PHT402: The last independent act?

This is my fifth contribution to a series of weekly posts related to the #pht402 Professional Ethics course. This week’s topic asks if assisted suicide is ever OK? I thought it would be an interesting question to ask health care professionals and students what they thought about the possibility of a legal framework that enabled the possibility of assisted suicide.

dying with dignity

Until I watched this documentary that Marna shared, I believed that my thinking was pretty fixed with regards the topic of assisted suicide. Terry Pratchett explores assisted suicide as something that he is considering as a result of having Alzheimers. It’s a wonderful video that is at times sad and at times uplifting and empowering. What I liked most about the documentary was that several different alternatives were explored. It didn’t feel like an advert for Dignitas and didn’t try to glorify the act of assisted dying. I felt it was an honest and authentic exploration of the topic, which made me think that perhaps I’m not as committed as I thought I was.

cq4e889cf3However, instead of getting into the details of the topic and considering that this is the last week of the course, I’m going to cheat a bit and dodge this last topic. Perhaps what I offer instead will be a bit more provocative and off-the-beaten-track. In a few years time many of the questions that were raised around assisted dying will be replaced by others that are no less controversial – probably more so. I believe that in a few years we’ll figure out a way to cheat death, either through finding a cure for aging (see video below) and most other illnesses through the medical application of nanotechnology, or by moving our minds from a carbon-based substrate (i.e. a brain) to a silicon-based substrate (i.e. a computer). So, I’m not worried about losing the function of my physical body. It’s my mind that is most important to me and I hope that by the time my body is ready to go (assuming we haven’t cured aging by then) I’ll have a chance to upload my mind onto another platform.

PHT402: What is the value of a human life?

This is my fourth contribution to a series of weekly posts related to the #pht402 Professional Ethics course. This week’s topic is specifically about torture, but the general principle concerns the rights of the individual vs the rights of society, as well as asking about the relative value of a human life.

free-humanityI’m going to begin by answering the question in the title: “It depends on who’s life you’re talking about”.

When preparing this course I thought that the topic of torture could be used to move a conversation beyond the specific example of torture and look at the broad principle, which concerns the rights of an individual human being weighed against the rights of society. Or, to put it another way, how do we ascribe value to human life? I hadn’t really considered the possibility of a physiotherapist being asked about a patient’s physical condition in order to determine whether or not they could be hurt by someone else. It shouldn’t have surprised me though, since in South Africa we have a long history of our medical profession being complicit in human rights abuses that include torture (as highlighted in one of the readings for this week).

Even though the topic of torture has been questioned as part of this course, I think that the principles that emerged from the week’s discussions are relevant to other areas of our practice. For example, how many lives is one life worth? What value do we place on human lives? Are all human lives valued the same? These questions bring us back to the idea of equality and morality. Are we all equal? In what ways are we equal? How different are our boundaries of what is “right” and “wrong”? Is torture ever the “right” thing to do? The United Nations says it never is. But, there are times when your personal morality might say that torture absolutely is necessary. Wendy expressed this nicely when she asked about actions that may be morally wrong but which are morally justifiable.

I think that these are interesting questions that don’t need to be answered, but talking about them may help us to figure out some things about ourselves.

Naom makes two good points in her post, which are that your thinking around this topic is influenced by how you value human life, and whether the value of lives from those within your group is higher than those outside of it. As noble as we like to think we are, we do inherently place more value on certain lives than on others and this is where the importance of context comes in. My daughter’s life is more valuable to me than any other child in the world because she is my  daughter. She doesn’t need to have any special skills, knowledge or potential in order for me to value her more. As much as I like to think that we’re all equal, I have to acknowledge that we don’t all have the same value.

Um’r makes the point that for thousands of years, human beings have consistently looked for more and more ingenious ways to inflict pain and suffering on each other. He also links this week’s topic back to the questions of equality and morality, and then goes on to day that as much as each of us may abhor violence towards others, he asks how far he would go in order to protect those closest to him. This is challenge, to live the life we believe is right, even when faced with difficult choices. If every life is equal (Janine has a simple exercise that explores this), then torture can never be OK.

In the comments on Janine’s post there’s a question about how age could be a deciding factor in determining if a life could be sacrificed to save others.  In one context, age may be an appropriate reason to sacrifice a life but not in every context. For me, this is one of the most difficult skills that we need as health care professionals…the ability to modify our decision making processes depending on the unique context we find ourselves in. There are no universally correct answers to morally ambiguous situations.

Everyone I’ve read so far has focused on the military use of torture, but what about the other reading that briefly looked at the use of torture (or at least complicity in it’s application and cover up) by medical professionals? Tony has explored this by asking how medical professionals can be involved in torture.

I think that one of the most interesting aspects of Week 4s topic has been the emergence of side topics…conversations that were peripherally associated with torture but which became something else. Discussions about the value of life, morality, equality, moral boundaries, etc. all began happening in the comment threads, which was great to read. I think it really highlighted one of the benefits of a course with weak or flexible boundaries and participant-led discussion.

