The Ethics of Gene Theft

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I was reading more about surrogacy online, and as so often happens on the internet, I found myself interested in a different, yet somewhat related topic I had never heard about before- the ethics of gene theft. In this article, bioethicist Jacob M. Appel explains that gene theft involves acquiring someone's DNA, usually from a public area, without his or her consent. Given the ease of genetic testing, which requires only minute samples of DNA to produce accurate results, DNA can be harvested from numerous objects that the source comes into contact with such as hairbrushes, drinking glasses, or items of clothing. Although many of the motives behind gathering DNA without permission are malicious in intent, there are also benign reasons for doing so. Questionable to nefarious motives include acquiring DNA to challenge paternity, prove infidelity, and identifying private medical conditions or susceptibilities. However, stealth DNA testing can also be used by amateur detectives to investigate cold cases or by historians to examine genetic links for historical figures in unwilling descendants. According to the article several states including Minnesota allow for civil lawsuits by the person whose genes have been stolen, and the United Kingdom has criminalized genetic testing on any human samples without the source's consent. Appel argues that national legislation should be created to prohibit nonconsensual genetic testing due to the havoc the genetic information could create.

I think that gene theft is an interesting issue that will likely become a major concern as DNA testing becomes cheaper and more easily accessible to the average person. At the core of the issue is whether a person continually owns the DNA (or the information contained within it) that he or she leaves behind in public places. I find it to be uncontroversial that someone's DNA taken from a private residence is wrong because it is stealing in the same way as if a thief had instead taken a computer from the person's house. But when someone leaves behind DNA at a supermarket or restaurant, is it still owned or is it left like garbage at the end of a driveway- free for anyone to dig through and use? A major difference between garbage and DNA is that a person willfully throws out garbage whereas most DNA is left behind without anyone's consent due to human physiology. So then to me the problem becomes more similar to whether it is okay to take a laptop or ipod that someone has seemingly lost. Both the laptop and the DNA are unintentionally left behind and are of at least relatively great value to its original owner. If the laptop were a pair of mittens or a dollar bill, I think most people would call 'finders keepers' possibly due to the virtual impossibility at finding the item's actual owner. But when the item is of larger value, I think that most people feel that at least some attempt should be made at finding the item's rightful owner and would feel wrong in just keeping it. If this were translated back to DNA, one would need not to feel any obligation to return the item, but due to its high value should feel wrong by using without consent. I think another way to look at gene ownership is as an extension of medical information ownership. Currently, and I think rightfully, an individual owns all of his or her own medical information and no doctors, nurses, or otherwise can give out that information. I remember how much these laws were stressed when I volunteered at the Fairview Medical Center. As far as I can remember, it is only okay to anonymously discuss patient's conditions with others. If DNA is seen as a portable extension of medical information then it too would be wrong to delve into without its owner's permission.

If, however, gene testing without consent is made illegal I wonder what impact it will have for the scientific community and for law enforcement. I think that scientists would be able to gather DNA for testing in mass quantities that they would unlikely be able to do if consent was needed, and from this they could advance human knowledge. Also, if nonconsensual gene testing were illegal, it seems that law enforcement authorities would need a warrant in order to DNA test material at crime scenes, which could hinder or slow the resolvement of cases. Plus, there may well be other legitimate or innocent reasons one might want to test DNA without an owner's consent. Given these concerns and my previous reasoning, I think that DNA is probably owned by its producer no matter where it is left behind, but I'm not one hundred percent sure I think it should be made illegal to test without consent, especially since the malignant uses likely involve other things that are already illegal- such as crime scene tampering.


Appel, Jacob M. "'Gene-nappers,' like identity thieves, new threat of digital age." New Haven Register, 5 Nov 2009. Web. 23 Dec 2012. http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2009/11/05/opinion/doc4af258b842a6d983291505.txt?viewmode=default

The article "Commodification and Commercial Surrogacy" by Richard J. Arneson raises many of the same criticisms and concerns of Elizabeth Anderson's "Is Women's Labor a Commodity?" as I had in the previous blog post, but the author also brings up several points that I had not considered. Arneson argues that commercial surrogacy (CS) is not "baby-selling" because one cannot truly own a child in the same sense that one can own a toothbrush, house, or vehicle. With property the owner has the legitimate right to dispose of it or use it as desired. However, as I touched on in the previous post, with one's pets or children one does not have any right to dispose of them or use them to any end, and instead is required to provide at least a level of basic care. Also, all persons involved in an exchange must consent to the exchange, but since an infant cannot consent the transaction necessarily requires some regulation to ensure that the child is not wrongfully harmed.

