Thursday, April 28, 2011

Although this article is not directly on topic, I thought it would relate to the physician assisted suicide documentary that a group showed in the last class.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Serious Issues with Human Rights Discourse (and more sweatshop talk)

A couple of weeks ago, Ben wrote a blog post concerning sweatshops and an economic defense of their existence and continued support. I began to formulate a comment in response to the post, but as I typed out my observations and counter-arguments, I came across some questions—big quesitons. Thinking about it further, I felt as if these questions were integral to our study of human rights, and merited a post of their own, thus…

One of the most convincing arguments in support of the defense of sweatshops is the claim that it is misguided and ignorant to hold businesses in the developing world to the same standards as those in the developed world. With this in mind, it is nearly impossible to define aspects of labor such as low wages and unsatisfactory working conditions in countries that are incredibly different from our own. Low wages and unsatisfactory conditions by American standards, although they may be troubling to us, do not necessarily translate into low wages and unsatisfactory conditions in the host country. Like Powell mentions in his article, sweatshops offer a considerable improvement from the state of abject poverty and/or unsteady, unreliable employment. He notes that sweatshop wages are more than double the national average in Cambodia, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Honduras. When I hear this quantitative, measureable evidence as to the benefits of sweatshops, I find it hard to convince myself to support the upholding of so-called human rights in place of increased incomes for poor people (although I may still disagree with Powell's argument that sweatshops actually lead to overall development, but that's another conversation). The fact that sweatshop labor may actually be a step up from destitution merely solidifies what we should already know: the world is not fair. Although we're not often brought face-to-face with this fact, none of us should be surprised by this. If you live in the US, you are immeasurably "better off" than those born in any number of other countries. Opposing sweatshops by boycotting companies that employ sweatshop labor translates into a denial of increased incomes for desperately poor people for the sake of an idealized moral or philosophical standard— namely, the fact that you are personally uncomfortable with the idea of workers being paid what you consider to be low wages and working in what you consider to be unsatisfactory conditions to make your Nike kicks. Yes; wages and conditions in sweatshops can be considered "bad". But boycotting those companies may be worse. Although we feel better about retracting our support from companies who engage in this "bad" practice, I would argue that it is our true social responsibility to think through our actions all the way to their final outcome and the real-world implications of that outcome. In fact, some of you may agree with me in saying that it is not just our social responsibility, but our moral duty as well.

In spite of Powell's cogent argument in defense of sweatshops (and the supplemental case that I just finished arguing in the last two paragraphs), I have to recognize the fact that I fail to be philosophically, morally or socially satisfied by this approach. It seems to me that neither reaction to sweatshops (boycott such companies or increase support for them) goes far enough to redeem the dignity of the sweatshop laborers. Do I believe that the low compensation and poor working conditions of many sweatshops are an affront to human dignity and a violation of what I consider to be a human's inherent rights? Yes. I don't know whether or not underdeveloped economies would be better off without sweatshops, but I do know that the lesser-of-two-evils argument that defends sweatshops strikes me as pitiful and maybe even immoral. As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, and our interactions—both economic and social—become more complicated, I still find it necessary to maintain our principles. We cannot sacrifice our conviction on the altar of economics or utility. But here's the trick: we must seek to maintain our principles in a socially responsible way instead of blindly appeasing our own consciences. If what mollifies our conscience leads to the calculable "worsening-off" of the very person we seek to help, I can't see how we've done any good at all.

