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Death Row Inmates, Execution, and Choice

photograph of drug vials and vintage syringe

On October 28th, 2021, the state of Oklahoma executed John Marion Grant. This was the first execution the state had carried out for six years, after placing a moratorium on executions following a case where a prisoner was given the wrong drugs (and another prisoner narrowly escaped the same fate). The drug of choice in nearly all modern federal executions had, until that point, been sodium thiopental. But issues with batch contamination shut down the sole factory producing and supplying it to prisons. Additionally, shortly after discovering a therapeutic alternative to sodium thiopental — pentobarbital — the drug company’s CEO imposed distribution restrictions on the product, prohibiting prisons from buying it.

Since then, most states have lost access to their first and second execution drug of choice, nearly slowing federal executions to a stop. In the last couple years, states have managed to re-access both sodium thiopental and pentobarbital, but the humaneness — and, therefore, constitutionality — of their use remain a matter of dispute, with several lawsuits across many states protesting their use in federal executions. Prisoners and their lawyers frequently use these lawsuits to try to achieve stays of execution. After all, if the jury is literally still out on whether a certain drug is a cruel and unusual means of execution, that seems a good reason to delay its use. However, since Justice Alito’s 2014 Supreme Court opinion arguing that “because capital punishment is constitutional, there must be a constitutional means of carrying it out,” states have been forced to come up with some way to perform executions. Oklahoma devised a compromise: take all of the contested methods of execution, and let the prisoners choose their preferred method.

There was a further deceptive aspect of the choice prisoners were given: several of the execution methods had active lawsuits against them. Therefore, if a prisoner chooses one of those drugs, their execution is put on hold indefinitely, at least until the lawsuit is resolved. The prisoners could choose between several different methods: pentobarbitol, sodium thiopental, non-FDA approved compounded versions of either of the first two drugs, firing squad, or a three-injection method that utilized a benzodiazepine, a paralytic, and potassium chloride to end lives.

But there were some prisoners who believed that selecting the method of their execution would be akin to participating in their own death (i.e., suicide). John Marion Grant was one of those prisoners.

Grant’s refusal to choose an execution method, on the grounds that it violated his deeply-held beliefs that this act would be morally wrong, meant that he was, by default, given the three-injection drug execution – a method not without controversy, given that dosing for these drugs represents a sort of guessing game. That is: nobody really knows how much of each drug any particular inmate will require for complete sedation, so they tend to give prisoners massive amounts rather than risk not giving them enough. Grant’s execution did not, however, go as planned. The aftermath of the injections saw him gagging, convulsing, and vomiting for at least 12 minutes before he was officially declared dead. In an op-ed for The Atlantic, Elizabeth Bruenig characterized Oklahoma’s ruling in the following headline: “Oklahoma Tortured John Grant to Death Because He Wouldn’t Commit Suicide.”

But is this a fair characterization of Oklahoma’s law? Is allowing inmates to choose their preferred method of execution really on a par with forcing them to commit suicide? Initially, the answer seems to be no. Merely having some active role in your own execution is surely not sufficient to render one’s actions “suicidal.” As far as John Marion Grant knew, he was going to die no matter what. All the state was offering him was a chance to choose what he would experience in his final moments.

But rhetoric aside, we may still wonder whether having prisoners take this active role presents an ethical problem. Elizabeth Anderson, in her Tanner Lectures entitled “Private Government,” argues that there are many instances in which a choice only superficially increases someone’s autonomy. She uses the example of laws regarding marriage, specifically the changes in the law when divorce became legal. This newly granted “freedom” of entry into (and exit from) a marriage which, on its surface, appeared to grant more autonomy to women within marriage, actually did the opposite. Because women still lost all property rights upon entering into a marriage contract with their husband, choosing to divorce would, for most women, result in almost certain destitution. It was an “option” that was not really an option at all. Such a choice did little to help improve the overall situation for domestic women. Anderson argues that, “Consent to an option within a set cannot justify the option set itself.” That is, a woman who consents to stay in the marriage, because her other option is homelessness, does not, by that acquiescence, justify the situation. Similarly, one might argue that the Oklahoma law only gives a superficial appearance of prisoner choice and autonomy, and does nothing to make the bare set of execution options permissible.