Another interesting point that Arneson raises is that Anderson's argument fails to identify why women's labor is unique in regards to being a noble labor where performance for pay is degrading. Many other types of work considered to be noble are also regarded as appropriately done in exchange for money. Its seems to me that work as a doctor is a noble pursuit which is not considered particularly degrading when done for pay. So are there significant differences between the two labors? I'm not really sure, birthing a child definitely seems more physically and emotionally invasive than a doctor's average daily work would be. Is that enough of a distinction? Again- maybe, but I do wish Anderson had illustrated exactly why she considers women's noble labor to be uniquely degrading. Arneson then points out that Anderson fails to explain, that even if women's labor is degrading, why it is necessarily subject to moral condemnation and possibly legal prohibition. I find this to be a strong point because in cases where the general welfare of both the SM and the child are maintained (by either a fair and reasonable contract or government regulations), I see no reason why the degradation of the SM should result in justifiable moral condemnation. Even if such a scenario is less "good" than an ideal situation, that does not necessarily make it morally reproachable.


Arneson, Richard J., "Commodification and Commercial Surrogacy" in What's Wrong: Applied Ethicists and Their Critics, ed. David Boonin and Graham Oddie (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 340-345.

"Is Women's Labor a Commodity?" by Elizabeth S. Anderson

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In "Is Women's Labor a Commodity?," Elizabeth S. Anderson argues that commercial surrogate motherhood is morally wrong because it treats both women and children as commodities to be produced and sold, which is an inappropriate valuation of persons. Anderson begins by assuming that slavery is wrong because it devalues persons worthy of respect and instead treats them as commodities to be bought and sold and valued only for their usefulness. She argues that this may be the appropriate way to produce and distribute things or items, but is wrong when applied to persons who merit respect independently of their usefulness to others. Next Anderson goes on to explain why she finds commercial surrogate motherhood to treat both surrogate mother and child as commodities. In the case of the child, Anderson says that in the case of commercial surrogacy the surrogate mother exchanges the child for money which amounts to selling the child. And in Anderson's words, "To sell a child is to treat it as a mere commodity... as if it were of value only for its usefulness to others... [and it] fails to value the child in the way he or she should be valued..." (331). In the same way, Anderson finds that the surrogate mothers are also valued as commodities because the pregnant women is not "treated in a manner that fully respects her own perspective on her pregnancy" as is the case under typical circumstances. Instead, how the woman is treated is based upon economic forces and viewed as an "incubation machine" rather than a person (331). Anderson concludes that due to the commoditization of the surrogate mother and child, commercial surrogate motherhood is morally wrong and, furthermore, should be made illegal.

To put it bluntly, I disagreed with almost every aspect of Anderson's argument. To start off, I think that the author came to the table already biased against the issue. For instance, she describes the practice of commercial surrogate motherhood as being a contract involving three parties: "the intended father, the broker, and the surrogate mother" (334). Yet this is usually not the case because with the intended father is often an intended mother. I think Anderson's may have left out this important member in order to make it seem as though the surrogacy contract is a power struggle between two men (if the broker is also a man) and a woman in need of money. However, this is more speculation about the author's possible hidden intentions to garner sympathy on part of the reader than a solid case against the argument itself.

An important problem with Anderson's argument is commercial surrogate motherhood (from now on CSM), is the comparison to commoditization in the same way that slaves are devalued as persons. There is a huge difference between slavery and CSM because slaves do not get the choice to be a slave and neither do they get compensated for their efforts. Surrogate mothers do, however, have the choice to be SMs, the choice to back out of the process when the seriousness of the agreements are put forth by lawyers, the social workers, the prospective parents, and common sense, and they have the choice to be compensated for their efforts or to do so for only the costs involved. The SMs are not forced into the agreements nor are they "manipulated," as Anderson maintains, since they are made aware of the circumstances before freely agreeing to them or choosing to decline to go through with the process. Anderson says that "To respect a person is to treat her in accordance with principles she rationally accepts- principles consistent with the protection of her autonomy and her rational interests" (337). I maintain that SMs (minus ones with mental or emotional incapacities who ought be screened out) have rational interest for choosing to become surrogate mothers because they otherwise would not choose to become one. To think otherwise is to deny a SMs ability at rational thought or ability to weigh factors of self-interest, in other words, to deny the very concept of personhood that Anderson argues SMs should have. I think that this article devalues women by assuming that they don't have the mental capacity to choose what is right for themselves and to do as they wish with their own bodies, including taking on emotional and physical risks for financial/emotional/altruistic incentives.

