Bioethics Workshop

April 5, 2019
1:30pm – 6:15pm
350 Bisgrove Hall


Four philosophers will present original papers on various issues related to medical ethics, philosophy of medicine, and bioethics. Each session will last one hour and will consist of a presentation of the paper followed by discussion with audience.  


 “Hope, Unrealistic Optimism, and Autonomy.”

James Delaney, Niagara University

Bioethics has traditionally drawn an important moral distinction between a patient or research subject being in a state of hope versus being in a state of what has been termed “unrealistic optimism.” The former is seen as a desirable and positive state to be encouraged. The latter is seen as negative and in some cases warranting paternalistic measures. However, recent literature has challenged this distinction. In this paper, I address one particular aspect of this debate: whether unrealistic optimism undermines patient autonomy. I offer some arguments in support of the traditional distinction with respect to this issue. 



“You can Never be Uploaded, Transplanted, or Teletransported.”

David Hershenov, University at Buffalo

Our animal bodies inevitably wear down, our minds deteriorate, and we cease to exist. Silicon Valley millionaires (Peter Theil, Elon Musk, Larry Page, Sergey Brin amongst others) have given transhumanists considerable funds to create technologies that will enable people to survive the death of their original organic bodies. This might involve brain transplants into healthier bodies, replacing organic parts of our brain and body with inorganic material that preserves our psychological functions, or uploading information from our brain and persisting in virtue of that psychological information being physically realized. These all overlook a major problem plaguing Lockean accounts of persons and that is explaining the relationship of the human person to the human animal. The problems that arise can only be avoided by identifying the human person and the human animal. This identification will undermine any attempts for transhumanists to survive the death of their bodies. Research funds spent on replacing our original organic bodies would be better served studying how to postpone the death of those bodies.



“Healthcare is a Right, not a Privilege: Is this True?”

Stephen Kershnar, SUNY Fredonia

Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Pope Francis, and Senator Bernie Sanders all claim that healthcare is a right not a privilege. In this talk, I evaluate the claim. First, if healthcare is a right, then what is it a right to? It can’t be health because no one can guarantee that. Perhaps it is a right to a physician’s services. Second, if healthcare is a right, then it would seem that people also have a right to food, housing, and, perhaps, education. After all, they are also important to people’s well-being. How broad is the underlying right? Third, who has such a right? Do U.S. citizens have a duty to provide healthcare to undocumented people? Poor people who live elsewhere?



“Why Bother Evaluating Decision-Making Capacity?”

Shane Hemmer, University at Buffalo, Niagara University, VA Buffalo

Medical decision-making capacity (DMC, or often just ‘capacity’) evaluations are an important element in ensuring that hospitalized patients are able to make informed medical decisions that are in their best interest. Despite lacking DMC, many patients either do not have a surrogate decision-maker, or the surrogate defers to the patient’s wishes. Patients who lack DMC are typically separated into one of three categories of risk. In this paper, I briefly discuss the categories of risk associated with patients who lack DMC and the recommended interventions for such patients when they refuse medical treatment. I then evaluate these against (a fictionalized version of) an actual case of a difficult-to-treat patient who lacks medical decision-making capacity, frequently visits his local emergency department for non-emergent issues, but is routinely allowed to check out early against medical advice (AMA). By law, lacking DMC is not sufficient on its own to justify restraining patients, or to seek court-ordered guardianship over a patient when they refuse recommended medical treatment. However, the patient outlined in this case arguably falls into a high-risk category, thus meriting more restrictive interventions on his right to refuse treatment. Given my discussion of medical decision-making capacity, risk, and this specific case, I suggest that either DMC evaluations are useless for such patients because they do not allow what seem like appropriate interventions, or that medical decision-making capacity evaluations are problematic and need to be reconsidered.