A blog from the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics (CRB)

Month: June 2020

Ethical fitness apps for high performance morality

In an unusually rhetorical article for being in a scientific journal, the image is drawn of a humanity that frees itself from moral weakness by downloading ethical fitness apps.

The authors claim that the maxim “Know thyself!” from the temple of Apollo at Delphi is answered today more thoroughly than ever. Never has humanity known more about itself. Ethically, we are almost fully educated. We also know more than ever about the moral weaknesses that prevent us from acting in accordance with the ethical principles that we finally know so well. Research is discovering more and more mechanisms in the brain and in our psychology that affect humanity’s moral shortcomings.

Given this enormous and growing self-knowledge, why do we not develop artificial intelligence that supports a morally limping humanity? Why spend so much resources on developing even more intelligent artificial intelligence, which takes our jobs and might one day threaten humanity in the form of uncontrollable superintelligence? Why do we behave so unwisely when we could develop artificial intelligence to help us humans become superethical?

How can AI make morally weak humans super-ethical? The authors suggest a comparison with the fitness apps that help people to exercise more efficiently and regularly than they otherwise would. The authors’ suggestion is that our ethical knowledge of moral theories, combined with our growing scientific knowledge of moral weaknesses, can support the technological development of moral crutches: wise objects that support people precisely where we know that we are morally limping.

My personal assessment of this utopian proposal is that it might easily be realized in less utopian form. AI is already widely used as a support in decision-making. One could imagine mobile apps that support consumers to make ethical food choices in the grocery shop. Or computer games where consumers are trained to weigh different ethical considerations against each another, such as animal welfare, climate effects, ecological effects and much more. Nice looking presentations of the issues and encouraging music that make it fun to be moral.

The philosophical question I ask is whether such artificial decision support in shops and other situations really can be said to make humanity wiser and more ethical. Imagine a consumer who chooses among the vegetables, eagerly looking for decision support in the smartphone. What do you see? A human who, thanks to the mobile app, has become wiser than Socrates, who lived long before we knew as much about ourselves as we do today?

Ethical fitness apps are conceivable. However, the risk is that they spread a form of self-knowledge that flies above ourselves: self-knowledge suspiciously similar to the moral vice of self-satisfied presumptuousness.

Pär Segerdahl

Written by…

Pär Segerdahl, Associate Professor at the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics and editor of the Ethics Blog.

Pim Haselager & Giulio Mecacci (2020) Superethics Instead of Superintelligence: Know Thyself, and Apply Science Accordingly, AJOB Neuroscience, 11:2, 113-119, DOI: 10.1080/21507740.2020.1740353

The temptation of rhetoric

This post in Swedish

Where to publish and where not to publish in bioethics – the 2020 list

Allegedly, there are over 12.000 so-called predatory journals out there. Instead of supporting readers and science, these journals serve their own economic interests first and at best offer dubious merits for scholars. We believe that scholars working in any academic discipline have a professional interest and a responsibility to keep track of these journals. It is our job to warn the young or inexperienced of journals where a publication or editorship could be detrimental to their career and science is not served.

We have seen “predatory” publishing take off in a big way and noticed how colleagues start to turn up in the pages of some of these journals. While many have assumed that this phenomenon mainly is a problem for low-status universities, there are strong indications that predatory publishing is a part of a major trend towards the industrialization of misconduct and that it affects many top-flight research institutions (see Priyanka Pulla: “In India, elite institutes in shady journals”, Science 354(6319): 1511-1512).

This trend, referred to by some as the dark side of publishing, needs to be reversed. Thus we published this blog post in 2016. This is our fourth annual update (the first version can be found here). At first, we relied heavily on the work of Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado, who run blacklists of “potential, possible, or probable” predatory publishers and journals. His lists have since been removed although they live on in new form (anonymous) at the Stop predatory journals site (SPJ) and they can also be found archived.

The latest effort to create a thorough blacklist comes from Cabells, who distinguish around 70 different unacceptable violations and employs a whole team reviewing journals. These lists are not, however, the final say on the matter, as it is impossible for one person or a limited group to judge reliably actors in every academic discipline. Moreover, since only questionable journals are listed, the good journals must be found elsewhere.