Another issue I have is with Anderson's assumption that even the SMs and the children are bought and sold as commodities, that they necessarily lose rights in the process and are devalued as persons. She says "... widespread acceptance of commercial surrogacy... would change the way children are valued by people... from being loved by their parents and respected by others, to being sometimes used as objects of commercial profit making" (336). Pets are bought and sold on a regular basis, yet they maintain some basic rights and are no less loved by good owners than if they pet had come to them freely. In the same way, the children born from SMs will be loved and cared for by qualified potential parents. The only reason most parents would consider this arduous and expensive route to have their child is because for some medical reason they failed to get pregnant themselves. Even if the parents had questionable or selfish motives for choosing to have the child, this is no different a situation than if they had had the ability to get pregnant themselves. Once the child is with his or her parents, the same rules and laws apply as with all children: the child must be reasonably be cared for and not neglected or the parents risk having the child removed from their care. Furthermore, the SM is not truly "selling" the baby to the potential parents, but giving the child to them with money as an incentive to deal with the intensive process. This is the same as in the case of plasma donations, where the donor is also compensated. The money provides an incentive for SMs or plasma donors to choose to go ahead with the process, without which there would likely not be enough to meet demand.

I think the strongest point of Anderson's argument is that because pregnancy is an intensely intimate situation it is possible for the SM to develop gestational ties or bonds with the baby and thus may wish to void the agreement with the potential parents and keep the infant. I agree that this situation is definitely problematic since it is natural for a mother to be emotionally bonded to her offspring and taking the child away, even if the SM agreed to it, seems potentially wrong or at least unnatural. However, I do agree with contracts and as the SM is made aware of the situation and of possible emotional ties ahead of time, I do feel that she should keep to the contract or pay for all of the costs that went into the arrangement. I think it is an incredibly difficult situation, but at the same time there are other intense situations where an individual makes a serious choice that they must live with. For instance, kidney donation too is a highly emotional, physically intense process that may reduce life expectancy. But even though the seriousness is the same as with CSM, there are no backsies with kidney donation. Plus, this whole issue may well be a relatively non-issue because according to a 2002 study by the Family and Child Psychology Research Centre SMs rarely have difficulty relinquishing rights to a surrogate child (see below for citation). This study was conducted 12 years after Anderson wrote her article, so she may be forgiven for lacking this information, but even if there were some cases in which the SM developed emotional ties, this would first support the argument for stronger screening methods for SMs who can handle the extreme situation and for better training of emotional detachment methods rather than immediate illegality of CSM. To further oppose Anderson's assumptions about the horribleness of CSM, the same study also found that the intended mothers showed greater warmth to the child than mothers conceiving naturally. Another study found that there was no negative impact on the SM own children and another found that that SMs felt empowered after going through the process rather than traumatized as Anderson assumed (see below for citations).

I think for me personally, my slight aversion to SM is that there are already so many unwanted children in the world, that it seems that instead of going through the challenging process of CSM the want-to-be parents should adopt. Of course adoption too is a lengthy, emotional, and expensive process so it is not saving the prospective parents anything on that regard. But it is not the parents fault that they cannot conceive a genetically related child naturally, so if it was fair to make them adopt rather than create new life, then it would only be fair that all parents be forced to adopt rather than procreate. This, of course, would be crazy and impossible, and it is evolutionarily understandable that people have a natural desire to care for their own genetically related children. Those who are willing to adopt are doing a commendable service. But perhaps if the adoption process were streamlined and less expensive, more families would choose to expand via adoption rather than through a surrogate.


Elizabeth S. Anderson, "Is Women's Labor a Commodity" in What's Wrong: Applied Ethicists and Their Critics, ed. David Boonin and Graham Oddie (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 333-340.


MacCallum F, Lycett E, Murray C, Jadva V, Golombok S (June 2003). "Surrogacy: the experience of commissioning couples". Hum. Reprod. 18 (6): 1334-42

British Fertility Society Press Release, Surrogacy does not have a negative effect on the surrogate's own children, Study:Children of surrogate mothers: an investigation into their experiences and psychological health], Susan Imrie, Vasanti Jadva, Susan Golombok, Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK retrieved 1/17/2012

Teman, Elly (2010). "Birthing a Mother: The Surrogate Body and the Pregnant Self". Berkeley: University of California Press.

"The Land Ethic" by Aldo Leopold

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Aldo Leopold's "The Land Ethic" was written in 1949, yet surprisingly and somewhat sadly- much of it is still very relevant today. Leopold defines an ethic as being "a limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence" or a "differentiation of social from anti-social conduct" (38). He maintains that an ethic of the land would not prevent the alteration or use of our 'resources', but it would affirm their right to continued existence and would change the role of humans from conqueror to citizen. He argues that at the time land use ethics were consisted entirely of catering to economic self-interest, which tends to ignore or destroy many elements of of biotic importance. Furthermore, this way of thinking about land tends to relegate to government many large functions which are too complex to be effectively regulated. Because of this, Leopold insists that an internal ethical obligation on part of the private landowner is the only way in which land can be conserved.

