that Americans are able to have today.

Although a full outright control of people’s actions by the government with the intention of giving the best health care would be ideal for solely steepening the COVID 19 curve, I believe that instead of relying on the power of the state, such as how China utilizes by manipulating the media in order to maintain a good reputation, we should rely on our rational mind and the good will that we have towards the people that are part of the society. Perhaps, it may be useful to consider this common goal to provide health care and prevent the disease in terms of Kant. But even in an individualistic sense, it is in the best interest of individuals to act collectively in order to prevent the spread of COVID.

Saving patients and selling cells.

In the third chapter of the book “The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks” Skloot explores the events that occur in the medical field regarding HeLa cells advancement, as well as the conflicts that arise due to the researchers and journalists that attempt to profit off from Henrietta Lack’s cells without having any respect for Henrietta Lacks as a person or giving their family any rightful compensation.

The way in which doctors attempt to declare HeLa cells as their own species, or the way David Golde attempted to make profit off of John Moore, the patient, by using the cell he extracted from the patient without consent and patent it to generate billions of dollars all showcase the tendency of doctors to regard the cells of patients as a separate entity from the patient, and ignore the necessary consent needed in order to uphold the patient’s autonomy and right to his or her own cells.

Essentially, it could be argued that the doctor’s actions of prioritizing their personal profit over the patient’s welfare and wellbeing as well as their basic moral rights. The obvious assumption in this case is that the extraction of patient’s cells, or any other body part without their informed consent is inherently immoral.

However, if the patients were to be informed that the cells they possess have great potential benefit to the medical field, whether or not the patient is morally obligated to use the cells in order to contribute to the medical field and potentially save millions of lives.

This scenario could be compared to a situation in which a person sees another drowning person. Are they obligated to save their lives? Depending on the answer to this question, patients ought to have a moral obligation to use their cells in order to contribute to the medical field.

Lets then assume that the person decided to use his/her cells in order to generate a life saving vaccine or medicine. Then we would have to consider whether the wealth or money generated using the cell ought to be given to the patient. In a strictly Kantian perspective, since the cell has been originated from the person, it is intuitive that the person should be rewarded for the benefits that the cell created in society.

However, we need to consider whether an individual who only possesses the cell would be able to do the necessary research in order to develop such medicine. In a utilitarian perspective, in order to maximize the benefit that the cell has on people in the society, it would be most efficient that doctors, who have the necessary skills and knowledge that is needed to develop such medicine and be profited off from it, as in a free market economy, and due to the profit maximizing nature of human, the profit that returns to those specialized doctors is what would enable the development of the medical industry in the first place.

A moral evaluation of Gey

In “The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks”, Skoot explores the struggles that Henrietta had during her treatment at Johns Hopkins hospital and exposed the racial segregation and lack of ethical guidelines underlying in the medical field which allowed Henrietta’s cells to be collected without her consent. The story discusses several ethical dilemma’s including the mistreatment of the colored and the controversy surrounding the idea of “benevolent conception”, or the idea that it was morally permissible to withhold essential information about the patient’s condition from patients (especially colored), based on the justification that information would only confuse patients and that medical information was only useful to doctors who had professional knowledge.

It is obvious that through modern eyes, the act of extracting Henrietta’s cells without her consent is morally unjust, as it violates the idea of an informed consent, or the idea that it is essential for patients to be fully aware of the medical procedures that are being carried out as every patient’s autonomy is intrinsically valuable.

However, Skoot’s portrayal of Gey’s immoral practices on Henrietta should not be judged based on presentism, but rather by considering how hard one tried to act the best morally considering the different moral and social norms during the early 1930s was different from today. In a society in which racial segregation and mistreatment of the blacks were common, the Johns Hopkins institution’s mere acts of attempting to cure black patients, including Henrietta, is surely a moral improvement compared to how blacks were treated before.

The particular discussion about presentism and the changing moral norms made me question the Kantian notion of an unchanging fundamental moral principle and lead me to believe that morality is relative to the people who discuss it and is constantly changing.

Also, the idea of “benevolent conception” may be morally justified as a form of paternalism intended to protect the patients during that time, given that many of the black population were illiterate and unfamiliar with medical practices, they could be considered as less autonomous and rational compared to a modern person who could easily acquire knowledge about medical practices and assess the implications that it might have on one’s health, and were better off with other professionals deciding what is best for them.