All this talk brings me to my final question, and I think it's a good one. I think that Patrick hit the nail on the head when he suggested (in his comment to Ben's original post) that within the context of human rights discourse, there exists the notion of a "Wouldn't it be nice if…" world. This question has been gnawing at the back of my mind all semester, and I think it's time to ask: Is our definition of human right overly idealistic, so much so that it is not applicable to the world in which we live? By canonizing our conceptualization of human rights in the UDHR and other international norms, it seems to me that we are funneled into treating the world as if it were the world we think it ought to be, instead of the world that it truly is. Is there any country, state, or community in which the rights of the UDHR are fully upheld? How useful is this criteria, then, if even the model societies of the world cannot meet its standards? And further, how can we then expect to apply it to the parts of the world that fall so, immeasurably short of its idyllic ambitions? In a world with such vastly different societies, cultures, religions, traditions, socio-economic levels, ideologies, and politics, how helpful is it—really—to support human rights with one-size-fits all approach (credit, again, goes to Patrick for this phrase)? The difficulty of the sweatshop question highlights this inadequacy. I don't intend to pessimistically suggest that human rights discourse is entirely impracticable, but I think that if we ever want to extend the notion of human rights beyond the philosophy classroom and into the real world—a world of underdeveloped nations, sweatshops, and economists— then this must be seriously addressed. I must admit that I haven't yet found a satisfactory answer myself, so I'm hoping that one of you will have one.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Is the right to healthcare as silly as the right to ice cream?

As many of you know, the GlobeMed chapter at Rhodes had a call for photo submissions in February, asking students and faculty/staff to complete the phrase, “Everyone has the right to ____,” and take a picture with their responses written on their hands. The purpose of the project was not for GlobeMed to weed through the submissions and pick out the ones that we thought reflected “proper” or “worthy” rights, but to spark discussion among the campus community around February 20th, the World Day of Social Justice.

After collecting the pictures and organizing them in an online gallery, along with the 31 other GlobeMed chapters that participated in similar projects on their campuses, we decided to put together an informal, video slideshow of the photos. The video caught the attention of Ben O’Neill, a formerly practicing lawyer and current statistics professor at the University of New South Wales in Canberra, Australia. In his article, “The Injustice of Social Justice,” O’Neill critiques the video’s portrayal of rights in order to argue that social justice campaigns are “intellectually bankrupt movements.”

I wanted to open this to discussion on the blog for a couple of reasons. Not only is the debate relevant to our class, but O’Neill claims that “most young people, at the age of undergraduate university students, have not been exposed to serious philosophical argument about the nature of rights...” That may be true, but we certainly have.

O’Neill argues that social justice organizations conflate desires with rights, and use the language of human rights to force governments to meet the needs of others. In retrospect, perhaps GlobeMed should have asked “everyone deserves ___” to avoid such misunderstandings. Yes, I agree that some of the “rights” depicted in the video are silly, such as the right to ice-cream. “An actual right is a moral prerogative derived from the application of moral philosophy to the nature of man,” O’Neill states. However, where I take issue with O’Neill’s argument is the claim that “it is actually no sillier to assert the right to rock-and-roll or ice cream than to assert the right to healthcare or education.” He argues that the differences between claiming a right to ice cream and a right to healthcare or education are “differences in degree, not in kind” because both are positive rights assertions that forcibly require someone else to provide a good for another person who is incapable of doing so by his or her own means. I think that the assertion for a right to health stems from a notion of fundamental human dignity, placing the right to a decent standard of health (Article 25, UDHR) in a completely different category from the "right" to ice cream.

Furthermore, O’Neill adds, “We see on the video an asserted right to ‘free education.’ We do not see the far more honest assertion of the right to ‘forcibly take money from others to pay for one’s own costly education.” Social justice organizations are not making this stuff up as they please. Article 26 of the UDHR states that “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages...” Most social justice organizations are not arbitrarily inventing so-called rights as O’Neill argues in the article, but simply drawing attention to the already existing discourse and legislation on human rights.

O’Neill also argues that “there can be no such thing as a right to shoes, ice cream, or rock-and-roll, things that were once absent entirely from human invention.” One of many counter examples that stands out is from Article 15 of the UDHR, which states that “everyone has the right to a nationality.” In the scope of history, the concept of the nation-state, and thus the identity of nationality, is a relatively recent "invention." So, should we scrap Article 15 from the declaration because it asserts a right to an invented concept that has not existed from the very beginning of humanity?