From a consequentialist perspective, however, an argument could be made that allowing prisoners to choose their method of executions maximizes net good. One may argue that this choice improves the lives of prisoners by alleviating some anxiety they may have otherwise experienced in the lead-up to execution, and that it does this without making anyone else worse-off. For example, if a prisoner had a particular fear of sodium thiopental, they may be relieved to have the option to avoid the drug entirely. Of course, this net gain in utility is not a guarantee — choosing their means of death could exacerbate the anxieties of the prisoner, allowing them to imagine their death in vivid detail in the days before their execution. It may also, as in the case of John Marion Grant, weigh on their conscience as a morally impermissible act of self-harm.

From a Kantian perspective, there may be entirely different reasons to avoid offering this choice to inmates. Kant’s theory of punishment is commonly held to involve a view of justice as primarily retributive — that is, justice is realized when people are rewarded for doing good, and punished for doing bad. Kantian retributivists like the philosopher Igor Primoratz hold that the punishment has to fit the crime in order of magnitude. A crime of murder, therefore, requires for justice that the murderer’s life be taken. The longer we wait to end the life of the murderer, the longer justice waits to be served.

One can, then, imagine a retributivist objection to the Oklahoma law on the grounds that it sometimes results in unnecessary stays of execution. Additionally, one could argue that granting this autonomy of choice to people who are charged with brutally taking innocent lives renders their punishment too light to actually serve justice. After all, the murder victims certainly were not allowed to choose their own means of death.

And so, it seems that, from all normative perspectives, the Oklahoma law regarding choice of means of execution appears morally questionable, at best. We can hope that the law will be replaced with one that is more just — whatever that may look like.

Bill Cosby and Rape Culture

black and white photograph of lamp light in darkness

In 2018, comedian, television personality, and serial rapist Bill Cosby was convicted and sentenced by a jury of his peers to three to ten years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Temple University employee Andrea Constand in 2004. The Constand rape was the crime for which Cosby was convicted, but he was accused of very similar crimes by no fewer than 60 women, including two who were underage girls at the time of their alleged assaults. Cosby’s conviction was hailed as a major success for the #MeToo movement, which aims at long lasting change when it comes to misogyny and rape culture in the United States. At last, it seemed, we might finally be starting to see the end of the ability of men, especially powerful men, to get away with sexual transgressions. Even “America’s Dad” was not too powerful to be held accountable for how he treated women — or so it appeared. On Wednesday, June 30th, 2021, Pennsylvania’s highest court overturned Cosby’s conviction and he walked away a free man.

The court did not vacate the conviction because new information came to light concerning Cosby’s guilt. They did not overturn it because Cosby was actually innocent of the crimes for which he was accused and convicted. Instead, as is usually the case in these kinds of proceedings, his appeal prevailed because of a technical legal issue — in a split decision, the court found that Cosby’s due process rights had been violated. Cosby agreed to testify in a civil case related to the same allegation because a prosecutor guaranteed him that the case would not be prosecuted in criminal court. A different person, who claimed that they didn’t make the promise and were not bound by the agreement, prosecuted Cosby in the criminal proceeding in 2018. Cosby’s testimony in the civil trial was used against him in the criminal proceeding. The Pennsylvania Supreme court ruled that this violated Cosby’s rights against self-incrimination. In depositions related to these matters, Cosby has acknowledged giving quaaludes to women with whom he wanted to “have sex.”

