Ethics in the News: Rules on Facial Recognition, Children’s Rights to Safe Water and Sanitation, the Ethics of Creating Human-Animal Hybrids for Organ Donation, & More – September 6, 2019

Green Just Sold Social Media GraphicBusiness Ethics

Johnson & Johnson Ordered to Pay $572 Million in Landmark Opioid Case

In the first of many legal battles to determine responsibility for the opioid crises in the United States, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay over half a billion dollars in damages by the state of Oklahoma.

“Johnson & Johnson, which contracted with poppy growers in Tasmania, supplied 60 percent of the opiate ingredients that drug companiesused for opioids like oxycodone, the state [of Oklahoma] argued, and aggressively marketed opioids to doctors and patients as safe and effective. A Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, made its own opioids — a pill whose rights it sold in 2015, and a fentanyl patch that it still produces. Judge Balkman said the $572 million judgment could pay for a year’s worth of services needed to combat the epidemic in Oklahoma.”

With a $2 Billion Factory From China, a German City Lets Others Worry

Where is the line drawn between a duty to one’s citizens and concerns for human rights? With an injection of Chinese investment, the city of Arnstadt faces such questions.

“Leaders in Arnstadt say geopolitical concerns are above their pay grade. They are looking forward to the tax revenue that CATL will generate, which will help build kindergartens and public swimming pools, and to a chance to be at the center of an important industry. […] ‘It’s not my job to talk about [accusations of human rights abuses by China],’ Mr. Spilling said on a day when the police in Hong Kong were battling pro-democracy protesters. ‘My job is to improve the city. The rest is at a different level. Even if I was critical, I doubt anyone would care.’”

Technology Ethics

The Ethics of Hiding Your Data From the Machines

“In the case of the company I met with, the data collection they’re doing is all good. They want every participant in their longitudinal labor study to opt in, and to be fully informed about what’s going to happen with the data about this most precious and scary and personal time in their lives. But when I ask what’s going to happen if their company is ever sold, they go a little quiet. For example: What if a company doing good, and trying to improve birth rate successes for black and brown mothers, finds itself sold, its data distributed to the winds, and years later, some insurance company uses that information to decide that black and brown mothers pose a higher risk of pregnancy-related complications, and companies are loath to hire those women?”

Artificial Intelligence Needs More than Consensus

“According to Philosopher Thomas Metzinger at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany, big tech indulges in what he says is “ethics washing” and wields too much influence on proposed industry regulation around AI. According to Metzinger, big tech companies’ ethical debates on AI are red herrings to delay policy formation and regulation worldwide.”

Tech giants want rules on facial recognition, but critics warn that won’t be enough

“[Mike Beck, cybersecurity analyst] said that a ban on live facial recognition was “not the answer,” adding regulation would need to address how biometric data is collected and handled by organizations. “Regulation is only part of the answer,” he said. “Securing data when it is collected is as important as regulating the applications of the technology in the first place.””

What Sci-Fi Can Teach Computer Science About Ethics

“Fiesler, the University of Colorado professor, strives for a middle road. She favors sci-fi with a close tether to the real world—like Black Mirror. “You can still see the thread from here to there,” she says. And she pairs it with real-life case studies, believing the blend of real and speculative guides her students to actionable insights about the nature and risks of working in tech. Even better, she’d have them learn ethics in the same courses where they learn programming, so that they learn to spot moral questions, and potential solutions, in the context of code.”

Humanitarian Ethics

‘There has never been a more urgent time,’ to safeguard children’s right to safe water and sanitation, says UNICEF

“Fragility and armed conflict have increased worldwide over the last decade, the report notes, displacing millions of people globally and straining host communities that must deliver basic services, including water and sanitation to growing populations. Water is at risk of becoming a “threat multiplier” for war-torn countries from Africa’s Sahel region, to the Middle East., with climate change impacts compounding the effects of a growing water crisis and indirectly accelerating hunger and health crises for entire populations.”