A response of gatekeeping needs to be anchored in each discipline and the scholars who make up that discipline. As a suitable response in bioethics, we have chosen to, first, collect a few authoritative lists of recommended bioethics journals that can be consulted by anyone in bioethics to find good journals to publish with.

For our first post, we recommended a list of journals ourselves, which brought on some well-deserved questions and criticism about criteria for inclusion. Unfortunately then, our list ultimately drew attention from other parts of the message that we were more concerned to get across. Besides, there are many other parties making such lists. We, therefore, have dropped this feature. Instead, we have enlarged the collection of good journal lists to the service of our readers. They are all of great use when further exploring the reputable journals available:

It is of prime importance to list the journals that are potentially or possibly predatory or of such a low quality that it might be dishonoring to engage with them. We have listed all 50 of them alphabetically (eleven new entries for 2019, two have ceased operation and been removed), and provided both the homepage URL and links to any professional discussion of these journals that we have found (which most often alerted us to their existence in the first place).

Each of these journals asks scholars for manuscripts from, or claims to publish papers in bioethics or related areas (such as practical philosophy). They have been reviewed by the authors of this blog post as well as by a group of reference scholars that we have asked for advice on the list. Those journals listed have unanimously been agreed are journals that – in light of the criticism put forth and the quality we see – we would not deem acceptable for us to publish in. Typical signs as to why a journal could fall in this category, such as extensive spamming, publishing in almost any subject, or fake data being included on the website etc., are listed here:

We have started to more systematically evaluate the journals against the 25 defining characteristics we outlined in the article linked to above (with the help of science and technology PhD students). The results will be added when they exist.

We would love to hear about your views on this blog post, and be especially grateful for pointers to journals engaging in sloppy or bad publishing practices. The list is not meant as a check-list but as a starting point for any bioethics scholar to ponder for him- or herself where to publish.

Also, anyone thinking that a journal in our list should be given due reconsideration might post their reasons for this as a comment to the blog post or send an email to us. Journals might start out with some sloppy practices but shape up over time and we will be happy to hear about it. You can make an appeal against the inclusion of a journal and we will deal with it promptly and publicly.

Please spread the content of this blog as much as you can and check back for updates (we will do a major update annually and continually add any further information found).