It’s important that our justice system is procedurally fair. As a result, it’s equally important that we have an appeals process that corrects procedural unfairness. It’s extremely unfortunate that there was a technical mistake in Cosby’s conviction — based on the evidence presented at his trial, the finders-of-fact determined that he was guilty. People who have done extremely bad things are released for reasons of procedural unfairness all the time, and this is as it should be. We don’t want a criminal justice system in which prosecutors and other players in the system can bend the rules. If this were the way the system worked, anyone could be steamrolled for anything. What’s more, the victims of that kind of procedural injustice are frequently members of oppressed groups. Abandoning procedural fairness would only make these problems much worse. That said, there are many unfortunate consequences of the court’s ruling and they highlight the fact that we still have a long way to go to create an environment that is safe and peaceful for women and survivors of sexual violence.

First is the disingenuous response of Cosby himself. On Twitter, he posted a picture with his fist held high as if in victory with the caption, “I have never changed my stance nor my story. I have always maintained my innocence.” This is at best a non-sequitur and at worst an attempt to gaslight and deceive. The court didn’t find evidence of his innocence. In fact, if Cosby had not incriminated himself, that is, if he did not admit his crime in the civil proceeding, the court would not have been able to overturn his conviction in the first place.

The behavior of close friends of Cosby’s did not help matters. His long-time television wife, Phylicia Rashad, tweeted the following: “FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted- a miscarriage of justice is corrected!” Rashad now serves as the Dean of the Fine Arts College at Howard University, and she quickly faced considerable backlash for her online remarks. In response, Rashad released an apology to Howard University students and parents saying, among other things, “My remarks were in no way directed towards survivors of sexual assault. I vehemently oppose sexual violence, find no excuse for such behavior, and I know that Howard University has a zero-tolerance policy toward interpersonal violence.” She committed “to engage in active listening and participate in trainings to not only reinforce University protocol and conduct, but also to learn how I can become a stronger ally to sexual assault survivors and everyone who has suffered at the hands of an abuser.” Notably absent from her apology was any discussion of the Cosby case specifically or the fact that she had misrepresented the reasons for his release or suggested that the substantive evidence supporting his conviction had been somehow undermined by the appellate court.

Overturning Cosby’s sentence led to a mountain of celebrity apologetics online — enough to make rape survivors feel very uncomfortable. When celebrities are involved, many people succumb to confirmation bias — in this case they have affection for the wild-sweater-wearing, Jell-O-pudding-slinging, television super dad of their youths, and they don’t want to believe that a person they liked so much could be capable of doing the things for which Cosby has been tried and convicted.

The fact is, survivors of sexual assault watch all of this happen and they see how eager people are to trust their heroes and how reluctant they are to trust accusers. This impacts the willingness of a victim to come forward because they see how they might be treated if and when they do, even in cases in which the evidence is overwhelming.

This case emphasizes the moral necessity of educating our children in more comprehensive ways when it comes to rape culture and the kinds of biases that come along with it. We need to teach children not just about the mechanics of sex, how to engage in family planning, and how to avoid STDs. We also need to have open and honest conversations with young people about the nature of consent.

Unfortunately, some state legislatures are quite unfriendly to the concept. For instance, this year, lawmakers in Utah rejected a bill that would have mandated teaching consent in schools. Their reasoning was that teaching consent suggests to children that it might be okay to say yes to sex before marriage. The majority of the state’s lawmakers favor an abstinence-only policy. But refraining from talking to students about what it means to grant consent results in people having ill-formed ideas about the conditions under which consent is not given. This leaves us with a citizenry that is willing to pontificate on social media about whether giving someone a quaalude in anticipation of “sex” is really setting the stage for rape. Our children should all know that it is.

Children should be taught further that even the most affable and charismatic people can be sexual offenders. In fact, having such traits often makes it easier for these people to commit crimes unsuspected and undetected. A real commitment to ending rape culture entails a commitment to speak openly and honestly about sex and sexual misconduct. In practice, abstinence only policies are, among other things, a frustrating barrier to the full realization of women’s rights.

