If a person is competent to consent to a treatment, is that person necessarily competent to refuse the very same treatment? Risk relativists answer no to this question. If the refusal of a treatment is risky, we may demand a higher level of decision-making capacity to choose this option. The position is known as asymmetry. Risk relativity rests on the possibility of setting variable levels of competence by reference to variable levels of risk. In an excellent 2016 article inJournal of (...) Medical Ethics(JME), Rob Lawlor defends asymmetry of this kind by defending risk relativity, using and developing arguments and approaches found in earlier work such as that of Wilks. He offers what we call the two-scale approach: a scale of risk is to be used to set a standard of competence on a scale of decision-making difficulty. However, can this be done in any rational way? We argue it cannot, and in this sense, and to this extent, risk relativity is a nonsense. (shrink)
Introduction : the existence of mental illness -- The likeness argument -- The categorical argument -- Metaphor -- Two metaphors from physical medicine -- The metaphor of mental illness -- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, social construction, and metaphor -- Metaphors and models.
It is commonly thought that mental disorder is a valid concept only in so far as it is an extension of or continuous with the concept of physical disorder. A valid extension has to meet two criteria: determination and coherence. Essentialists meet these criteria through necessary and sufficient conditions for being a disorder. Two Wittgensteinian alternatives to essentialism are considered and assessed against the two criteria. These are the family resemblance approach and the secondary sense approach. Where the focus is (...) solely on the characteristics or attributes of things, both these approaches seem to fail to meet the criteria for valid extension. However, this focus on attributes is mistaken. The criteria for valid extension are met in the case of family resemblance by the pattern of characteristics associated with a concept, and by the limits of intelligibility of applying a concept. Secondary sense, though it may have some claims to be a good account of the relation between physical and mental disorder, cannot claim to meet the two criteria of valid extension. (shrink)
In their recent article “A Gentle Ethical Defence of Homeopathy,” Levy, Gadd, Kerridge, and Komesaroff use the claim that “lack of evidence is not equivalent to evidence of lack” as a component of their ethical defence of homeopathy. In response, this article argues that they cannot use this claim to shore up their ethical arguments. This is because it is false.
Should we be Roschians about the concept of disease, rather than taking a classical approach? A classical concept of disease defines disease in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions; any things and only things which meet this definition are members of the class. In Roschian concepts of disease, it is supposed that degree of similarity to a prototype determines membership in the class of diseases. In this paper, the two approaches are pitched against one another in a series of tests (...) which appear on first sight to favor Roschian accounts.These tests are 1) the capacity to accommodate the variety of the class of disease, 2) the capacity to explain controversies about disease attribution, and 3) the capacity to... (shrink)
In two of his great poems, “Ambulances” and “The Building,” Philip Larkin considers a deep fear about human individuality. The fear is that the human self is contingent and disjunctive, lacking any integrity or unity. The arrival of an ambulance on an urban curb and a visit to the hospital are the occasion of reflection on this form of human fragility. But more significant, the ambulance and the hospital are imagined as contexts in which the contingency of the human individual (...) is brought out and laid before us. (shrink)
Mental health legislation that requires patients to accept ‘care’ has come under increasing scrutiny, prompted primarily by a human rights ethic. Epistemic issues in mental health have received some attention, however, less attention has been paid to the possible epistemic problems of mental health legislation existing. In this manuscript, we examine the epistemic problems that arise from the presence of such legislation, both for patients without a prior experience of being detained under such legislation and for those with this experience. (...) We also examine how the doctor is legally obligated to compound the epistemic problems by the knowledge they prioritise and the failure to generate new knowledge. Specifically, we describe the problems of testimonial epistemic injustice, epistemic silencing, and epistemic smothering, and address the possible justification provided by epistemic paternalism. We suggest that there is no reasonable epistemic justification for mental health legislation that creates an environment that fundamentally unbalances the doctor–patient relationship. Significant positive reasons to counterbalance this are needed to justify the continuation of such legislation. (shrink)
I WOULD LIKE TO respond to the four commentaries in turn. In each case I have started by setting out what I think the commentaries are claiming; in doing so, I may reveal that I have misunderstood or misconstrued, and I apologize where this is the case. My responses in many cases are provisional: the commentaries have given me much to think about. Also, my responses are selective—there are many points not touched upon here that deserve consideration. Finally, the order (...) of my responses is arbitrary. (shrink)