WHERE NOT TO PUBLISH IN BIOETHICS – THE 2020 LIST

  • Advance Humanities and Social Sciences (Consortium Publisher)
    Critical remark (2018): Behind this journal you’ll find OMICS, the most-ever discussed publisher of this kind, see http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/predatory-publisher-expanding-empire-in-canada. The only article published in 2016 is very badly edited, all the references are lost in the text and the paper would not pass an exam at our departments.  2017 volume is again only one article. The publisher is listed on SPJ.
  • Advances In Medical Ethics  (Longdom Publishing)
    Critical remark (2019): When asked, one editor attest to the fact that his editorship was forged. Publisher was on Beall’s list. A thorough review December 2019 concludes that it exhibits at least 7 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • American Open Ethics Journal (Research and Knowledge Publication)
    Critical remark (2019): Listed on Cabells with 7 violations. A thorough review February 2020 concludes that it exhibits at least 11 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • Annals of Bioethics & Clinical Applications (Medwin Publishers)
    Criticism 1 │ Criticism 2
    Critical remark (2019): Publisher was on Beall’s list and is on many other lists of these journals. They say that they are “accepting all type of original works that is related to the disciplines of the journal” and indeed the flow chart of manuscript handling does not have a reject route. Indexed by alternative indexes.
    Critical remark (2020): Listed on Cabells with 5 violations. A thorough review October 2020 concludes that it exhibits at least 9 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • Austin Journal of Genetics and Genomic Research (Austin Publishing Group)
    Criticism 1 │Criticism 2 │Criticism 3
    Critical remark (2017): Spam e-mail about special issue on bioethics; Listed by SPJ; Romanian editorial member is said to be from a university in “Europe”; Another editorial board member is just called “Michael”; APG has been sued by International Association for Dental Research and The American Association of Neurological Surgeons for infringing on their IP rights. Student reviews concludes the journal is not suitable to publish in, one finding that the journal exhibits at least 16 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
    Critical remark (2019): Listed by Cabells with 10 violations.
    Critical remark (2021): A thorough review concludes that the journals exhibits at least 13 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • British Open Journal of Ethics (British Open Research Publications)
    Critical remark (2019): Listed by Cabells with 6 violations.
  • Creative Education (Scientific Research Publishing – SCIRP)
    Criticism 1 │ Criticism 2
    Critical remark (2017): Listed by SPJ; They claim misleadingly to be indexed by ISI but this relates to be among cited articles only – they are not indexed. A thorough review May 2017 concludes that it exhibits at least 5 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • East European Scientific Journal (East European Research Alliance)
    Critical remark (2017): Listed by SPJ; Criticised by Beall for having a bogus editorial board; Claims to be indexed by ISI but that is not the well-known Institute for Scientific Information (now Thompson Reuters), but rather the so-called International Scientific Indexing. Thorough reviews November 2018 and February 2019  conclude that it exhibits at least 13 or 14 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • Ethics Today Journal (Franklin Publishing)
    Critical remark (2019): Listed by Cabells with 9 violations.
  • European Academic Research (Kogaion Publishing Center, formerly Bridge Center)
    Critical remark (2017): Listed by SPJ; Uses impact factor from Universal Impact Factor (now defunct); A thorough review May 2017 concludes that it exhibits at least 15 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • European Scientific Journal (European Scientific Institute)
    Critical remark (2017): Listed by SPJ; Use of alternative indexes. A thorough review May 2017 concludes that it exhibits at least 9 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • International Journal of Advances in Social Science and Humanities
    Critical remark (2017): Listed by SPJ; Impact factor given by  Global Impact Factor. A thorough review March 2019 concludes that it exhibits at least 10 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • International Journal of Contemporary Research & Review
    Critical remark (2017): Listed by SPJ; Indexed by Index Copernicus; Despite claims they seem not to be indexed by either Chemical Abstracts or DOAJ. A thorough review June 2017 concludes that it exhibits at least 9 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • International Journal of Current Research
    Criticism 1
    Critical remark (2017): Listed by SPJ; Uses IF from SJIF and Index Copernicus and more. It wrongly claims to be indexed by Thomson Reuters, ORCID and having a DOI among other things. A thorough review January 2018 concludes that it exhibits at least 12 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • International Journal of Current Research and Academic Review (Excellent Publishers)
    Critical remark (June 2018): Listed by SPJ and Cabells because of misleading claims about credentials, metrics, and too quick review; alternative indexing; publishes in almost any field imaginable; the editor -in-chief is head of the “Excellent Education and Researh Institute” (sic) which does not seem to exist even when spelled right? A thorough review in December 2019 concludes that it exhibits at least 12 of the 25 criteria for “predatory journals”.
  • International Journal of Ethics & Moral Philosophy (Journal Network)