I think Leopold presents a strong and convincing argument. Even still it seems that people feel little to no ethical obligation toward land, especially that which is privately owned. Based upon my own un-empirical observations, people seem to feel that they have the right to manipulate their property at their own whims and desires and only feel that such a thing is wrong when their neighbors do something similar. At one point in the article Leopold mentions, however, that people have no economic incentive to preserve things such as wildflowers. I think here Leopold fails to consider that many people do have some incentive to preserve these things because of many people's intrinsic value of pretty things in nature, such as birds, wildflowers, and waterfalls. If people did not value nature at all our nation's national parks would receive far fewer visitors than they currently do. However, in general Leopold is correct in saying if there is any greater economic incentive than our value of nature, nature will likely be the loser- especially in cases of things in nature perceived as being ugly like beetles, swamps, and naked mole rats. I also agree with Leopold that unless society experiences an internal change where ethical conduct toward land is seen as being important and necessary, little is likely to change because land management and conservation concerns are too vast for our government to effectively regulate (and to monitor the effectiveness of those regulations). For instance, civil rights laws have not eradicated racism, but people's internal changes have made many people come to feel that people of differing races, sexes, and nationalities should be treated fairly and equally. In the same way, perhaps government environmental regulation could help motivate internal ethical change, but it would not prevent current and future land abuses. This leaves one with trying to figure out how to get people to feel an ethical responsibility toward the land. In the article, Leopold mentioned the education system's failure in creating an environmental ethical regard and I while agree with his sentiments about the current system, I do think that changes to the system could bring results. My interest in preserving the environment stems from my enjoyment of being in it while hiking, traveling, and nature watching. So, perhaps if children in schools were allowed more time outside and on field trips to natural locations they would feel more inclined to preserving what is there because their enjoyment of nature provides a greater incentive to do so. Their higher regard for the land would then be passed on to their children and so on, until it becomes a given that the land should be nurtured and respected.


Leopold, Aldo. "The Land Ethic" in Environmental Ethics, ed by Andrew Light and Holmes Rolston (Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2003), 38-46.

In the last post, I agreed with Peter Singer and Jim Mason's argument that we should choose foods which have a lower environmental impact. Anna Lappe maintained, in Diet For A Hot Planet, that one way to eat with a lower carbon footprint is to eat locally grown and produced foods. She found that these foods require far less energy input because they did not need to travel all the way across the country or even around the world just to get to the consumer. However, Mason and Singer point out that just eating locally is not as straightforward of a solution as seems at first glance. Some local vegetables are grown with heat, which uses more fuels than transporting them, even a great distance from warming regions. Also, locally produced foods are often delivered in small quantity to many different markets, which could use as much fuel as a large truck hauling a great amount of food. Else wise it is the consumers who must travel to the outlying local farms, which again can use more fuel instead of the one-stop shopping at a supermarket. Another consideration, although not environmental in nature, is that buying non-locally produced food often means that a consumer is supporting farmers in far away countries who are likely to be less well off than local farmers. Even a small increase in income to those in poverty would have a great impact to improving their quality of life. Thus, in stark contrast to Lappe's conclusion, Singer and Mason reason that buying local is too simple of a principle to provide sound ethical guidance.

I found the contrast in conclusions between the two books to be very interesting because it highlights the complexity involved in finding ethical solutions to the problems facing food sources and their production. In this disagreement, I find Mason and Singer's argument to be highly compelling and more thoroughly researched than Lappe's. However, when produce is grown in-season by local farmers or in a home garden, the emissions savings would definitely win out over buying local and one would then need to decide if this is more beneficial than supporting impoverished third-world farmers. Plus another benefit to buying locally is that consumers would get the chance to see and become more involved in the food production, which as I pointed out in the first posting of this series, factory farms actively seek to prevent. I think that the complexity involved in eating ethically may be a reason why consumers simply take the easy route of eating whatever they desire. It simply becomes too complicated to sort between contrasting opinions, some of which are generated by the factory farm companies, that arise everyday, kind of like with medical studies showing that red wine is both healthy and unhealthy. But even when potential solutions (such as to global warming) are relatively simple (such as reducing meat intake) consumers still fail to take action. So unless enforceable regulations are passed or factory farming companies actually take responsibility for environmental damage they are causing and pass the costs off to consumers by way of increased prices, everything will likely remain the same.


Singer, Peter and Jim Mason. The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. Rodale Books, 2007. Print.

Lappe, Anna. Diet For a Hot Planet. New York: Bloomsbury, 2010. Print.

