PHIL 226, Week 12


Global Issues in Biomedical Ethics

Global Health Problems

4 million newborn babies die each year, but 72% of these deaths could be prevented by low-cost measures such as delivering babies in a clean environment.

Of 11 million childhood deaths, 90% occur in 42 countries, and 8 million could be prevented.

1.5 billion people do not have an adequate diet.

6 million people die per year from treatable infectious diseases: tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS.

There are countries in Africa with average life expectancies below 40.

The poor are more likely to serve as organ donors.

Ethical Arguments for Ignoring Global Problems

Egoism: People need only care about themselves.

Nationalism: People need only care about people in their own country.

Property rights: No one can be obliged to give up their property. Taxation is theft.

Ethical Arguments for Tackling Global Problems

Consequences: Minor losses in wealth of people in rich countries would lead to major gains in health and happiness of people in rich countries.

Rights: Health is a vital human need, so people everywhere have a right to good health care and nutrition, so people in wealthy countries have a duty to help them.

Principles: Equality demands that people in poor country have at least roughly equal access to good health care.

What is to be done?

Political: Elect and lobby a government that will take a strong role in providing international aid. Canada's aid budget dropped 37% during the 1990s, to only .29% of GDP. The government should be willing to tax wealthy Canadians for the sake of poor people in other countries.

Personal: Donate money and time to international organizations such as Oxfam and CARE.

Suggested Reading

Tracy Kidder: Mountains Beyond Mountains.

Paul Farmer: Pathologies of Power

Medical Ethics and Future Generations

Issues concerning future generations

  1. Climate change leading to medical problems, e.g. heat waves, droughts, malaria.
  2. Depletion of resources, e.g. oil.
  3. Increasing inequality leading to poorer health.

Reasons for neglect of future generations

  1. Lack of emotional concern about long run.
  2. Lack of empathy for people not yet born.
  3. Religious reassurances.

Ethical deliberation

  1. Should consequences include all future generations?
  2. Do we have duties to people not yet born?

Review Questions for Week 12

1. According to Farmer and Campos, what are the health problems in very poor countries such as Haiti?

2. What ethical issues are affected by differences in power between regions of the world?

3.Short essay: Should Canadians be ethically concerned about medical conditions in the rest of the world? Discuss in terms of rights and consequences.

4. Is informed consent possible in conditions of great inequality?

5. What is the "outcome gap" and why is it ethically troublesome?

6. Why does Farmer think that bioethics requires social sciences as well as philosophy?


Phil 226

Computational Epistemology Laboratory.

Paul Thagard

This page updated Nov. 26, 2012