A real world Hunger Games

This weekend I was on a hike with some friends/lab mates when we, for some reason, started talking about The Hunger Games. This caused me to remember an extremely surprising (and disturbing) news article about how a company was planning on creating a reality TV show similar to The Hunger Games. Known as Game2: Winter, the online show was quoted as being unrestrictive to contestant conduct. Their posted rules stated that “fights, alcohol, murder, rape, smoking [etc]” would be allowed. The all-volunteer cast would try to survive by any means necessary in Siberia, on a bear infested island, for around 9 months.

BBC article about the game show here (more elsewhere): http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/38342421/russia-does-the-hunger-games-for-real-in-siberia-but-no-guns-are-allowed

It turns out the show was a publicity stunt for organizer Yevgeny Pyatkovsky, with some speculation that the Russian Federation shut the show down. Regardless, the show and its premise will not come to fruition, but what if it had? (it garnered a lot of publicity and volunteers to participate)

In an ethical context, I think the egregious violations proposed by the show (rape, murder, etc) are undeniably unethical if they were to happen in everyday life.

My question is, can someone willingly void their own ethical rights?

Assuming the premise of the shows was continued, would the contestant’s willingness to join a show under the pretenses consistent with the show’s rules void their own ethical protections? Or, should a show like this ever be allowed, assuming all participants were willing?

Personally, I do not think a company, or person should be able to make financial gain through the sale of this type of content. However, I do admit that there are plenty of instances where people’s misery has become monetized, and in many of these cases the victims are not volunteers (just because it happens doesn’t make it right). I am not sure how I feel about a person’s ability to subject themselves to these potential conflicts with other willing participants. Should people be allowed to hurt each other if they all agree that those actions are okay? Is war much different?

I am honestly not too sure, but I found the story to be too far out there to not share, and I am curious if a show like this will ever come around in my lifetime…

60 Minutes and the Opioid Crisis

While catching up on chores around my apartment Sunday Evening ‘60 minutes’ came on CBS and I found the topic to be quite engaging.  The 27-minute segment produced by 60 minutes and The Washington Post is presented below, if you are interested in watching it, and focuses on the opioid crisis; specifically, how congress and the drug industry may have exasperated the issue.

The report hinges around Joe Rannazzsi, a whistleblower, who ran the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Office of Diversion Control. This division is responsible for monitoring, investigating, and regulating the pharmaceutical industry. As Rannazzsi alleges, the drug industry, paid lobbyist, and congress colluded to not curtail the developing opioid crisis, but rather “provide the rocket fuel for a crisis that… has claimed 200,000 lives.”

Article:/Video https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ex-dea-agent-opioid-crisis-fueled-by-drug-industry-and-congress/

I would recommend reading the article and/or watching the video to get the entirety of the story. In brief, Mr. Rannazzisi accuses: 1) drug distributors knowingly pumping unjustifiable quantities of opioid drugs into communities ravished by addiction, 2) drug companies using their power and clout to push back on federal investigations and regulations, 3) drug companies perpetuating the revolving door where top DEA attorneys are bought out and end up working for the same companies they were originally prosecuting, and 4) congress, at the recommendations of lobbyist and former drug company associates, removed the DEA’s power to legally go after wholesale distributors.

The reality is all of these actions, and more that Mr. Rabbazzisi and others exposured during the interview, are worth discussing within an ethical context.

Should drug distribution companies be solely worried about profits or should they take their users general welfare into account?

Should companies be allowed to lobby their corporate interests or buyout politicians?

Should DEA attorneys with intimate knowledge of the methods used to prosecute be allowed to be bought out to protect those same organizations?

Should individuals with conflicts of interest (drug company attorneys, for instance) be allowed to pursue public office and change legislation for personal (or corporate) gain?

Personally, I feel that I find most of the above to be unethical (I feel, regardless of how achievable it is, that those in the health field should care about people’s health and wellbeing, politicians should be less inclined to legislate based on powerful lobbyists, attorneys shouldn’t be bought out and flip sides, and certainly that conflicts of interests should be considered with any public service position) but I am more interested in how others view this case. Thoughts?


As always thanks for reading,


[Ethics] Should You Bring Some Home for Dinner?

I think one of the major things we have not touched on in this class (and in life) is how our personal ethics interplay with our families. We have discussed our professional and ethical obligation to speak up in the face of injustices, at nosism. If water utility A poisons their users with high lead, as an employee/engineer we would (should) feel obligated to put our career on the line to protect the public’s health. We understand, simple. Admittedly hard to do, but still simple to understand.

We have discussed developing our person code of ethics, adhering to them, and trusting them. If we feel something is wrong, we should act to rectify it. However, we commonly relate these situations to businesses, corporations, summer jobs, a shuttle launch, etc. In these situations, it is you and your ethical code vs a manager, a business practice, a co-worker, or maybe even a friend.

The question I have is, do the same rules apply if you are at home? Do you still apply your code of ethics when it is you vs a family member? Whether it be a parent, sibling, or child? And regardless of if you do apply the same code, should you?