    Critical remark (2017): Listed by SPJ; Publisher was criticized by Beall when launching 350 journals at once; After several years not one associate editor has signed up and no article has been published; No editorial or contact details available. Thorough reviews in May 2019 and February 2020 conclude that it exhibits at least 10 to 12 of the 25 criteria for “predatory journals”.
  • International Journal of Ethics in Engineering & Management Education
    Critical remark (2019): Papers from almost any field; Claims to have a 5.4 Impact factor (from IJEEE); Indexed by GJIF etc. A non-existent address in “Varginia”, US (sic!); Open access but asks for the copyright; Claims to be indexed in Scopus can’t be verified. Thorough reviews February 2018 and February 2020 conclude that it exhibits at least 16-17 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals. Listed by Cabells with 11 violations found.
  • International Journal of Humanities and Social Science (Centre for Promoting Ideas)
    Criticism 1Criticism 2Criticism 3 │ Criticism 4
    Critical remark (2019): The chief editor listed in April 2014  is a deceased person (2018). A thorough review in April 2019 concludes that it exhibits at least 9 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention
    Criticism 1 
    Critical remark (2017): Listed by SPJ and is on many other lists of blacklisted journals; An IF of 4.5 given by African Quality Centre for Journals; Open access but asks for the copyright; Publishes any subject; Says that the journal is indexed in DOAJ which it does not seem to be. A thorough review February 2018 concludes that it exhibits at least 13 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Research
    Critical remark (2017): Listed by SPJ and Cabells; Claims an IF of 5.22 (by “Research Journal Impact Factor“); Despite title from India; Alternative indexing; Thorough reviews in February 2018 and February 2020 conclude that it exhibits at least 10-13 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences
    Critical remark (2017): Listed by SPJ; Has an amazing fast-track review option for $100 that guarantees “the review, editorial decision, author notification and publication” to take place “within 2 weeks”. “Editors” claim that repeated requests to be removed from the list of editors result in nothing. Thorough reviews in  February and June 2018 conclude that it seems to exhibit at least 7 to 10 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • International Journal of Humanities & Social Studies
    Critical remark (2017): Listed by SPJ; IF from International Impact Factor Services; States that there “is no scope of correction after the paper publication”.
    Critical remark (2018): They write that the “review process will be completed expectedly within 3-4 days”.
    Critical remark (2020): A thorough review in October 2020 concludes that it seems to exhibit at least 7-8 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • International Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues (Jacobs Publishers)
    Criticism 1
    Critical remark (2019): Spamming with invitation to publish. They are unsure of their own name; in the e-mail they call the journal “International Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Affairs“! Publisher listed on SPJ. Editor-in-chief and editorial board are missing. Claims that material is “written by leading scholars” which is obviously false.
  • International Journal of Philosophy (SciencePG)
    Criticism 1 │ Criticism 2
    Critical remark (2017): Listed by SPJ; Alternative indexing and also IF from Universal Impact Factor (now defunct); Promises a two-week peer review. Thorough reviews in April and November 2018 conclude that it seems to exhibit at least 10 or 8 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals and also find obvious examples of pseudo-science among the published articles.
  • International Journal of Philosophy and Theology (American Research Institute for Policy Development) Criticism 1Criticism 2 │ Criticism 3
    Critical remark: A thorough review in June 2018 concludes that “there are grounds to believe that the American Research Institute never intended to create a serious scientific periodical and that, on the contrary, its publications are out-and-out predatory journals.”
  • International Journal of Public Health and Human Rights (Bioinfo Publications)
    Criticism 1
    Critical remark (2017): Listed on SPJ; On many other blacklists and IF from Index Copernicus.
  • International Journal of Research in Humanities and Social Studies (Sryahwa Publications)
    Critical remark (2017): Listed on SPJ; Open access but asks for the copyright. A thorough review in April 2018 concludes that it seems to exhibit at least 9 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • International Journal of Social Science and Humanities Research (Research Publish Journals)
    Critical remark (2017): Listed on SPJ; On their homepage they state that in order to get a high IF their journals are “indexed in top class organisation around the world” although no major index is used. A thorough review in 2020 concludes that it seems to exhibit at least 14 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • International Open Journal of Philosophy (Academic and Scientific Publishing)
    Critical remark (2017): Listed on SPJ and was heavily critized on Beall’s blog; The editorial board consists of one person from Iran; Although boosting 12 issues a year they have published only 1 article in the journal’s first four years; A thorough review March 1 2017 concludes that it exhibits 17 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals and one in March 2019 that it exhibits at least 13 criteria.
  • International Researchers