However, considering that Henrietta would have rejected the radiation treatment if she knew that she would become infertile, or may have given consent to Gey collecting her cell knowing that it would help millions of people, Gey’s act may lean more towards being selfish and goal-oriented rather than being paternalistic and in care for the patient even when taking the racist social norms into account. Nonetheless, I am not confident with my moral evaluation of Gey’s character, as I believe that further inquiries about the particular social norms and contextual information is necessary. Perhaps, we should question whether moral evaluation of character in the past is fair or valid at all, given the uncertainty and the limits we face in fully understanding how events in the past occurred.

Reflection on the idea of “informed consent” proposed by Katz.

In “The Concept of Informed Consent”, Ruth and Tom discuss the idea of an informed consent. They claim that an informed consent may be thought of in terms of sense one, in which the person making the consent authorizes the action being done to him in an autonomous matter. For example, patient being fully aware of a kidney transplant procedure, willing to receive a kidney, and knowing the risks associated with the procedure is giving an informed consent in sense one. Sense two, on the other hand, an informed consent in sense to may refer to the legislative procedures that is required in order to carry out a medical procedure, and one of that does not necessarily contain an autonomously made consent of the individual herself.

Then, Katz argues that informed consent made in sense two should be closer to informed consent made in sense one, entailing that any legislation or procedural consent before an operation should mean that the patient should give an autonomous consent, notably by himself.

In one of his arguments, Kats argue that “shared decision” making between a patient and a doctor is not a decision made independently by the patient, and thus is not autonomous. However, when this example is given, it is not clearly stated whether what level of communication is intervening with the autonomous decision of the patient. Surely, doctors should not give physical threats to go through medical procedures. However, merely informing the patients about the procedure could not be considered as ‘forcing’ the patient to make the decision, and some clear distinction of how decision is forcefully imposed on the patient is needed.

In all circumstances, I believe that any steps taken to ensure that a fully authorized decision, for instance leaving one day in between making the decision, is rightfully justified in the grounds of making sure that the patient is fully aware of the situation. However, in examples such as minors needing to make informed decisions with the consent of a parent, matters become more complex. In this specific example, the criteria that I believe should be applied is whether we believe that the minor is able to make fully autonomous decisions with rational capabilities that resemble a full-grown adult.

This criteria should apply to every other cases of decision being made in favor of other people, and instead of setting rules such as restricting age or diagnosing patients as mentally ill and therefore granting others to make decisions for them, I believe that it is morally rightful that hospitals and governments make case by case evaluations of the rationality and autonomous capabilities of people.

Evaluating the underlying assumptions in arguments for paternalism

In “Paternalism”, Gerald Dworkin provides various arguments for and against the use of paternalism and gives exceptions to when paternalism should be specifically allowed. One specific distinction that Dworkin makes is the difference between pure paternalism, which is the case in which the people whose freedom is restricted is identical to the people whose intended to benefit from such intervention, and impure paternalism, which is the case in which by trying to protect the welfare of one group, we also restrict the freedom of those other then who are granted the benefit.

Dworkin then observes that it is impure paternalism which is inherently evil as it restricts the will and autonomy of a person. With this fundamental assumption in mind, Dworkin gives fundamental several scenarios in which paternalism could be applied without rightfully preserving the will of a person.

However, before analyzing his claims, I firstly reject the assumption that personal autonomy should be preserved. Similar to how Plato suggests in his work “the republic”, I believe that attempting to preserve everyone’s right to choose their own value will hinder the society as a whole in pursuing what is know as the “common good” such as health, wellbeing and prosperity. If the society allows individuals to pursue values that go against these common goods without restriction, more people will be influenced and more likely to be influenced in a way that their “free will” chose values that harm the society’s values as stated in Hobbes “natural condition of mankind”.

On the other hand, if we accept this assumption, there are still faults in Dworkins theories. Although I agree with the notion that the burden of persuading the paternalistic measures should be imposed upon the government, a perfectly fair persuasion of the government on the many individuals would be practically impossible as it is absurd to physically consult with every individual’s interests. However, not doing so would oppose Mill’s idea that it is wrong to violate one’s autonomy.

Another claim Dworkin makes is that we are justified in pursuing paternalism if we know that an individual would agree with it after experiencing the situation himself, for instance, dying of lung cancer after smoking too many cigarettes. However, this claim is, again, absurd, as one cannot accurately predict the future, and even if they were to know surely, if the individual does not believe in that promised future, it still means that we are violating the autonomy of that person in the present. In this case, as Kant might say, the burden of death due to choosing to smoke cigarettes should not be in the concern of others, if it means that it violates ultimate values of autonomy, but we should instead fault the wisdom of the individual who chose such fate, even if the person valued a long and healthy life.