Human rights are everyone’s business, amid relentless crises around world: UN’s Bachelet

“Briefing journalists one year since she took office, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, appealed for greater international cooperation. In our increasingly interconnected world, human rights violations in one part of the planet can have serious repercussions on another, she maintained”


World Bank to Investigate if China Loan Funded Muslim Detention Camps

“Questions about the project emerged last week after Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, and Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, released a letter to Mr. Malpass outlining concerns about the loan. The letter noted that disbursement of the loan continued even after it became evident that the Chinese government was spreading propaganda to defend the camps.”

Trump administration appears to violate law in forcing asylum seekers back to Mexico, officials warn

“In dozens of interviews and in court proceedings, current and former officials, judges, lawyers and advocates for asylum seekers said that Homeland Security officials implementing Remain in Mexico appear to be violating U.S. law, and the human cost is rising. Testimony from another dozen asylum seekers confirmed that they were being removed without the safeguards provided by U.S. law. The alleged legal violations include denying asylum seekers’ rights and knowingly putting them at risk of physical harm — against federal regulations and the Immigration and Nationality Act, the foundation of the U.S. immigration system. U.S. law grants migrants the right to seek protection in the United States.”

DeVos’ student aid chief quits foundation board following questions on conflict of interest

“Mark Brown, a retired major general in the U.S. Air Force, in March was selected by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to be the new head of the department’s Office of Federal Student Aid. Until Tuesday, he also served as an unpaid member of the board of directors of KnowledgeWorks, a non-profit foundation that holds about $30 million in federally guaranteed student loans. “Several ethics experts said that arrangement raised concerns about a potential conflict of interest because Brown’s unit is responsible for regulating and overseeing student loans backed by the government, including those that are owned by KnowledgeWorks.”

Mike Pence trip to Trump’s golf resort in Ireland under investigation by Congress

“A series of letters the House Oversight Committee sent to the White House, the Trump Organisation, the vice president’s office and the US Secret Service says the committee “does not believe that US taxpayer funds should be used to personally enrich President Trump, his family, and his companies.””

Biomedical/Medical Ethics

FDA raises accuracy questions over trial data of gene therapy drug

“Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said Tuesday in a statement that AveXis manipulated some of the early data from testing in animals. That data was submitted as part of the drug’s application for approval. “Ensuring truthful, complete and accurate data in product applications is a critical component of industry’s responsibility as they work to demonstrate the safety, purity and potency of biological products,” Marks said. “The submission of such truthful, complete and accurate data is also critical for the FDA to be able to protect the public health, and the law requires it.””

The ethics of creating human-animal hybrids for organ donation

“Some might feel that human-animal hybrids are a threat to human dignity. But it’s difficult to specify what this claim really amounts to. A stronger objection is the idea that a human-animal hybrid may acquire human characteristics, and as a result, be entitled to human level moral consideration. If, for example, the injected human stem cells travel to the mouse’s brain, it could develop enhanced cognitive capacities compared to a normal mouse. And on that basis, it may be entitled to a much higher moral status than a mouse would normally be granted – and possibly make it unethical for use in scientific experimentation.”

Environmental Ethics

Research Probes Cross-Cultural Beliefs About Sustainability

“The study, led by Dr Paul Bain from the University of Bath, asked more than 2100 people from 12 developed and developing countries what they thought the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed to achieve. The findings published today in Nature Sustainabilityshow that people understand sustainability in four distinct ways, Dr Bain says. Most people saw environmental sustainability as being in tension with social sustainability, but not with economic sustainability.”

Research bias may leave some primates at risk

“The study, which appeared in Evolutionary Anthropology, examined more than 29,000 research articles published between 2011 and 2015 to determine which primate species and locations were most studied and how that focus affects both conservation efforts and risk for species extinction.”

UN ‘prioritizing needs’, ramping up aid, as Hurricane Dorian continues to batter the Bahamas

“In terms of needs, we believe that Abaco Island has the most vulnerable population,” said IFRC spokesperson Matthew Cochrane. “There’s a large Haitian community on the island, who will need, we believe, a significant amount of assistance to recover from and rebuild after this storm. We also understand that about 62,000 people across the two islands will need access to clean drinking water.”


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