Resurrecting James Dean: The Ethics of CGI Casting

A collage of four photographs of James Dean

James Dean, iconic star of Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden, and Giant died in a tragic car accident in 1955 at the age of 24. Nevertheless, Dean fans may soon see him in a new role—as a supporting character in the upcoming Vietnam-era film Finding Jack.

Many people came out against the casting decision. Among the most noteworthy were Chris Evans and Elijah Wood. Evans tweeted, “This is awful. Maybe we can get a computer to paint us a new Picasso, or write a couple new John Lennon tunes. The complete lack of understanding here is shameful.” Wood tweeted, “NOPE. this shouldn’t be a thing.”

The producers of the film explained their decision. Anton Ernst, who is co-directing the film, told The Hollywood Reporter they “searched high and low for the perfect character to portray the role of Rogan, which has some extreme complex character arcs, and after months of research, we decided on James Dean.”

Supporters of the casting decision argue that the use of Dean’s image is a form of artistic expression. The filmmakers have the right to create the art that they want to create. No one has a right appear in any particular film. Artists can use whatever medium they like to create the work that they want to create. Though it is true that some people are upset about the decision, there are others that are thrilled. Even many years after his death, there are many James Dean fans, and this casting decision appeals to them. The filmmakers are making a film for this audience, and it is not reasonable to say that they can’t do so.

Many think that the casting of a CGI of Dean is a publicity stunt. That said, not all publicity stunts are morally wrong. Some such stunts are perfectly acceptable, even clever. Those that are concerned with the tactic as a stunt may feel that the filmmakers are being inauthentic. The filmmakers claim that their motivation is to unpack the narrative in the most affective way possible, but they are really just trying to sell movie tickets. The filmmakers may rightly respond: what’s wrong with trying to sell movie tickets? That’s the business they are in. Some people might value authenticity for its own sake. Again, however, the filmmakers can make the art that they want to make. They aren’t required to value authenticity.

Those opposed to the casting decision would be quick to point out that an ethical objection to the practice need not also be a legal objection. It may well be true that filmmakers should be free to express themselves through their art in whatever way they see fit. However, the fact that an artist can express himself or herself in a particular way doesn’t entail that they should engage in that kind of expression. CGI casting, and casting of a deceased person in particular, poses a variety of ethical problems.

One metaethical question posed by this case has to do with whether it is possible to harm a person after they are dead.  One potential harm has to do with consent. If Dean were alive today, he could decide whether he wanted to appear in the film or not. His estate gave permission to the production company to use Dean’s likeness, but it is far from clear that they should be able to do so. It is one thing for an estate to retain ownership of the work that an artist made while living. It is reasonable to believe that the fruits of that artist’s labor can be used to benefit their family and loved ones after the artist is dead. The idea that an artist’s family is in a position to agree to new art to be created using the artist’s likeness requires further ethical defense.

A related argument has to do with artistic expression as a form of speech. Often, the choices that an actor makes when it comes to the projects they take on are expressions of their values. Dean may not have wanted to participate in a movie about the Vietnam War. Some claim that Dean was a pacifist, so the message conveyed by the film may not be one that Dean would endorse. Bringing back James Dean through the use of CGI forces Dean to express a message he may not have wanted to express. On the other hand, if Dean no longer exists, it may make little sense to say that he is being forced to express a message.

Another set of arguments has to do with harms to others. There are many talented actors in the world, and most of them can’t find work. Ernst’s claim that they simply couldn’t find a living actor with the range to play this character is extremely difficult to believe. Filmmaking as an art form is a social enterprise. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum—there are social and political consequences to making certain kinds of artistic choices. Some argue that if filmmakers can cast living actors, they should.

