Welcome to the webpage of Jan Deckers. If you are interested in bioethics and biolaw, you are at the right address.
What keeps Jan ticking is the opportunity to write and speak on the following issues:
Jan welcomes enquiries from anyone who is interested in bioethics (including PhD students), particularly from scholars who wish to cooperate on any of these issues. Further information about Jan's current research can be obtained via the 'Research' tab above. Some of Jan's publications can be accessed freely via the hyperlink in the 'Current work' section.
Lecturer in Health Care Ethics at Newcastle University and member of the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH).
At Newcastle University, Jan is the theme leader for ethics of the recently established Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability (NIReS). He is also a deputy coordinator of the Justice and Governance Theme.
Responsibilities in relation to peer review
• Associate editor, Journal of Bioethical Inquiry
• Peer reviewer for various journals, including: Journal of Medical Ethics, Bioethics, Journal of Moral Philosophy, The Monist, Food Policy, Agriculture and Human Values.
• Peer reviewer for the Wellcome Trust (research grants)
• BA's and MA's in Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Theology (Catholic University of Leuven, 1990-1997)
• PhD Environmental Ethics (University of St Andrews, 2001)
• Fellow, Higher Education Academy (2013)
Honours and Awards
Honourable Mention 2004 Mark S. Ehrenreich Prize for Healthcare Ethics Research for the paper: 'UK Legislation on Embryo Research: Justified or Not?'. Awarded at the 7th World Congress of Bioethics, Sydney, November 2004, by the International Association of Bioethics and the Pacific Center for Health Policy and Ethics at the University of Southern California.
Most of Jan's current work is on the ethical and legal issues associated with the consumption of animal products. To access Jan's articles, use the publications tab. Jan's own versions of most of his publications are freely available via this link:
Jan's work is situated within the School of Medical Sciences Education Development, the Public Health and Applied Health Interventions Research Group of the Institute of Health and Society, and the 'Justice and Governance' theme of the Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability (NIReS), and more specifically within the clusters of 'food' and 'health and environment'.
Recent public and academic engagements include:
- 14 November 2012, Cinema Politica event, 'Dive' film showing and discussion, Newcastle University, Culture Lab, 18.30 hrs.
- 23 October 2012, 'What, if anything, is special about animals?', Presented in 'The Conversation', University of Sydney, Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine (VELiM).
- 22 October 2012, 'Why everyone should support the vegan project, both up there and down under', Presented at the 'Living with(out) Animals: Nonhuman Ethics for the 21st Century' symposium; Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine (VELiM) and the Human Animal Research Network University of Sydney, Darlington Centre conference room, 12.30-17.00 hrs.
- 8 October 2012, 'The farm animal sector and public health ethics', Presented at the ‘Public health, ethics and non-communicable diseases’ symposium, University of Sydney, Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine (VELiM).
- 4-7 July 2012, Minding Animals International, 2nd international conference, Utrecht University.
-19 June 2012, Participant in 4th Tasting the Future Assembly, City Hall, London.
-18 June 2012, Chair (afternoon session) of the 'Human dignity in healthcare' conference, Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Oxford.
- 14-15 June 2012, 'The function of food ethics in the debate on animal experimentation', Animal Welfare, Law and Ethics Conference, Northumbria University.
- 18 April 2012, 'A comprehensive overview and critique of the arguments used in the UK embryonic stem cell debate', Catholic Medical Association UK, Newcastle branch, Catholic Chaplaincy, