Ethics in the News: Vaccine Ethics, Ethics Reforms, Ethics of Remote Work, Gene Editing, & More – November 13, 2020

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Vaccine ethics: Covid could come back stronger if rich nations monopolise doses
“The news that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may prove up to 90 per cent effective at preventing symptoms of Covid has sparked something approaching euphoria across the globe. Stock markets have soared and there is speculation everything could return to “normal” by the spring. But with this optimism, there will come FOMO – the fear of missing out – and huge pressures will mount on political leaders everywhere to vaccinate their people first. The danger is that national self-interest will override the common interest, creating not just an inequitable distribution of vaccines globally with terrible human cost but a strategic disaster in which the pandemic is prolonged for everyone.”

Arizona Frontline Nurse Writes Letter Criticizing Trump’s Pandemic Response
“She’s exhausted, she says, but has mustered up the energy to do some political work. Valdez and a group of nurses wrote an open letter to President Trump, condemning his “reckless and dangerous actions” during the coronavirus pandemic.

They list examples of the Trump administration’s actions that are “antithetical to a healthy society and to nursing’s values and code of ethics” — from his comments downplaying the virus’ severity to his own diagnosis with the disease.”

Bioethicists worry the rich and powerful will get special access to experimental Covid treatments
“Gilead, Lilly and Regeneron’s drugs weren’t available to the general public at the time. To access two of the drugs, both men applied for and were granted special exemptions as part of an FDA program that gives patients limited access to investigational medical products before they’re approved. A so-called “compassionate use” exception can be granted by a drugmaker on a limited basis if a disease is life-threatening and there are no other clear treatments.”

President-elect Biden announces coronavirus task force made up of physicians and health experts
“Biden’s task force will have three co-chairs: Vivek H. Murthy, surgeon general during the Obama administration; David Kessler, Food and Drug Administration commissioner under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine. Murthy and Kessler have briefed Biden for months on the pandemic.”


Over 170 Groups Call for Biden Administration to Take Up Ethics Reforms Immediately
“The Declaration for American Democracy listed a number of legislative and executive reforms to increase the government’s accountability and transparency in its new report. It specifically advocated for the next Congress to pass and the president to sign the “For The People Act” (known as H.R. 1), the massive democracy reform package that the House passed in March 2019 and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a vote on in October 2019. For the past almost four years, many ethics experts and watchdog groups have been critical of the Trump administration’s corporate influence, connections with the Trump Organization, lack of transparency on information related to policy decisions and efforts to thwart investigations into its activities. The coalition is looking to do a course correction.”

Pelosi: A voting and ethics measure is ‘first on the agenda’ of the new Congress
“With tens of millions of people still suffering from the ongoing toll of the pandemic and the federal government set to run out of money on Dec. 11 without congressional action, Ms. Pelosi insisted that she wanted to see another relief package and an omnibus spending package become law before Christmas and the end of the current Congress.

“We want the Republicans to come back to the table,” Ms. Pelosi said of the coronavirus relief negotiations, which stalled again in the days leading up to the election. But she dismissed Republicans’ renewed push for a scaled-down package, saying, “It doesn’t appeal to me at all because they still have not agreed to crush the virus.””


A Practical Guide to Building Ethical AI
“Just a few years ago discussions of “data ethics” and “AI ethics” were reserved for nonprofit organizations and academics. Today the biggest tech companies in the world — Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Google, and more — are putting together fast-growing teams to tackle the ethical problems that arise from the widespread collection, analysis, and use of massive troves of data, particularly when that data is used to train machine learning models, aka AI.”

How to Monitor Remote Workers — Ethically
“Once COVID-19 prompted unprecedented numbers of people to work from home, thousands of companies, including PwC, started panic-buying spy software dubbed “tattleware.” Sneek, for example, takes webcam pictures of employees as regularly as every minute and uploads them for senior leaders to scrutinize. Another system, InterGuard, takes pictures as often as every five seconds, all because bosses in the office-free world increasingly desire evidence — including screenshots, login times, and keystrokes — to ensure that their workforces are productive. Such scrutiny isn’t isolated to one sector, and white-collar workers aren’t the only quantified workforce. Long-haul truckers, for example, are being prescribed devices that monitor their location and vehicle speeds, supposedly to help schedule their sleeping and driving periods.”

Work From Anywhere Trend Intensifying Ethics, And Compliance Issues
“The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed and amplified economic disparity and inequality. This phenomenon may create more anxiety in society, possibly leading to more cheating. The Cheating Culture book by David Callahan highlights that Americans are cheating more and feeling less guilty. He states that the “anxious class” believes that not cheating could cancel its only shot at success in the winners take all world…In brief, self-protective impulses are unleashed by threatening experiences.” They conclude that this self-protective mode causes people to focus narrowly on their own basic needs and self-interest, which can cause them to be less mindful of principles that guide ethical and moral reasoning, thus leading them to behave unethically.”

Pandemic Forces Companies to Confront Technology Ethics Questions
“Some apps and data-collection systems probe for Covid-19 symptoms, such as fever or cough, and ask about an employee’s activities outside of work. But collecting and storing such detailed information can lead an organization to cross ethical boundaries, said Paula Goldman, chief ethical and humane use officer, at tech giant Inc.”


Congress Needs To Decide If Gene Editing Is Permissible For Sperm And Eggs
“Creating, editing, and destroying embryos is an ethical minefield. Legislation was passed in 2015 to prohibit the FDA from using funds to approve or review studies where an embryo was either created or destroyed with a genetic modification to the germline – in other words, to create a trait that is inheritable. This rider has been renewed every year since, except when it was dropped briefly in 2019. However, this ban does not apply to gametes – the sperm or the egg. Right now, no consensus has been made by Congress whether such research should be allowed.”

Panelists debate the implications and ethics of stem cell research
“The Alexander Grass Humanities Institute (AGHI), in conjunction with Great Talk, Inc., hosted a panel of scientists to speak about the ethical considerations and implications of stem cell research on Oct. 21. The event was moderated by Director of AGHI William Egginton. The four panelists included two experts in genomics research, a journalist who specializes in the role of technology in biomedical research and an expert in medical law.”

A New Hippocratic Oath Asks Doctors To Fight Racial Injustice And Misinformation
“The new oath asks physicians to eliminate their personal biases, combat disinformation to improve health literacy and be an ally to minorities and other underserved groups in society. It also calls on each doctor to pledge to learn about the social determinants of health “to use my voice as a physician to advocate for a more equitable health care system from the local to the global level.””

Medical students: Know the fundamentals of medical ethics
“The first principle of the AMA Code of Medical Ethics reads, “A physician shall be dedicated to providing competent medical care with compassion and respect for human dignity and rights.” But to achieve and maintain this, physicians need to grasp several principles of medical ethics. That is the case in ordinary times, and it is especially true during a global pandemic that is testing patients and physicians in new ways.”


Is learning more important than well-being? Teachers told us how COVID highlighted ethical dilemmas at school
“As an educational ethicist, I research teachers’ ethical obligations. These can include their personal ethics such as protecting students from harm, respect for justice and truth, and professional norms like social conformity, collegial loyalty and personal well-being.”

The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity and LRN Announce Student Winners of the 2020 Prize in Ethics Essay Contest
In “‘Any Fraction of Infinity’: Aging, Illness, and the Right to Continue,” Lang, a philosophy major and psychology minor, explores the ethical and moral complexities and the self-reflection that occur at the end of life through her experiences providing support to an elderly hospice patient.

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