There is also reason for concern that this casting choice sets a dangerous precedent, one that threatens to destroy some of the things that are good about art. Among other things, art is a way for us to understand ourselves and to relate to one another. This happens at multiple levels, including the creation of the art and the interpretation of its message. Good stories about human beings should, arguably, be told by human beings. When a character is computer generated, it might sever that important human connection. Some argue that art is not art at all if the intentions of an artist do not drive it. Even if the person creating the CGI makes artistic decisions, an actor isn’t making those decisions. Some argue that acting requires actors.

The ethical questions posed here are just another set that falls under a more general ethical umbrella. As technology continues to improve in remarkable and unexpected ways, we need to ask ourselves: which jobs should continue to be performed by living human beings?

McKamey Manor: The House of No Consent

black-and-white photograph of silhouetted figure behind glass

Since 2005 Russ McKamey has been running McKamey Manor, an extreme horror attraction. When patrons sign-up for the tour they are signing-up for being physically and psychologically mistreated. Before participating, patrons must go through extensive interviews, a medical examination, and sign a long legal waiver. However some participants complain that the experience is too extreme and that the legal waiver does not excuse their behavior. The nature of the attraction brings up a host of issues concerning the nature and extent of consent.

A waiver is a voluntary surrender of a right or opportunity to enforce a right. Many horror attractions require patrons to sign a waiver before entering, in which the participants acknowledge that they are knowingly taking on the risk of various losses and relinquish the right to seek damages they may suffer while attending the attraction. For example, if a person who attended a horror attraction suffered from a heart condition and experienced a heart attack during their participation, they would not be able to sue that attraction for any medical expenses incurred as a result of that heart attack. In the case of McKamey Manor the waiver is reportedly about 40-pages long. In addition to the waiver, potential patrons are required to watch videos of other people’s experiences at McKamey Manor. The participants in these videos all ask to have their experience ended prematurely, and advise the potential participants that they “don’t want to do this.”

But does it follow that potential participants, duly informed of what may happen to them, truly consent to be buried alive, forced to ingest their own vomit, held under water, cut, struck, and verbally abused? Not necessarily. Not even a signed legal form, or other explicit signal of consent automatically creates genuine consent. There are several conditions which render void apparent consent such as when no genuine choice is available to participants or when the participant is offered something that undermines their ability to make rational decisions. McKamey Manor offers participants $20,000 if they can survive the entire experience (which is of variable length, ranging from 4 – 10 hours). Even in the longest scenario a successful participant would stand to make $2,000 per hour of their time — an inducement that undermines a person’s ability to think clearly.

While recent McKamey attractions allow participants to create safe words to automatically end their horror experience, this was not always this case. And McKamey patron Amy Milligan claims that even when she begged the actors to stop, they continued to torment her. If a person cannot end the experience at will — if they are at the mercy of the actors creating the experience — then that person has been robbed of their autonomy, even if only for a limited time. This creates another type of situation in which the explicit consent signal, in the form of the waiver, is a legal fiction. It is not possible for a person to fully waive their autonomy, as doing so would be to essentially sign themselves into slavery.

The idea that such “voluntary slavery” could exist is discounted as a possibility by philosophers with views and methodologies as different as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Stuart Mill. Rousseau argued that once a person becomes a slave by losing all autonomy, they cease to be a moral agent at all. As such to consent to being a slave would be to consent to no longer being a moral or legal person. Mill argued that voluntary slavery was an exception to his harm-to-others principle, which stated that any person could do as they pleased so long as they did not harm someone else. He claimed that although a person attempting to sell themselves into slavery may not be causing harm to anyone but themselves, it nonetheless stood in contradiction with the whole point of the harm-to-others principle — to maintain maximum individual liberty.