Vulnerable Sovereignty

According to recent reports, the U.S. government is putting pressure on several of its allies to end the use of child soldiers. The countries in question are Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and Yemen. According to the reports, the international community is expecting the U.S. to take steps to end the practice of these much smaller countries. Given our recent discussions of vulnerability and community I have begun to wonder what it is that makes us responsible for policing the actions of these countries. While I am aware of the reputation that the U.S. has given itself as an international policeman, I wonder if the expectations placed upon the U.S. by the international community are not more complicated than simply the fact that the U.S. has given itself a certain reputation. Could it be that the reason that we are expected the reform these smaller countries is that they are viewed as much more vulnerable than we are as Butler may point out? In other words, I wonder if the nation that is considered the least vulnerable suddenly becomes responsible for all of the those more vulnerable countries with whom it associates. Assuming that vulnerability is the difference that makes us responsible for the actions of these nations that we have allied ourselves with, what would the consequences be if we were seen as equally as vulnerable as these countries that we are expected to police? If our responsibility is based upon vulnerability, would that responsibility dissapear entirely as result of equality or would the responsibility fall upon someone that is outside of the group who has less vulnerability? Of course, underlying all of these questions is whether the recognition of vulnerability gives us more or less right to act upon the sovereignty of another country. In the current situation, I am curious both what the current system would say and what Butler system would propose for this problem of policing.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Another medical conundrum

In Manama, Bahrain, a group of guards is blocking the entrance to the city's main hospital. Inside the facility, there are very few, if any patients, because they have been arrested for participating in protests against the country's current civil conflict. Additionally, doctors, nurses, and EMT's have been arrested for caring for protesters who have been wounded.

It is believed by the Bahranian government that hospitals and clinics are hotbeds of Shiite conspirators, who are making attempts to destabilize the country and bring down the government. However, the problem now is that these hospitals have been blocked off by government officials, leaving the ill nowhere to go for care. The government has turned health care facilities into places of civil unrest and endorsed terrorism. Even ambulances have been followed by governmental agencies and have been blocked from aiding wounded protesters, many of whom were simply left to die in streets after violent outbursts.

The Bahranian government is assaulting the health care system, something that is necessary to promote the well being of a country's constituents. Through the attempt to gain control and power over the country, the government is doing far more harm than good. At what point does a nation state's desire for control become abusive? It seems to me that through the arresting of innocent health workers who simply do their job to protect citizens of the nation, the government is mandating ill care. The UDHR states that all constituents are entitled to security of person in all circumstances. Ill individuals now are limited in where they may go to receive health care because so many clinics have fallen under government scrutiny. What do you all think about this?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Revisiting torture

Torture; I know we spent a long time on it, however I found myself thinking about it today and discovering that I was still unsure as to what physical actions (or mental) qualify as this loaded term. Sure we sat outside in the sun and discussed what it could and couldn't be, yet I wonder about the video that we watched after, if it changed our collective view as much as it changed mine.

Originally I would have told you that humiliation in front of peers, while being degrading, unfortunate and unsettling, was most likely not torture. After seeing Ghosts of Abu Graib however, I wish to recant my previous view. I see the events that our government allowed and minimally punished as torture now, and it causes me to wonder where the boundaries really do lie. The boundaries that I refer to are not just those of our classification of torture but also of our perception of ourselves. I think that it is really interesting that we find ourselves in the precarious position of a hypocritical nation that is supposedly spreading peace and standing against terrorism while still behaving in this manner. (I hope that I am not alone in this sentiment)

The movie made me consider America's reaction to Japan after WWII when looking at how their army had treated the Chinese in Nanjing. Americans expressed such a wave of disgust at the horrid things (so horrid that I refrain from writing them here but I encourage anyone who does not know the particulars to look, as long as they promise not to blame me for the mental scarring that will follow) that these military men inflicted on the masses. Even more shocking was the Japanese response to the American wave of objection, which was that they were emulating our own government's handling of the enemy, which they based off of our previous war encounters. They thought that they were acting in the same way that "civilized westerners" acted. Even more disturbing is that they were not that far from the truth about us- one only has to look to the Spanish American war, or the U.S.A.'s involvement in squashing rebellions in South America to see this.

