Accelerated Surrogacy, Inc.
Based on a short film about a future in which commercial surrogacy services can be accelerated to only 3 months. The discussion questions presuppose that students have already studied basic ethical theories, and are additionally intended to be paired with a chapter in Margaret Radin’s Contested Commodities. The film is provocative, however, and should generate discussion, even if not exactly with these questions. Posted 5/11
The Algorithm Method
Based on a piece in the Toronto Globe and Mail about the widespread use of sophisticated, data and computationally intensive algorithms in everything from online dating to insurance modeling. Ties discussion of the use of these algorithms to second-order decision strategies for utilitarianism. Posted 5/11.
Compulsory Licenses for AIDS Medicines
In Dec. 2006, Thailand exercised its rights under the TRIPS agreement to issue compulsory licenses for the indigenous manufacture of an AIDS anti-retroviral medicine, overriding Merck’s patent on it. Includes: brief discussion and explanation of key terms; links to articles on the compulsory license and on AIDS in Thailand; and discussion questions oriented toward (a) utilitarian analysis and (b) identification of relevant stakeholders. Posted: 2/07.
Child Abuse and Privacy (DeShaney v. Winnebago)
4-year-old Joshua DeShaney was beaten into severe mental retardation by his father, who was subsequently convicted of child abuse. But there were repeated signs that the father was abusive, and the state repeatedly failed to take Joshua out of the father’s custody. In the case, the Supreme Court ruled that the state did not have an obligation to intervene, citing, among other things, family privacy concerns. The case is thus a good example of the difficulties in deciding where to draw the line in family privacy cases, of how to understand the state’s obligation to protect its citizens from one another, and of how to understand social policies (like establishing a Department of Human Services) in this context. Includes the Court’s recounting of the facts of the case, and some discussion questions. Posted 4/08.
“Eminent Domain” refers to the power of the government to take over certain properties for “public use,” such as building a highway. Over the last 100 years or so, courts have interpreted the term “public use” increasingly broadly, to allow such projects as urban renewal (basically, condemning blighted neighborhoods), municipal stadium construction, and so forth. In the case here, Kelo v. New London (2005), the court ruled that the Constitution did not prohibit eminent domain takings based on “economic development,” reasoning that such economic development was a public use. Includes excerpts from the majority opinion, and dissents from O’Connor and Thomas. Posted 3/07.
Futile Medical Treatment
This case is copied, with minor modifications, from Richard M. Zaner, Ethics and the Clinical Encounter (Prentice Hall, 1988), 21-26. It presents the difficulty in knowing what to do in the treatment program for a terminally ill infant, for whom treatment would be futile. Includes a couple of paragraphs from Zaner’s text, as well as discussion questions designed to draw out the difficulty in applying the policy that states that futile treatments are not to be undertaken. Posted: 2/07.
Great Firewall of China
This case is based around an article appearing in the Atlantic about China’s Internet censorship. The questions are designed to clarify what values are involved in censorship decisions, and to show the ethical issues that arise in decisions to work for a company that is complicit in the Chinese censorship, and in efforts to protest those companies. Posted: 5/11
Jake Baker was a college student who wrote violent pornographic stories on the Usenet. When he started naming other students, the police raided his dorm room and impounded his computer. His computer contained a detailed email exchange with an unknown correspondent discussing the possibility of abducting and assaulting an actual student. On the basis of these emails, Baker was charged with transmitting a threat. Includes most of the text of the “facts” part of the opinion from the court case, as well as discussion questions. Warning: some of the emails are very graphic and disturbing. Posted: 2/07
McBroom was charged with the possession of child pornography after images were found on his computer. At sentencing, he asked for a reduced sentence on the grounds that, although he recognized that what he did was wrong, he was unable to stop himself. He then cited a history of childhood abuse and adult OCD, his treatment history, and prevalence of pornography online. The case thus presents issues as to the scope of “autonomy,” how one might think about akrasia, and whether the Internet facilitates crime. Includes text from the court case and discussion questions. Posted 2/07.
James Moore had his spleen removed as part of a cancer treatment program. His doctors then derived a lucrative cell line from the spleen. Moore sued for a piece of the revenues on the grounds that the doctors illegally “converted” his spleen to their use. The case raises questions about alienation, the status of one’s body, and of intellectual property and medical research. Includes some of the court’s opinion, as well as discussion questions. Posted 2/07.
Napster Pirates of Transgenic Biotech
About the effects of transgenic rice in India, with attention to what local farmers do with the rice. The study is based on the work of the anthropologist Glenn Davis Stone, and the title (and inspiration) is shamelessly taken from a post by Andrew Leonard on salon.com. Posted 5/11
Texas Virtual Border Watch
Starting in 2008, a public-private partnership established a “virtual” border patrol along the Texas-Mexico Border. A series of hidden cameras were placed on the border, and citizens were invited to watch video from those cameras on the Internet, reporting any “suspicious” activity to law enforcement. The questions focus on what values the program upholds (or doesn’t) and how those values can be conceptualized. Includes text from a justificatory statement by the program’s director, as well as from a recent paper critical of the politics behind the program. Posted 5/11.
Ugandan Banana Wilt
Uganda faces chronic food insecurity. One of its main crops – bananas – is currently being ravaged by a kind of bacterial wilt. Scientists could try to genetically engineer a wilt-resistant strain of banana. However, not only would such a course of action implicate general concerns about GMO food, Uganda currently lacks the regulatory infrastructure necessary to implement it. Includes an introductory discussion and three sets of discussion questions: one more general, one focusing on the “precautionary principle,” and one focusing on issues of democracy. Posted 3/07.
Undercover Cops on Facebook
Everybody has heard stories about oversharing on Facebook, and the problems that result. Police are also interested in using the information people post on FB. This study embeds a discussion about police surveillance practices on FB (with a couple of cases, as well as some general questions) in a discussion of Fourth Amendment privacy. Posted 5/11.
WTC Victim Compensation
One of the issues emerging from the 9/11 attacks is if and how victims will be compensated. This is an actuarial question, and has to do with different strategies for valuing a human life. It thus pushes utilitarian calculations in a direction that many find uncomfortable. The study is based out of an article in the Economist, and includes discussion questions. Posted 2/08.
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