Though McKamey Manor residents do not sign themselves away into permanent slavery, they do “waive” their autonomy for a limited amount of time. Importantly, the effective duration of this “waiver” is determined not by the participants, but rather by the actors. Moreover some of the experiences patrons are subjected to are essentially torture. Here again the substantiveness, or, at least, relevance, of patrons’ consent is dubious. Consider waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning. (McKamey contends that no participants are waterboarded, but admits that they will be made to feel like they are drowning — a spurious distinction.) The problem with military detainees being waterboarded is not that they weren’t asked for their permission first. Indeed lack of permission is not the sole moral shortcoming of any form of torture. The problem is instead the nature of the activity and the relationship it creates between people: a relationship in which one person is inflicting suffering an another for enjoyment or profit.

McKamey and his defenders claim that the screening and waiver process creates a situation in which McKamey Mansion patrons consent to a prolonged period of physical and emotional abuse. However there are some things that no waiver, no matter how length and legalistic can create consent for. A person’s autonomy is inalienable. This doesn’t just mean that it cannot be taken away, but also that it can’t be given away.

The Moral Quandary of Testing on Animals

Photo of three rats in a cage with a little red house and food and water available

The topic of testing on animals as a form of scientific research has been contentious for quite some time. In most cases, the discussion tends to focus on whether it is morally permissible to test various products and procedures on animals in order to determine whether they would be safe and beneficial for human use. Animal experimentation is not always conducted simply for the benefit of human beings—sometimes the parties that stand to benefit from the research are other non-human animals, often including other members of the same species as the animals being tested.

Defenders of the practice of testing on animals for the benefit of humans argue that the benefits for humans substantially outweigh the harms incurred by animals. Some argue that our moral obligations extend only to other members of the moral community. Among other things, members of the moral community can recognize the nature of rights and obligations and are capable of being motivated to act on the basis of moral reasons. Non-human animals, because they are not capable of these kinds of reflections, are not members of the moral community. As such, defenders of animals testing argue, they don’t have rights. In response, critics argue that if we only have obligations to beings that can recognize the nature of moral obligations, then we don’t have obligations to very young children or to permanently mentally disabled humans, and this idea is morally indefensible.

Other defenders of animal testing argue that it is both natural and proper for human beings to exercise dominion over animals. These arguments take more than one form. Some people who make this argument are motivated by passages from the Bible. Genesis 1:26 reads, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Some argue that this passage suggests that humans have divine permission to use animals as they see fit. The use of animals for the benefit of humans seems morally defensible to these people for this reason.

Others argue human dominion over other animals is appropriate because human beings have demonstrated their superiority over non-human animals. We are no different from other animals in the sense that we use our natural skills to climb as high on the food chain as our circumstance permit. As rational creatures, our needs extend farther than the needs of non-human animals. As a result, we can use non-human animals to solve a wider range of problems. We can use them not only for protein, but to make our lives longer, better, more beautiful, and more convenient. Critics of such a view argue that might doesn’t make right. What’s more, our enhanced rational capacities also give us the ability to make moral judgments, and these moral judgments should extend to compassion for the suffering of all living creatures.

Arguments against research on animals also come in a variety of forms. One approach focuses on suffering. Famously, Peter Singer argued that what makes a being deserving of moral consideration is their capacity to suffer. If we treat equal amounts of suffering unequally simply because of the species to which the animal happens to belong, our behavior is speciesist—we are taking seriously considerations that are morally irrelevant. Rights based approaches, like the one argued by Tom Regan point out that non-human animals are subjects of lives. There is something it is like for them to experience the world in the unique way that they do. In light of this, we should recognize that non-human animals have intrinsic value and they should not be used as objects to be manipulated for the benefit of human beings.

How should we assess the situation when the research done on non-human animals is done, not for the benefit of human beings, but for the benefit of other non-human animals? In these cases, one major criticism of testing disappears—researchers can’t be accused of failing to take the interests of non-human animals seriously. After all, concern for the interests of non-human animals is what motivates this research to begin with. Vaccines for rabies, canine parvovirus, distemper, and feline leukemia virus have been developed through the use of animal research. These critical procedures improve and even save the lives of non-human animals. When we engage in a consequentialist assessment of the practice, testing on non-human animals for the benefit of other non-human animals seems justified.