    Critical remark (2017): Listed on SPJ; Indexed by e.g. Index Copernicus; Claims that it is “Monitor by Thomson Reuters” but is not part of the TR journal citation reports; Several pages are not working at time of review; A thorough review April 24 2017 concludes that it exhibits at least 6 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • Internet Journal of Law, Healthcare and Ethics (ISPUB)
    Criticism 1 │ Criticism 2
    Critical remark (2017): Formerly on Beall’s list.
  • Journal of Academic and Business Ethics (Academic and Business Research Institute)
    Critical remark (2017): Listed on SPJ as well as several other blacklists; Journal seems uncertain about it’s own name, the header curiously says “Journal of ethical and legal issues”.
  • Journal of Bioethics and Applications (Sci Forschen)
    Critical remark (2018): Brand new journal with no articles yet. Publisher has been criticized for spamming more than once, have a bad record at Scam Analyze, and is listed on SPJ.
  • Journal of Clinical Research & Bioethics (OMICS)
    Criticism 1Criticism 2 │ Criticism 3 │ Criticism 4 │ Criticism 5 │ Criticism 6
    Critical remark (2017): This publisher is listed on SPJ and was taken to court for possible fraud by the Federal Trade Commission in the US (and lost). They are listed by Cabells for 8 violations.
  • Journal of Law and Ethics
    Critical remark (2017): Listed on SPJ; Claims to be on Ulrichs but is not; Claims to be in the Norwegian list and can actually be found there but under its former name (4 years earlier) and with 0 points.
    Update 2019: Seems to have moved to here. Security warnings and denied access makes it impossible to check whether it is the same journal or another one.
  • Journal of Philosophy and Ethics (Sryahwa Publications)
    Critical remark (2019): listed by Cabells for 7 violations.
    Critical remark 2020): A thorough review October 2020 concludes that it exhibits at least 11 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • Journal of Research in Philosophy and History (Scholink)
    Criticism 1 
    Critical remark (June 2018): Listed on several lists of predatory publishers. They only do “peer review” through their own editorial board, a flowchart states. They claim to check for plagiarism but the first 2018 article abstract run by us through a checker turned out to be self-plagiarized from a book and it looks to have been published many times over. Unfortunately, the next paper checked in the same issue was also published the previous year by another journal listed here…
    Critical remark (March 2021): A thorough review concludes that it exhibits at least 14 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities (AASCIT)
    Criticism 1Criticism 2Criticism 3
    Critical remark (2019): From law to religion, this journal publishes it all. Though publisher claims to be “American”, it has only two editors, both from India. The list from Cabells includes 13 journals from this publisher. The AASCIT Code of Ethics apparently plagiarizes the INCOSE Code of Ethics.
  • Journal of Studies in Social Sciences and Humanities
    Critical remark (2017): Listed on SPJ; Alternative indexing; Uses several alternative IF providers. A thorough review October 2017 concludes that it exhibits at least 9 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
    Critical remark (2020): A thorough review October 2020 concludes that it exhibits at least 4 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • JSM Health Education and Primary Health Care
    Spamming with invitation to special issue on ‘Bioethics’. The publisher is listed on SPJ,  and criticized and exposed here. It is indexed by spoof indexer Directory of Research Journals Indexing among others (whose website is now gone, BTW).
    Update 2019: Access denied because of non-secure connection.
  • Medical Ethics and Communication (Avid Science)
    Criticism 1
    Critical remarks (2017): Listed on SPJ; Spamming researchers with offer of eBook publication for $350.
  • Nova Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences
    Criticism 1
    Critical remark (2018): This publisher was on Beall’s list; Uses alternative impact factors and indexing; Publishes in less than 30 days; Curiously, it says no fee is charged for publication.
  • Open Journal of Philosophy (Scientific Research Publishing – SCIRP)
    Criticism 1 │ Criticism 2 │ Criticism 3 │
    Critical remark (2021): A thorough review March 2021 concludes that it exhibits 6 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • Open Journal for Studies in Philosophy (Center for Open Access in Science)
    Critical remark (2020): Cabells found 8 violations
  • Philosophical Papers and Review (Academic Journals)
    Critical remark (2017): Listed on SPJ and blacklisted by the Ministry of Higher Education of Malaysia.
  • Philosophy Study  (David Publishing Company)
    Criticism 1Criticism 2
    Critical remark (2017): Listed on SPJ. A thorough review October 2019 concludes that it exhibits approx. 8 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • The Recent Advances in Academic Science Journal (Swedish Scientific Publications)
    Critical remark (2018): Despite the publisher’s name it seems based in India. The only Swedish editor’s existence cannot be verified. Website quality is lacking. Listed on SPJ. A thorough review October 2017 concludes that it exhibits at least 15 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.
  • Universal Open Ethics Journal (Adyan Academic Press)
    Critical remark (2019): listed by Cabells for 7 violations.
  • World Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities (Science and Education Publishing, SciEP)
    Criticism 1 │Criticism 2
    Critical remark (2017): Listed on SPJ as well as many other blacklists. A thorough review may 2019 concludes that it exhibits at least 7 of the 25 criteria for “predatory” journals.