I think the largest difference is that we feel that we owe something to our family members, and through this connection I feel it is easy to blur the ethical line even more.

Think back to our discussion on the valet job, and taking money from the owners share to increase the tip jar and each of the valet’s take home pay. One of the largest justifications for turning your co-workers in was ‘I do not owe them anything, I want to stay true to myself and why would I cover up for people I barely know?’, but what if it wasn’t some random strangers. What if your brother or sister was the ring leader? What if he or she had done you a favor by getting you the job in the first place, and only then did you realize what was going on. Would everyone who turned in their coworkers when they didn’t know them do the same if it was their own blood? I personally don’t think everyone would.

Another situation (the one that got my thinking about this in the first place) goes back to my home town, and the recent death of someone I grew up with to a heroin overdose.

We were not close, I was a few years older, and I will keep my opinions about her and the situation largely to myself; though I will say the media’s portrayal may not be entire consistent with my own opinions of the deceased. Regardless, addiction is a terrible thing, but not entirely the point of this example.

For those interested in a back story, here is a link to the media’s take (video and a write up in the article): http://wamu.org/story/17/10/10/drug-cop-daughter-opioids-one-familys-story-addiction/

In brief, a police officer who worked for multiple years on a Narcotics Task Force was faced with a daughter addicted to heroin, among other illegal substances. For a man who was adamant about “doing God’s work” by fervently arresting and “target[ing] everyone with any connection to the drug trade: supplies, dealers, and addicts” his position on drugs both personally and professional could not be more clear. The question I pose goes back to the blurred lines that family can create. It is obvious (whether right or wrong – since addiction likely needs more treatment than just arrests) that Mr. Simmers felt arresting dealers and users was what he should do professionally (and ethically), but yet he doesn’t apply the same reasoning to his own kin, should he? Should he, since he thought it was the best course of action, have arrested his daughter for possession of illegal drugs? Professionally? Ethically?

In the end he didn’t, as I doubt most people would. I think it highlights a unique point that people generally work on developing their personal code of ethics, applying it to their professional work place, and (seemingly) throwing it out in their family lives. This begs the questions, should ethics stop when you clock out, or should you bring ethics home with dinner?

[Should?] Do the Ends Justify the Means?



For me, one of the biggest ethical pitfalls is the idea that if the end justifies the means then the original action is acceptable regardless of it ethical intent.

I think back to our class discussion on altering scientific data to create a new drug. When the scenario was presented with the drug curing a terrible disease and benefiting numerous people, a good number of our classmates said the action was ethical. When the same scenario resulted in a drug causing deadly side effects, many of the same people said it was unethical. This is a prime example about why ethics cannot, and should not, be a results based principal.

Think of the scientist in the moment, he/she does not know how his/her action will play out and he/she is trying to decide to alter their data. Is the action of adding/subtracting data to a study that is supposed to uphold scientific standards ethical? I think the answer is extremely simple, no. Full stop. If you believe it is ethical, I would maybe suggest you consider a different line of work. Not only does falsifying a dataset undermine that individual’s work, but it undermines the cumulative trust we (as a society) place in science.

With that in mind, regardless of how the result turned out, the original action was unethical. You cure cancer? Awesome, you have an extraordinarily great unethical act that will likely be heralded as the greatest advancement in modern medicine, but it was still unethical. You manage to create the plot to ‘I Am Legend’ by turning humanity into ultra-predatory mutants? Terrible, you have an extraordinarily awful unethical act that will likely be heralded as the worst modern medicine has to offer, and in the same vein was unethical from the start. The reality is these cases can and should be judged by their original ethical intent and their subsequent result separately, and the later should never be used to justify the former.

Louis CK, a comedian, has what I think is a pretty dark-but-funny bit called “of course, but maybe” where he essentially provides a commonly held thought, but contrasts it will a ‘funny’ alternative. I think his ‘of course, but maybe’ on slavery highlights my point that ethics cannot be results dependent (but throughout history is).

For those interested in the joke https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVTXFsHYLKA. Beware, the content is dark, and uses adult language. I also do not condone slavery.

The point is, a lot of great things can be (and have been throughout history) accomplished when you disregard an entire group of people’s rights, and ‘throw human death and suffering at it until it is finished.” Do the great accomplishments of slavery make it any less despicable?

If Nazi Germany had cured cancer, or heart disease through their unthinkable experiments during the holocaust, does that make the holocaust ethically or morally acceptable?

I understand that these scenarios are extreme; I think they should be as they serve the purpose of distinguishing the difference between a result and the action that leads to it. At the same time, by considering the ethical implications of ones actions instead of the result that it may or may not lead to, it might be easier to identify smaller ethical pitfalls in your (or my) own life., and may serve to prevent them from becoming larger.

I’d be happy to hear if anyone has a different perspective, or an example to add!

As always thanks for reading,


PS: for more from Louis CK’s ‘Of Course, but maybe’…