I had hoped that we had advanced in time from these brutal practices, yet this film shows me that the practices have only been switched torturing from the physical to the mental, totally reversing my standpoint on what torture is. So now I put it to you- am I the only one having this issue? What are your thoughts?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Does Butler Stretch too Far?

In class last Tuesday we did a very focused reading of one of Butler's arguments. However, we got so nit-picky that we never actually made it that far. For clarification's sake, here's my bare bones interpretation of her argument: We are all individual, autonomous beings who necessarily interact with each other. Here she moves on to describe the idea of community and its necessity for human beings. At the end, she wished for us to extend our idea of community to include those not in direct contact with us, not in our country, not hardly visible. Her reason for this seemingly small request is that many times in war, people from other countries become numbers in our eyes. They lose their humanity and become statistics. Butler believes that an extension of the idea of community to include human community would help terminate this problem.

Now I think Butler's argument sounds good off-the-cuff but, then again, what philosophy argument doesn't? In her argument, Butler admits that this version of community she is reaching for is indeed a weak version. No more than a community of humanity. My question then is: What's the point? Is turning a statistic into a Susan that easy? I don't think Americans are excluding enemies from the human community when they see statistics. I believe the reason for this is completely distinct from that and lies in the practical.

There are small communities, bigger ones, and bigger still on up the line. Communities frequently overlap or completely encompass others. There's my family community, my neighborhood, then my city, state, nation, etc... There is the college community, the community of a sports team, community business men. Now in all these everyone does not know everyone. However, there is generally some interaction, if only through a chain of people. Once one gets further and further from the core of one's personal life, the significance of community dwindles. The more effects tend to be of the butterfly sort, the less sense of community there is. Communities are practical occurrences, not convenient titles for philosophical nonsense. And a side note: In communities as small as cities, people still end up frequently being stats so how can we possibly hope to stop this at the global level?

An Interpretation of Derealization

“ …certain lives are not considered lives at all, they cannot be humanized, that they cannot fit any dominant frame for the human…” ( Butler 34).

These are Judith Butler’s words in regards to her conception of derealization of the human. As we studied in class, this process of derealization causes some humans to not even fit in the category of human beings because they are not recognized as being a human being. However, here is what I find confusing about this idea of derealization: can someone be more “real” and grievable over the time causing him or her to transform into being ungrievable and move into the category of unreal? Also, is it possible to be born ungrievable and then move into becoming “ real” and considered to have a life that is grievable? I am not sure if Butler means this conception of derealization as a process that can change overtime or if it is a definite placement outside the limits of humanity.

Franz Fanon’s theory about “ The Gaze” led me to wonder about the extent and limits on Judith Butler idea of derealization and the reality of the human. "The Gaze" for Fanon is the objectifying look or "The Gaze" that Fanon received that placed him into the category of an object. Thus, “ The Gaze” itself is the look that objectifies another person and takes away his or her subjectivity just through a look, without any words. “The Gaze” causes Fanon to be seen as an object by the other person. Objects are not considered humans therefore, Fanon is outside the realm of human because of this objectification. Thus, as Fanon move from the category of human to the category of object, does that equate in any way to Butler’s conception of derealization?

Also, throughout the chapter on “Violence, Mourning, and Politics”, Butler states, “The “I” who cannot come into being without a “you” is also fundamentally dependent on a set of norms of recognition…” ( 45). Therefore, because of the lack of recognition of Fanon as a human and just an object eliminates true recognition for him as well leading him go through derealization.