Another major ethical concern facing what we eat is the food production's environmental impact. In The Ethics of What We Eat, Jim Mason and Peter Singer find that the production of a number of different foods cause environmental concerns, including factory farm's meat production, some fishing methods, genetically engineered foods, and palm oil production. Of these meat production seems to be making the biggest negative impact. Mason and Singer find that one direct cause of pollution from factory farming is from the huge amount of manure chickens, pigs, and cattle produce. So much is made that farmers cannot work all of it back into cropland soil and the extra runs off into wetlands, lakes, and rivers where it creates algae growth that suffocates aquatic life. Poorly contained manure can also potentially devalue surrounding property, cause air pollution, and taint local resident's water supplies. Cows and pigs also create significant amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, thereby causing about 2.5% of the total effect of greenhouse gas emissions (206). One interesting note regarding emissions is that in Diet For A Hot Planet, Anna Lappe recommended farmers transition to organic and free range farming, but Singer and Mason found studies which show that these methods actually increase the amount of methane that the animals produce, due to their increased digestion of high fiber grass and hay. This would seem to be a point in favor of factory farming, except that the corn used in factory farming has more energy input than the grass and hay which grows naturally for the free range cattle, so perhaps this would equal out emissions or push it in favor of organic and free range beef.

Mason and Singer note that the reason these companies are able to make their products so cheap is because they are not responsibly paying for the pollution and environmental damage incurred. Instead, local fishers, homeowners, etc. are the ones paying the price in terms of damaged property and recreation areas. I don't know enough about environmental law, but it seems as though lawyers should be constructing numerous cases against these polluting farms and companies. With enough homeowners winning major cases against these polluters, there would seem to be enough of an incentive for the companies to prevent further damage on their own even without laws and regulations in place. However, since this seems not to be the case, I fully agree with the authors that consumers ought to refrain from purchasing these products because of the environmental damage they are causing. I think it is interesting that if companies were to take a longer term view on earning profit, it would be in their best interest to maintain the environment since the animals and their food sources need quality living and growing spaces- yet the companies are content with gradually degrading the areas and using high energy, expensive fixes like synthetic fertilizers. This makes me think that the best view a farmer could have is that he or she is a steward of the land, like Anna Lappe said, who is simply maintaining and utilizing it for future generations.


Singer, Peter and Jim Mason. The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. Rodale Books, 2007. Print.

My parents didn't do much cooking while I was growing up. So when I left for college and started doing a lot of cooking and baking on my own, I would sometimes be incredibly surprised at what someone can make on their own, no food factory required. Take pasta, for instance, it is suppose to come dry out of a box, right? Who would have thought that someone could just take some flour, water and eggs and make fresh pasta right at home? I think our country's industrialized food has made it easy and cheap to get food fast, but it also makes it a rather thoughtless process, where foods like pasta are just kind of magically made and delivered to your local grocery store. So when I first read The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter by Peter Singer and Jim Mason a couple of years ago, I awoke to the fact that ethics could even concern something like food. Growing up, I had always had a low meat diet, partially because I didn't like a lot of it and partially because I loved animals. Reading Singer and Mason's book finally made me take the relatively small leap (since I wasn't eating much meat anyway) to becoming a vegetarian. After reading Anna Lappe's Diet for a Hot Planet recently, I realized that I still have quite a bit of room for improvement in my own eating ethics and decided to revisit The Ethics of What We Eat.

This book takes the reader to the grocery store with three different families and then looks into the ethical concerns regarding their choices. The first is the stereotypical american 'meat and potatoes' family; the second are the 'conscientious carnivores' who buy organic, limit the amount of meat, and overall pay pretty close attention to what they buy; the last family are vegans. Singer and Mason delve into many issues throughout the book, including eating locally, buying organics, fair trade, environmental sustainability, factory farms, and humane raised animals. For each of these topics the authors present information and evidence in order to draw ethical conclusions. Over the next couple of blog posts I will present some of the ethical topics that the authors presented as well as their conclusions and evidence.

One major concern about the meat products that are produced, is about how humanely the animals were treated and killed. Both Singer and Mason have written about the poor treatment of factory farm animals in previous works. They've found that in order to produce meat cheaply, factory farms keep large amounts of animals densely packed together, typically with no access to pasture, meaning that the animals have little room to move around, behave in normal ways, are more susceptible to diseases and thus need more antibiotics, and are generally uncomfortable. The animals discomfort increases as they make their way to slaughterhouses where they are packed even tighter together, mishandled, and then killed without the certainty of even being unconscious. Even reading the accounts of how the animals are treated makes me feel rather sick and uncomfortable, and the authors note that if these farms and slaughterhouses had glass walls more consumers would likely become vegetarians. Singer and Mason argue that if one cares about the treatment of these animals, consumers ought to at least buy certified humanely raised meat products. However, even these animals can be subject to mistreatment, and beef cattle are subject to the same slaughterhouses as factory farmed ones due to regulations. This would bring one to eating no meat. But, the authors point out that egg laying chickens often suffer worse conditions than do 'broiler' chickens, and that dairy products are still produced from cows living in densely packed, uncomfortable conditions, further ruling out these products from an ethical diet.