Finally, I’m going to point you to Chantelle’s blog, where she did a great job in relating the week’s broad topic to the South African context, as well as providing a reflective overview of the posts from Week 4. She opened her first post with this quote and I’m going to end with it:

The argument cannot be that we should not torture because it does not work. The argument must be that we should not torture because it is wrong.

Strategic blogging in the PHT402 Ethics course

This post is intended for the participants in the #pht402 Professional Ethics course who would like to take a more strategic approach to their blogging. By using a few strategies suggested here, you may find that it’s easier to make the best use of your time when preparing your posts for the course.

One of the difficulties you may come across when blogging regularly is finding the time to regularly reflect and write for this course. Since this module is allocated a slot on your timetables, I suggest that you use that time to work on the course. Even if you don’t have regular internet access, you could use the time to read content that you’ve downloaded, make notes, draft reflections, and discuss the topics with your peers on campus. The point is to put aside time in the week to focus on the module and then use that time effectively, even if you’re not actively blogging.

However, when you do sit down in front of the computer, you want to make sure that you spend your time writing, rather than trying to figure out how to use the platform. Remember that even though the course is designed so that you can progress through the topics at your own pace, there is still an endpoint and it doesn’t make sense for you to spend time on the technical aspects of blogging. There is no one keeping track of what you’ve done and when you did it so you will need to create your own schedule for working and then take responsibility for keeping to that schedule. The more familiar you are with using WordPress, the more likely it is that you can use your time effectively. Here is a screenshot of the Posts page, highlighting the common elements that you can use to manage your posts.

Posts ‹ -usr-space — WordPress - Mozilla Firefox_005
Screenshot showing some of the important areas in the index of posts, which you can use to more effectively manage your writing.

I strongly suggest that you begin drafting your reflective posts as soon as you can. Create draft posts for each topic (see image below) immediately and then work on those drafts over time. Every time you visit your blog, open your drafts and add new ideas, links to resources, links to other participants’ blog posts, images, etc. When you read something in the WordPress Reader and you want to incorporate it into your next post, copy the link to the post you want to reference and paste it into your draft. This way you can build up your reflective posts over time, rather than feel like you have to write it all overnight. You’ll also find that your thinking may change as you engage with others, and that something you wrote a weeks previously doesn’t feel quite right anymore. The Save Draft button is in the top right corner of the post.

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Use the Quick Edit feature of WordPress to make simple edits to the elements of your post without having to load the whole page (see image below). This feature becomes visible when you move your cursor over the post title in the index of posts. You don’t have to click anything to make it appear, just hover your mouse over the text to bring up the menu, and then click on Quick Edit.

Screenshot showing the different post elements that can be edited using the Quick Edit feature.
Screenshot showing the different post elements that can be edited using the Quick Edit feature.

I often find that when I’m in a writing frame of mind I can get through two or three posts in one sitting. Or, I write the posts on the weekend or late at night, which is when most of the subscribers to my blog are probably away from their computers. Since I want to make sure that as many people as possible read my posts it doesn’t make sense to publish them at those irregular times. In cases like that, you may want to schedule your posts so that they’re published at certain times or on certain days.

Considering that you want as many people as possible to read your posts, you should consider linking a Twitter account to your blog. This would allow WordPress to automatically push your blog posts to your Twitter feed, which would increase the chances of the post being seen and read by your followers. It also means that your Twitter followers could Retweet the original tweet, thereby increasing exposure to your post.

Another aspect of the course that you may find is taking up a lot of time is interacting with other participants. When I comment on someone’s blog posts, I always tick the “Notify me of follow up comments” box. This means that when someone responds to something I’ve said, I get an email that lets me know. However, there’s another way to do it. There’s a notification icon in the top right hand area of your blog, which is coloured orange when you have notifications. See the screenshot below for an idea about how to quickly respond to comments.

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That’s it. Just a few suggestions that may help you to be more productive with your blogging and to make effective use of your limited time.

Navigating the WordPress Reader interface for PHT402

This post is is for the #pht402 Professional Ethics course participants who are using WordPress Reader.

Hi everyone. For those of you who are using WordPress Reader to follow the posts of other participants, I thought I’d annotate the Reader interface to highlight the components that you might find useful when it comes to interacting with other course participants. Note that Commenting on their posts is one way that you can engage with them, but that Liking and Reblogging are also good.

Highlighting the main components of the Reader interface
Highlighting the main components of the Reader interface

Obviously if you’re using Feedly, Netvibes or any other RSS reader then this post doesn’t apply to you. I recommend using the WordPress Reader because you’ll be able to do your reading and writing all in one place.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-10-19

  • Career Advice: Decentralized Work: Inside Higher Ed (“work is not where you go, it’s what you do”) http://bit.ly/efY46 #
  • Guide to Field Blogging | Virtual Canuck (links to presentation on blogging metaphors…quite interesting) http://bit.ly/1VR1hB #
  • Emerging tech Africa – Online course by Siemens at Wikiversity, addressing concerns & opportunities of tech in Africa http://bit.ly/43LXtF #

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