End remark:

In light of recent legal action taken against people trying to warn others about dubious publishers and journals – see here and here, for example – we want to stress that this blog post is about where we would like our articles to show up, it is about quality, and as such it is an expression of a professional judgement intended to help authors find good journals with which to publish.

Indirectly, this may also help readers to be more discerning about the articles they read. As such it is no different from other rankings that can be found for various products and services everywhere. Our list of where not to publish implies no accusation of deception or fraud but claims to identify journals that experienced bioethicists would usually not find to be of high quality. Those criticisms linked to might be more upfront or confrontational; us linking to them does not imply an endorsement of any objectionable statement made therein. We would also like to point out that individual papers published in these journals might of course nevertheless be perfectly acceptable contributions to the scholarly literature of bioethics.

Essential resources on so-called predatory publishing and open access:

Written by…

Stefan Eriksson, Associate Professor of Research Ethics at Uppsala University, read more about his work on publication, regulation and consent.

and…

Gert Helgesson, professor of Medical Ethics at Karolinska Institute.

We like ethics

Autonomous together

Autonomy is such a cherished concept in ethics that I hardly dare to write about it. The fact that the concept cherishes the individual does not make my task any easier. The slightest error in my use of the term, and I risk being identified as an enemy perhaps not of the people but of the individual!

In ethics, autonomy means personal autonomy: individuals’ ability to govern their own lives. This ability is constantly at risk of being undermined. It is undermined if others unduly influence your decisions, if they control you. It is also undermined if you are not sufficiently well informed and rational. For example, if your decisions are based on false or contradictory information, or if your decisions result from compulsions or weakness of the will. It is your faculty of reason that should govern your life!

In an article in BMC Medical Ethics, Amal Matar, who has a PhD at CRB, discusses decision-making situations in healthcare where this individual-centered concept of autonomy seems less useful. It is about decisions made not by individuals alone, but by people together: by couples planning to become parents.

A couple planning a pregnancy together is expected to make joint decisions. Maybe about genetic tests and measures to be taken if the child risks developing a genetic disease. Here, as always, the healthcare staff is responsible for protecting the patients’ autonomy. However, how is this feasible if the decision is not made by individuals but jointly by a couple?

Personal autonomy is an idealized concept. No man is an island, it is said. This is especially evident when a couple is planning a life together. If a partner begins to emphasize his or her personal autonomy, the relationship probably is about to disintegrate. An attempt to correct the lack of realism in the idealized concept has been to develop ideas about relational autonomy. These ideas emphasize how individuals who govern their lives are essentially related to others. However, as you can probably hear, relational autonomy remains tied to the individual. Amal Matar therefore finds it urgent to take a further step towards realism concerning joint decisions made by couples.

Can we talk about autonomy not only at the level of the individual, but also at the level of the couple? Can a couple planning a pregnancy together govern their life by making decisions that are autonomous not only for each one of them individually, but also for them together as a couple? This is Amal Matar’s question.

Inspired by how linguistic meaning is conceptualized in linguistic theory as existing not only at the level of the word, but also at the level of the sentence (where words are joined together), Amal Matar proposes a new concept of couple autonomy. She suggests that couples can make joint decisions that are autonomous at both the individual and the couple’s level.

She proposes a three-step definition of couple autonomy. First, both partners must be individually autonomous. Then, the decision must be reached via a communicative process that meets a number of criteria (no partner dominates, sufficient time is given, the decision is unanimous). Finally, the definition allows one partner to autonomously transfer aspects of the decision to the other partner.

The purpose of the definition is not a philosophical revolution in ethics. The purpose is practical. Amal Matar wants to help couples and healthcare professionals to speak realistically about autonomy when the decision is a couple’s joint decision. Pretending that separate individuals make decisions in parallel makes it difficult to realistically assess and support the decision-making process, which is about interaction.

Amal Matar concludes the article, written together with Anna T. Höglund, Pär Segerdahl and Ulrik Kihlbom, with describing two cases. The cases show concretely how her definition can help healthcare professionals to assess and support autonomous decision-making at the level of the couple. In one case, the couple’s autonomy is undermined, in the other case, probably not.

Read the article as an example of how we sometimes need to modify cherished concepts to enable a realistic use of them. 

Pär Segerdahl

Written by…

Pär Segerdahl, Associate Professor at the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics and editor of the Ethics Blog.

Matar, A., Höglund, A.T., Segerdahl, P. and Kihlbom, U. Autonomous decisions by couples in reproductive care. BMC Med Ethics 21, 30 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12910-020-00470-w

We like challenging questions

This post in Swedish