I obviously find Singer and Mason's argument to be compelling since it originally led to my becoming a vegetarian and I would like to decrease my use of dairy and egg products. Their main argument is simple: factory farmed animals are treated poorly; if you care about their well being don't eat them. Despite this the vast majority of people are not vegetarian, vegan, or only eat humanely raised animals. If I try to talk to my parents about it, for example, they simply say that they don't want to think about it and change the subject. So perhaps people refuse to acknowledge how animals are raised because it would be inconvenient to them by either not being able to enjoy meat at all or facing the higher humanely raised meat prices. It seems almost doubly unethical to me that not only do many people not want to stop the inhumane treatment of factory farmed animals, they want to pretend that it is not happening. But then again, perhaps many people were like I was with pasta, and think that the food magically gets from pasture- no harm done or ethics involved.


Singer, Peter and Jim Mason. The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. Rodale Books, 2007. Print.

Diet For a Hot Planet by Anna Lappe

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In the book Diet For a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do about It by Anna Lappe, the author argues that modern food production methods, especially for meat, are huge factors contributing to global warming and that people should exchange their current food consumption habits for more environmentally sustainable ones. The International Panel on Climate Change lists agriculture at contributing just 13.5% of total global warming emissions, but Lappe points out that that the emissions due to our food system are really a bigger piece of the pie, including part of the emissions from transport, commercial buildings, waste, and forestry. Livestock in particular are significant emitters of greenhouse gasses due to their methane emissions from the animals and their waste, the energy use of feedlots and processing plants, large amount of fertilizers needed for the large amount of crops for animal feed, etc. Lappe argues that changes in agricultural methods could greatly cut emissions rates by, for example, raising meat from free-range cattle, switching to organically grown produce, and keeping food more local. All of these things reduce reliance on energy, especially oil, allowing them to produce fewer global warming gasses and to continue to be effective even as oil becomes more scarce and its costs rise. Lappe also takes time to discuss companies use of 'greenwashing' techniques to sell products that are not truly environmentally friendly and a section for consumers on making sustainable food choices.

Overall, I agree with Lappe's main argument: modern agriculture significantly contributes to global warming and we can and should make changes to production methods to decrease our impact. However, I think some of Lappe's ideas are idealistic, impractical, inflexible, and contradictory. For instance, throughout the book she condemns large companies for their failure to take responsibility for their own emissions and for trying to hide their poor environmental practices from consumers. However, she still condemns them even when they do attempt to reduce their impact by investigating the use of genetically modified plants and using methane digesters in order to produce energy from livestock waste. I agree with Lappe that genetically modified plants have the potential to do more harm than good and that producing energy from livestock waste is still not sustainable in the long run in terms of global warming, but I do think that these ideas are a step in the right direction and deserve some credit. At very least they could be used until some other more sustainable ideas could be implemented. Concerning sustainable ideas for agriculture, I found Lappe to offer few except ones requiring complete overhauls of the current system- in other words changes that would be least likely to actually be accepted by food producers, politicians and farmers. I think if she really wanted some change for the better, she would be more accepting of any ideas to better the system, especially if people were willing to embrace them.

An area where I think the author is over optimistic given the evidence is with the yields and efficiency of organic farming. Lappe cites studies which have not been peer reviewed and published in academic journals which support her conclusion that yields are nearly the same as conventional farming methods with less use of energy input, even though published studies also existed which have conflicting conclusions. For instance, this study found a 20% smaller yield from organic farms using 50% less fertilizer and 97% less pesticide. This study found that organic apple production is more energy efficient while this (1) one found that organic apple and potato production was less energy efficient than conventional methods. Finally, this long-term study found that crop yields were 20% lower in organic systems while fertilizer plus energy input was 34% to 53% lower. My conclusions based off these studies are that organic farming may be very promising in reducing energy requirements, but more land may be required for cultivation due to the lower yields, which could increase emissions in itself. Overall, more study seems to be needed- not the head first jump into complete agricultural overhaul that Lappe recommends.