I might be interpreting Butler’s idea of derealization and qualification for ungrievability incorrectly. It may not be a life process that can move you from being unrecognized and ungrievable to recognized and grievable or vice versa. Butler might be claiming a person is born into the state of derealization and cannot escape or transform away from this state. Thus, with the example of Franz Fanon’s "The Gaze"in mind, do you think Butler’s derealization is a reversible transformation or a permanent state of being?

The Limits of Human Rights

As the semester draws to a close, I have had to confront a growing uneasiness about the discourse of human rights as a whole. Week after week on the blog, I see entries promoting or questioning the "Human right to _____",  and the entire constellation of human rights claims is most assuredly extensive and varied. To speak of some end as a human right has now become a standard means of achieving its implementation, wrapping one's cause in an aura of moral necessity. The total effect of these myriad claims is to advance a moral and political order in which virtually all norms are conceived of in terms of human rights: hence we see the case in the Britain where shop clerks were forbidden to post pictures of a wanted thief for fear it would violate her human rights (as to which right was being violated, I am unclear). 

Part of the problem seems to lie in confusion over the source of such rights. The traditional Enlightenment view holds that certain rights are written in the natural order and evident in human nature. However, the more specific and extensive claims to human rights become, the less they can be plausibly grounded in such abstract terms. It may be instructive to compare the content of the Declaration of Independence with the UDHR; one can foresee some difficulty in asserting that all humans "are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are protection against unemployment, periodic holidays with pay, and a share in scientific advancement and its benefits." To take the Universal Declaration at its word, these are rights just as innate in all people as are life and liberty. 

Perhaps, rather, what we mean by human rights is no longer natural rights, but rather rights that all humans ought to have, or that the United Nations (as the closet thing to a world government in existence) has established for them. Even here, however, any claim to universal validity must have some sort of universal moral basis to back it up. If the issue is merely general utility or happiness, there are countless political ends of pursuing these goals. Indeed, we read this telling caveat towards the end of the UDHR:

 In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

I agree with this passage, for what it's worth, but "just requirements morality, public order, and the general welfare" can be taken to mean anything whatsoever. In other words, all the rights listed above must be totally respected, except when they musn't. The key political issue, of course, is working out what "just requirements" means. Politics concerns itself with balancing moral and material interests, not with pursuit of absolute goals (the absolutist polities are generally the most terrible).

Yet this is not to deny that certain moral claims on the state are universal. No state has a right to arbitrary imprisonment or execution, to torture, to persecution. Human rights may be a useful concept for constraining such bestial practices. Claims to rights against these abuses can justifiably said to be applicable to all persons based on the principle of essential moral equality. But because these rights are so abstract in foundation (as they must be, to apply universally), they serve best as to mark limits of what is morally and politically permissible. They cannot determine the content of the social and political order, which as Burke puts it "vary with times and circumstances and admit to infinite modifications".

The first problem with a "human rights society", then, is political. The second is moral. Namely, the egocentric nature of rights as something held by the individual  independent of others degrades the moral life the more it is permitted to define our lives. Rights, human or otherwise, have their place in creating rules of the game in our interactions with one another in society. But in truth they are most useful in allowing individuals to make rectificatory claims for wrongs they have suffered. No one can have a particularly admirable or satisfying life by making it his goal only to respect the rights of others while upholding his own. The more we are conscious of our "rights", the more the concepts of duty and obligation seem to fade into the background. The moral implications are serious; because rights are something held by the individual, they are easier to violate and ignore if the victim is incapable of asserting them.