On the other hand, it may be that speciesism is rearing its ugly head again in this case. Consider a parallel case in which research was being conducted for the good of human beings. Imagine that a tremendous amount of good could be done for human beings at large if we tested a particular product on a human being. The testing of this product would cause tremendous physical pain to the human being, and may even cause their death. Presumably, we would not think that it is justified to experiment on the human. The ends do not justify the means.  

One might think that one major difference between the case of testing on humans and the case of testing on animals is that humans are capable of giving consent and animals are not. So, on this view, if we kidnap a human for the purposes of experimenting on her to achieve some greater good, what we have done wrong, is, in part, violating the autonomy of the individual. Animals aren’t capable of giving consent, so it is not possible to violate their autonomy in this way.  

Under the microscope, this way of carving up the situation doesn’t track our ordinary discourse about consent. It is, of course, true, that humans are free to use freely (within limits) certain things that are incapable of giving consent. For example, humans can use grain and stone and so on without fear of violating any important moral principle. In other cases in which consent is not possible, we tend to have very different intuitions. Very young children, for example, aren’t capable of consent, and for that very reason we tend to think it is not morally permissible for us to use them as mere means to our own ends. Beings that are conscious but are incapable of giving consent seem worthy of special protection. So it seems wrong to test on them even if it is for the good of their own species. Is it speciesist to think that the ends can’t justify the means in the case of the unwilling human subject but not in the case of the unwilling non-human animal?

Testing on non-human animals for the sake of other non-human animals also raises other sets of unique moral concerns and questions. What is the proper rank ordering of moral obligations when the stakeholders are abstractions? Imagine that we are considering doing an experiment on Coco the chimpanzee. The experiment that we do on Coco might have implications for future chimpanzees with Coco’s condition. The research might, then, have a beneficial impact for Coco’s species—the species “chimpanzee.” Can the moral obligations that we have to concrete, suffering beings ever be outweighed by obligations that we have to abstractions like “future generations” or “survival of the species”?

Diagnosis from a Distance: The Ethics of the Goldwater Rule

The September/October 1964 issue of Fact magazine was dedicated to the then Republican nominee for president, Barry Goldwater, and his fitness for office. One of the founders of Fact, Ralph Ginzburg, had sent out a survey to over 12,000 psychiatrists asking a single question: “Do you believe Barry Goldwater is psychologically fit to serve as President of the United States?” Only about 2,400 responses were received, and about half of the responses indicated that Goldwater was not psychologically fit to be president. The headline of that issue of Fact read: “1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater is Psychologically Unfit to be President!”

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On Morally Supporting Abstinence-Based Sex Ed

The Atlantic published an article titled “Sex Ed Without the Sex” this past week by writer Olga Khazen. In that article, Khazen traced current sexual education practices in the city of Odessa, Texas. Odessa represents the widely used ideology of current sex ed courses throughout the United States, which is laden with conservative, Phyllis Schlafly-esque teachings. At this time, only 13 states require sex ed lessons to include medically accurate facts, while less than half actually require sex ed to be taught in school.

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Consent to Dying: The Case of Julianne Snow

Recently, a 5-year-old child named Julianne Snow passed away from from a neurological disease known as Charcot-Marie-Tooth, causing nerves in the brain to degenerate and loss in the muscles related to chewing, swallowing, and eventually breathing. Although Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is one of the world’s most commonly inherited neurological disorders, this story made national headlines due to Julianne’s independent decision to refuse treatment.

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Too Late? Teaching Consent Before College

As universities deal with an increasing number of sexual assault allegations, attention is being turned to finding a way to clarify the term “consent.” Many activist groups are unhappy with the current sexual education programs in the United States, arguing that the lackluster curriculum is partly to blame for the high rates of sexual violence on college campuses.

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