In one section, Lappe argues that the transport of foods should be reduced in order to curb emissions and she provides this humorous example: "When Fiji [bottled] water ads boasted, 'FIJI, because it's not bottled in Cleveland,' that city ran tests that compared it with municipal samples. It turned out that Fiji water fared worse; it contained arsenic as well as higher levels of contaminants." I wholeheartedly agree with Lappe that bottled water and transported foods that could easily be produced locally is both wasteful and unnecessary. However, I think these examples bring up an important issue that Lappe doesn't discuss, but is always on my mind when considering environmental issues: is there any way to get consumers and businesses to stop wasteful, unsustainable practices without reducing their freedom with rules and regulations? Consumers of bottled water and plastic grocery bags only seem to stop when cities and countries ban their use. Despite this, to me personally it seems wrong to limit an adult's choice as long as it doesn't harm someone else, even if the choice is misguided or mistaken. Yes, the pollution and global warming overall is bad for everyone, so in a way buying bottled water is a source of harm, but to me this is a very different sort of harm than say hitting one's neighbor in the face. Also, there could be a legitimate circumstance where someone really does need to buy bottled water- perhaps the city water went stopped working, or they needed a large stock for a trip to Mexico, in which the ban causes negative unintended consequences. In the case of businesses, environmental problems often do direct harm to people and property, such as with waste mismanagement, and I think those types of issues should be better handled in court by forcing the companies to pay the consequences for their actions. If the judicial system worked well in that manner, companies would have strong incentives to avoid pollution on their own. Perhaps better environmental education would benefit people by making them more aware of the impact of their purchases. Yet this seems unlikely since basic education is already lacking for many people in the US, and adding another area would be unlikely to help.


Lappe, Anna. Diet For a Hot Planet. New York: Bloomsbury, 2010. Print.

1. Pimental et al. (1983). "Energy efficiency of farming systems: Organic and conventional agriculture". Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 9: 359-372.

"Active and Passive Euthanasia" by James Rachels

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Should a patient with terminal cancer who is in tremendous pain be allowed to stop treatment and die? Many people think that allowing this patient to die is not morally wrong, but, at the same time, they condemn the administration of a powerful drug to the patient which would cause death and ease suffering. Allowing someone to die by withholding treatment is passive euthanasia. Active euthanasia, on the other hand, is taking deliberate action to kill a patient. James Rachels, in "Active and Passive Euthanasia," claims that an act of killing, in itself, has to be either morally worse, better, or equivalent to an act of letting someone die, in itself. He maintains that everyone will agree that killing is not morally better than letting die, and thus killing is either morally equivalent or worse. Now assume, for a moment, that killing is worse. If it were the case that killing is always worse than letting die, then there would be no instance where killing is equivalent to letting die in a barely different situation. But, as will be shown, there is a case, the Smith and Jones case, where killing is equivalent, so it cannot be assumed that killing is worse than letting die. Thus, in this argument, Rachels maintains that an act of killing, in itself, is morally equivalent to an act letting die, in itself, and he calls this the Equivalence Thesis. In order for Rachel's argument to be substantiated, the Smith and Jones case must be thoroughly investigated.

Rachels presents the Smith and Jones cases as a pair of stories that will be briefly retold here. Smith will gain a large inheritance if his six-year old cousin were to die. One night when his young cousin is taking a bath, Smith goes into the bathroom and drowns the child. In a highly similar scenario, Jones too stands to gain a large inheritance if anything were to happen to his six-year old cousin. So Jones sneaks into the bathroom one evening while his cousin is taking a bath, planning to drown the boy. However, Jones finds that the boy has slipped into the bath and is already drowning. Jones does not save his cousin; instead he stands by and watches the boy, prepared to push his head back under the water if need be, but the boy drowns to death by himself with no help from Jones. These two situations are presented to be the same in every way, except that Jones 'merely' lets his cousin die while Smith actively kills his cousin.

The Smith and Jones case is an example a 'bare difference' argument. The application of this technique involves examining a pair of cases that differ in only one respect. Thus, in the Smith and Jones case, this one distinction is that Smith actively kills his six-year old cousin while Jones passively lets his six-year old cousin die. Other differences in the story, such as Smith and Jones having different names, are not relevant to the bare difference argument because they could, for instance, have had the exact same name without changing the situation, and thus this 'difference' is merely intended to aid the reader in differentiating the situations. Rachels intends to make the reader question whether or not the case of killing, in itself, is truly worse than letting die, in itself, by using the bare difference scenario. If letting die, in itself, is not deemed to be worse than killing and from the Smith and Jones case killing cannot be deemed to be worse, in itself, than letting die, it must be the case that killing and letting die are morally equivalent.

Rachels uses the Smith and Jones case in order to substantiate his claim for the Equivalence Thesis, which says that it is logically possible for killing to be morally equivalent to letting die in certain situations. He reasons that his readers will consider the two barely different cases to be equivalent, or equally morally bad, because both Jones and Smith have the same intent to kill their young cousin if need be. Due to sheer luck (on Jones' part), Jones does not have to go through with the actual murder, which Smith carries out. Since Jones intends to kill his cousin and does not save him when it was clearly within his power, the reader is to conclude that Jones is just as bad as Smith, or that Smith, at very least, did not act worse than Jones. Once the reader concludes that the two acts in this case are indeed morally equivalent, the remainder of Rachels' argument resumes: since no one would consider killing to be better than letting die and since the Smith and Jones case presents an example where killing is not worse than letting die, the two acts must be morally equivalent because there are no other moral possibilities. Thus, the Smith and Jones case helps to substantiate the central argument for Rachels' Equivalence Thesis. The implications of this Equivalence Thesis to euthanasia are that in any case where it is morally permissible to allow an individual to die from disease, it would also be morally acceptable to administer a dose of a drug that would actively kill that person.