Obligations, conversely, apply first and foremost to the moral actor and fit into a moral framework which is larger than any individual. If I were seeking to dissuade one of the hapless guards at Abu Ghraib from torturing prisoners, I would not say "you are violating that man's human rights!" Rather I would simply point out the action is immoral, despicable, dishonorable and (if the potential torturer is inclined to such terminology) sinful. These are appeals to moral obligations that go beyond the individual whose rights are being violated, who after all may not be very sympathetic, despite our appeals to his essential humanity. Or consider more positive moral actions; the homeless man on the street has no right to my assistance, in the sense of an absolute claim. Nonetheless I have a moral obligation (albeit an imperfect obligation, in the Kantian sense) to help those less fortunate than myself, and on a broader societal level the same holds true (though the implementation and particulars of any efforts to aid the distressed of society is a political matter, and cannot be reduced to moral bromides). 

Human rights, then, have their limitations. Both a proper political order and any kind of meaningful inner life cannot be guided primarily by appeals to humanity in the abstract. I suspect the promiscuous proliferation of human rights claims tend to undermine both.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Medical Marijuana, A Human Right?

As my group and I have gotten further into our documentary project we have been delving into the medical field and specifically, we have been facing the real life topic of terminally ill individuals. As described by Google Dictionary, “Terminal illness is a medical term popularized in the 20th century to describe an active and malignant disease that cannot be cured or adequately treated and that is reasonably expected to result in the death of the patient.” One of the most common forms of terminal illness that people tend to associate with terminal illness is cancer. Cancer is a type of disease, which is caused by uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in any part of the body. Cancer has become a phenomenon and unfortunately most of us can say we know someone who has suffered from cancer or are currently battling against cancer. Since cancer is so predominant in our current society, one of the most debated topics involving cancer is medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana seems to have a long list of both pros and cons. Supporters of medical marijuana argue that it is a safe and effective treatment for symptoms of cancer. If medical marijuana has the potential to relieve cancer patients from potential pain or pain that already exists then is it a human right to be able to be free of that pain? Although marijuana is not a legal substance, should cancer patients or terminally ill patients be allowed to use the illegal drug as a means to rid themselves of pain they face because of their medical problems?

Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not explicitly state that human beings should be free from suffering, according to the European Convention on Human Rights, people have the right “not to suffer.” Why do you think there is a difference between the Universal Declaration and the European Convention? Is suffering a human right violation, specifically for those who are terminally ill? If suffering is a human right violation, should medical marijuana be legal for people who desperately need relief from the pain they suffer from each day? Below I will include a link I found that directly deals with the controversial issue of medical marijuana. I encourage you all to look at the link then please let me know what you think. Although the UDHR would not find the case of medical marijuana plausible but it’s standards, do you think that this should change? Let me know that you think. Link

Monday, April 4, 2011

An argument against prostitution… and an argument for it

Although most people assume that prostitution is generally a bad thing, and that its participants are victims of some sort, there are some convincing arguments to the contrary. Instead of expressing my personal opinion or arguing for what I believe here, I want to briefly outline both cases and then pose some questions that relate this issue to our study of human rights.

AGAINST PROSTITUTION: Prostitution is not about women enjoying rights over their own bodies; on the contrary, it is an expression of men's control over women's sexuality. It is about gendered, ethnic, age, racial and class power relations. By no means can there be "consent of two adults", when one party is the buyer and the other the seller, especially when the buying party happens to be socially constructed as the better sex, race, or class. Prostitution is not a choice made by free will, but rather by social and financial pressures and desperation, and it is a violation of human rights.

FOR PROSTITUTION: Prostitution is the voluntary sale of a labor service. Individuals own their own bodies and their own labor services and have the absolute right to decide how those labor services should be used. As long as the prostitution transaction is voluntary, there is no justification for interference. Such interference would be an infringement of the privacy and personal liberty of the individuals involved. Everyone has the human right to work and freely choose their employment. Prostitution clearly does not constitute a violation of human rights.

So what do you think— Is prostitution a violation of human rights? If it is a human's choice to participate in activities that "violate" their human rights, are there human rights still violated? Are we morally obligated to respect their decisions as rational, free actors, or the UNHDR?

