Recently, ethicists have posited that consideration of epigenetic mechanisms presents novel challenges to concepts of justice and equality of opportunity, such as elevating the importance of environments in bioethics and providing a counterpoint to gross genetic determinism. We argue that new findings in epigenetic sciences, including those regarding intergenerational health effects, do not necessitate reconceptualization of theories of justice or the environment. To the contrary, such claims reflect a flawed understanding of epigenetics and its relation to genetics that may unintentionally (...) undermine appeals to social justice. We provide a brief summary of epigenetic sciences, focusing on phenomena central to the current ethical discourse. We identify three fallacious modes of reasoning arising from the emergent literature on the ethical and policy implications of epigenetics, including mischaracterization, undue extrapolation, and exceptionalism. We end by discussing how these issues may work against mobilizing health equity policies and present a more modest claim regarding the value of new epigenetic knowledge to health justice by setting this discourse within the context of known themes in biomedical ethics and health policy. (shrink)
‘Harm reduction’ programs are usually justified on the utilitarian grounds that they aim to reduce the net harms of a behavior. In this paper, I contend that the historical genesis of harm reduction programs, and the crucial moral imperative that distinguishes these programs from other interventions and policies, are not utilitarian; the practical implementation of harm reduction programs is not, and probably cannot be, utilitarian; and the continued justification of harm reduction on utilitarian grounds is untenable and may itself cause (...) harm. Promoting harm reduction programs as utilitarian in the public arena disregards their deeper prioritarian impulses. ‘Harm reduction’ is a misnomer, and the name should be abandoned sooner rather than later. (shrink)
The Global Burden of Disease project quantifies the impact of different health conditions by combining information about morbidity and premature mortality within a single metric, the Disability Adjusted Life Year. One important goal for the GBD project has been to inform decisions about global health priorities. A number of recent studies have used GBD data to argue that global health funding fails to align with the GBD. We argue that these studies’ shared assumption that global health resources should ‘align’ with (...) the burden of disease is unfounded and has troubling implications. First, since the allocation of resources involves difficult trade-offs between different, potentially competing goals, any ‘misalignment’ of allocation and disease burdens need not necessarily indicate that the allocation of funds fails to meet recipient countries’ needs or interests. Second, using alignment as a baseline implicitly makes controversial assumptions about how harms of different magnitudes affecting different numbers of individuals should be aggregated. We discuss two alternative ways in which GBD data could help inform decisions about resource allocation, neither of which gives more than a limited role to GBD data. (shrink)
This essay considers the potential role of bioethics in disaster response planning and preparedness. Bioethicists can make substantial contributions, by ensuring that decision-making and distribution of resources during crises is carried out in a fair and just manner, as well as by examining the assumptions upon which disaster planning are based. Bioethicists should also be aware of potential pitfalls of overly-hasty engagement with this new field.