This paper aims to explore some key methodological issues in comparative and cross-cultural bioethics, through a discussion of a particular example: childhood and adolescent Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.1 At its heart, this paper makes an argument for a transcultural approach to bioethics. The argument starts with the examination of a conceptually mistaken and empirically unsustainable belief that culture is inevitably a force for difference. This “difference presumption” appears in various guises, for example in the belief that West and East have (...) altogether different “mentalities” and ethical ideas, reflective of a number of dichotomies such as individualization vs communitarianism. This... (shrink)
Are there any characteristics by which we can reliably identify and distinguish quackery from genuine medicine? A commonly offered criterion for the distinction between medicine and quackery is science: genuine medicine is scientific; quackery is non-scientific. But it proves to be the case that at the boundary of science and non-science, there is an entanglement of considerations. Two cases are considered: that of homoeopathy and that of the Quantum Booster. In the first case, the degree to which reported phenomena that (...) question established theory should be doubted arises; in the second case, the status of pleomorphism as a scientifically plausible doctrine is discussed. The application of the criterion of being scientific to these cases reveals something of the nature and density of the entanglement. (shrink)
In a recent JME article, Guidry-Grimes, Dean and Victor offer some signal and challenging insights into the ethical analysis of covert medication and in particular when administered via food. They warn of impacts on identity likely to emerge from using food in this way. In particular, they caution against allowing families to be involved in covert medication, in the light of their central role in sustaining identity. Their analysis has particular purchase in resource rich contexts and those contexts where individual (...) identity is a central concern. But it is less clear that the article’s insights are relevant to other contexts. This article places the analysis of covert medication and identity in a wider context, arguing both that the focus on identity is equally significant when analysing potential alternatives to covert medication, such as coercion; and that the ethical analysis of covert medication offered by Guidry-Grimes, Dean and Victor lacks global applicability. It seems to lack application particularly in resource-poor contexts, and in cultures where identity and community are interconstituted. (shrink)
Thomas Szasz, the radical critic of state-supported psychiatry, and root and branch sceptic about mental illness, died in September 2012. Based on the obituary1 and editorial comment in The Lancet2 and the response his work commonly elicits, it is evident that there will be mixed reviews of his impact and of the cogency of his position.Certainly, some have seen him as a notable figure from the past. There is a sense in which, as far as Szasz's critique of psychiatry goes, (...) it did not really change at all in its essence from the time it was first explicitly expressed in his writings of the 1960s right up to his last publications and talks in the 2010s. He started his 1960 paper The Myth of Mental Illness3 with the assertion that there is no such thing as mental illness, and this has been an underlying pedal note to all his many pronouncements in this area ever since. Personally, I have always found his written interventions in debates right up to the present to be highly readable and intellectually sharp; he was adept at creating variations on the Szaszian theme. In one of his earlier book length texts, The Manufacture of Madness,4 he likens the contemporary idea that people have mental illness to the historical idea that some people were witches, and he parallels the institutions of modern state-supported psychiatry to those of the Inquisition. In articles he later published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, he likened mental illness to ‘phlogiston’—the non-existent substance that supposedly explained combustion5 and claimed the term ‘mental …. (shrink)
In New Zealand, there are adolescents who are at risk of pregnancy and who do not want to become pregnant, but are not using contraception. Cost and other barriers limit access to contraception. To address the gap between contraceptive need and contraceptive access, this paper puts forward the concept of proactive contraception provision, where adolescents are offered contraceptives directly. To strengthen the case for proactive contraception provision, this paper addresses a series of potential objections. One is that such a programme (...) would cause harm; another that such a programme would not have sufficient benefit. In rebutting these objections, the conclusion is reached that proactive contraception provision is a model worth pursuing as a means of meeting the needs of the New Zealand adolescent population and may be of interest more widely. (shrink)
In this short response to Gray’s article Capacity and Decision Making we double down on our argument that risk-relativity is a nonsense. Risk relativity is the claim that we should set a higher standard of competence for a person to make a risky choice than to make a safe choice. Gray’s response largely involves calling attention to the complexities, ramifications and multiple value implications of decision-making, but we do not deny any of this. Using the notion of quality of care (...) mentioned by Gray, we construct an argument that might be used to support risk relativity. But it is no more persuasive than the arguments put forward by risk-relativists. (shrink)