Thinking about this makes me also consider the obligations (if any) of the rights-enforcer. If a woman is "rescued" from human rights violations enacted against her while she is a prostitute, is her liberator responsible for remedying the social and financial situation which lead the woman to become a prostitute in the first place? Clearly, the UNDHR and international law suggests that a rights-enforcer's duty is to address the violated right, not the situation which breeds it.

Let's think of another example: Say you feel strongly that a baby's life begins in the womb, and that by aborting it, you are robbing it of its right to life. Because of this, you feel it is your moral duty to protect the human rights of the unborn, so you "intervene" by voting for Pro-Life legislation in your state. Say the law is passed. Is now also your moral duty to help provide for all of the children that would have otherwise been aborted—buying them formula and changing their diapers? Most people do not see "human rights enforcement" in this way.

It seems to me that herein lies one of the biggest problems with human rights and their enforcement. Human rights violations don't often appear out of thin air; they arise from circumstance that encourage and instigate them. Although we may feel it's our moral duty to intervene when human rights are violated, we rarely feel such conviction to respond to the circumstances themselves. What do you think? Do we have a duty to expand our notion human rights enforcement? To what extent? What if that infringes upon the will of the "victim"? Do we have a greater duty to respect the decisions of the individual?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Doctors in the prison system

I was thinking back to our discussion on torture, and specifically on the issues of Abu Ghraib, when a thought occurred to me. What sort of medical professionals were present in the prison? Very little mention was ever made of a physician, and the fact that prisoners were consistently denied the right to a health professional might indicate either the absence of such an individual or the of presence apathetic medical personnel.

 More and more cases are arising where prison or correctional facility physicians are having either their license suspended to practice medicine or where they are simply being relieved of duty. Many times (such as this case:, doctors are being charged with gross incompetence, and others are being charged with involuntary manslaughter. I agree, that at times, many physicians in the correctional facilities around the country (and world) do not practice under the same standards that regulate federal health care. What remains true, though, is that the life of a prison physician is far from glamorous. Many adverse factors gravely affect prison medical staff, ranging from lack of resources or funding, to the sadly frequent practice that many nation states use: utilizing the prison system as a dumping ground for marginalized individuals and those with mental illness -- the "misfits" of society, if you will. Are prisons places where those who are ill have lost their standing in humankind? Should national medical associations make certain that these physicians have the same requirements for certification as a regulatory practice medical professional?

Most correctional facilities are state-run, with the exception of little dots of private institutions here and there throughout the United States. After some thought, I'm beginning to wonder if the state has a huge bearing on the requirements and performance of correctional facility physician and perhaps even nurses. Additionally, the use of lethal injection is legal in many states. A case a few years ago arose in Washington state where a prison physician resigned because he refused to administer a lethal injection. Whereas the American Medical Association  condemns physicians from having any direct role in lethal injections, including "any action that would assist, supervise or otherwise contribute in any way to cause the death of the condemned" (AMA). My point in bringing this up is that the states that run these places seem to have very little thought in the healthcare of the prisoners and in the ethical guidelines that many doctors believe must be adhered to in correctional facilities.

What do you guys think?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Secret Prison Camps in Baghdad

In this article, Human Rights Watch describes an Iraqi detention center that participated in the active torturing of its ~175 detainees. Up until March 14, 2011, Camp Honor, as it was ironically named, held its prisoners in “horrible conditions” and investigators witnessed evidence of multiple torture techniques. Among other human rights infractions, Camp Honor’s interrogators actively used electric shock intervention all over the prisoners’ bodies, lashed them, placed bags over their heads until they asphyxiated, and hung prisoners upside down for days at a time. Upon the discovery of such conditions, the prisoners were moved to other detention centers in and around Baghdad and Camp Honor was closed.