I find Rachels' argument to be persuasive and I do think that euthanasia should be a legal option for patients suffering from pain due to disease. I think in many cases of morality intentions play a huge role in determining whether something is right or wrong. So even though death and killing are always unfavorable, the intent in euthanasia is not exactly death itself, but to escape from pain. Death is unfortunately the only way to achieve the intended result for some people. My main concern with legal euthanasia is that family members could influence or hasten the patient's choice of euthanasia in order to achieve their own ends- like coming into inheritance faster, or avoiding further costly hospital bills. I'm not sure that family influence could ever be completely avoided unless the patient completely avoided contact with them, which could in itself cause one to choose euthanasia due to loneliness. Overall though I think it is wrong to force someone who wants to die to remain living in pain.


Rachels, James. "Active and Passive Euthanasia" in What's Wrong: Applied Ethicists and Their Critics, ed. David Boonin and Graham Oddie (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 46-50.

"Thomson on Abortion" by Baruch Brody

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In "Thomson on Abortion" Baruch Brody poses an objection to Thomson's conclusion that a woman would always be morally permitted to terminate a fetus' life in self-defense. He argues that, in a case where the mother will be able to survive only if the fetus is aborted or the fetus will be able to survive but the mother will die, the person who is allowed to live and the one to die ought to be determined by fair and random chance rather than a decision just based upon the woman's wishes. He reasons that if chance determines that the woman should be allowed to live, abortion is morally permissible because one life would be lost regardless. Abortion would also be morally acceptable, he argues, in a similar case where both the woman and the fetus would die if nothing at all is done because one life could be saved instead of losing two. But, he says, it cannot be the case that abortions based purely on self-defense are justifiable because in a related case where two people are in a life raft and one contracts a survivable disease that would, however, kill the other person if he or she were to catch it, it is not morally permitted to kill the disease carrier. Brody's view is not as strict as the Extreme View that Thomson presented because there may be some conceivable cases in which abortion is permissible, but it does indicate that a woman is not morally justified in obtaining an abortion simply because her life is threatened.

I believe that Thomson would respond to Brody's objection by readily agreeing that in a
case where both lives could be lost that terminating one life so the other can survive is certainly better than losing two individuals. However, that is not to say that the determination of who is to live should be based on a flip of a coin. As such, no hung jury is allowed to resort to chance in a murder trial to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant because doing so simply from a lack of an appropriate means to determine between the two verdicts undermines the pursuit of justice. Thomson would argue that the woman ought to have the right to deal out death to either herself or the fetus because she should have control over her own body. In other words, since the fetus makes use of the woman's body and not the other way around, the woman should be able to choose what happens to it even if it results in the termination of the fetus to preserve her own life.

I think that Brody would respond to this rebuttal by saying that the woman's ownership of her own body is not relevant in a case where either the woman or the fetus will die because the choice is between saving the life of the woman or that of the fetus and since there is a life at stake this trumps bodily rights. By Brody's view the woman's life is equally valuable to the fetus' life, a life for a life in other words, and each deserves a fair chance at being allowed to live. Thomson would fully give the decision to the woman, but this would fail to recognize the fetus' equal right to life, that Thomson recognizes when she bases her argument for the permissibility of abortion on a premise that acknowledges that the fetus is a human person.

To this, perhaps Thomson would say that although both the fetus and the woman may be persons with some right to life, those rights are not equal to one another as Brody states. The woman still ought to have the right to choose to terminate the fetus not only because her body is her own, but because of the comparable amount of suffering on her part is much greater than that of the fetus. Brody's recommendation seems to devalue any experiences and knowledge that the fully grown human woman has acquired to date and does not take into account the suffering that the woman can experience that the fetus is incapable of feeling. The woman, being a fully developed human, we know has thoughts and abstract desires for and about living her life while the fetus is unable to contemplate such thoughts. Therefore, by forcing a woman to roll the die or flip the coin, or even having someone else do it, she must deal with the suffering that would result by contemplating a death that she does not desire: her own. On the other hand, although the fetus may be a person, it is not a person that can suffer extra, as in the case of the woman, by being faced with its own death. Thus, the woman ought to be able to choose for herself whether or not to terminate the fetus in self defense to avoid the loss of her valuable experiences and thoughts and to avoid the extra suffering that will result by facing her own death.


Brody, Baruch. "Thomson on Abortion" in What's Wrong: Applied Ethicists and Their Critics, ed. David Boonin and Graham Oddie (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 99-101.