While these prisoners have been moved from Camp Honor to other detention camps (i.e. Camp Justice), little hope is had as to whether or not the torturous conditions will end. In fact, it would be hard to believe that any progress has been made at all. Human Rights Watch said that, “in response to repeated allegations of serious abuse at Iraqi detention facilities, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki issued a statement on March 19 reiterating that ‘there are no secret detention centers, and all prisons and detention centers are open to regulatory authorities and judicial authorities, which must report any violations found, if any, and notify judicial authorities to take legal action against the perpetrators.’” However a previous report filed by HRW outlined a newly discovered secret prison within one of the detention centers that those from Camp Honor were sent to—Camp Justice. What is more, though, is that this camp, as well as the secret camp within it, are “run by the same forces” that were in charge at Camp Honor—the 56th brigade and the Counterterrorism Service—“both of which report directly to the prime minister” mentioned above. What may not come as a surprise, though, is that the “Counterterrorism Service works closely with U.S. Special Forces.”

While this video is not particularly enlightening, it gives you an idea of where these camps are and what is being done (up until 2:44).

So, is torture within detention centers such as these a never-ending cycle? Will we only continue to uncover more and more of these treacherous places? In regards to our reading last week—of which I am still thinking about quite a bit—this article brings up perhaps some support for Dershowitz’s argument that torture is going to happen, and there is not much we can do about it. I for one still do not buy it. I feel as though this part of Dershowitz’s argument takes a lazy relativist approach: one that dismisses the possibility for change. It is in camps like these, which we have seen plenty of times before, where we need to ask ourselves the question, how? How do we make change? If torture is cultivated by the environmental surroundings of an individual, how do we make that environment change? How do we make these detention centers transparent? And, most importantly, how do we teach the governing officials of these camps what has already been proven: torture does not work? Do you all believe that torture is inevitable?

Do Sweatshops Fight Poverty?

This past weekend I attended a bunch of lectures on campus put on by the Institute of Humane Studies. It was advertized as addressing capitalism and its discontents, however it almost exclusively promoted capitalism and denied its discontents any viable position. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted those who oppose capitalism to have dominated discussion, but I would have made for a more profitable discussion for everyone if both sides had been able to adequately present their views.

One topic in particular really caught my attention. One of the speakers, Benjamin Powell, presented a lecture entitled ‘In Defense of Sweatshops’. I was interested in how Powell would surely redefine sweatshops such that they did not encompass the factories with terrible working conditions and low pay that usually come to mind. However, he did not. In his defense, Powell did stipulate that the sweatshops he was defending did not include those that coerced its workers to continue to work at the factory. The main theme of the entire weekend seemed to be liberty, so uncoerced labor is extremely important. Coercion aside, Powell argued that working conditions in 3rd world sweatshops were actually better than other occupations in 3rd world countries, and that Western companies were actually improving lives. By offering citizens of developing countries better alternatives than what they would have had otherwise, we are effectively making their lives better off.

As the lone philosophy major in a sea of economics and political majors, I did my best to defend the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the rights of sweatshop workers. It was interesting to see the range of responses. Some simply laughed and said that such rights were too ideological, while others argued that such rights actually hurt workers by infringing on their ability to work overtime and make choices for themselves.

The position that enforcing some of these rights in the 3rd world is detrimental to the workers themselves seems to hinge on a very relativistic notion of ‘better off’. The economist argues that if a rational agent ‘freely’ chooses one option over another, then it makes him or her better off. This of course assumes perfect knowledge, as well as a very narrow definition coercion. The economist often uses these terms without defining them properly. However this does not refute the empirical evidence that workers in sweatshops make a considerable amount more than workers working in traditional occupations. Traditional work often is much more labor intensive and overall more strenuous than sweatshop labor. Are Western companies outsourcing jobs actually doing the 3rd world a favor? Is Powell correct in arguing that by spending more money on goods produced by sweatshops we are actually aiding in the fight against poverty?

Here’s a link to Powell’s online article about sweatshops: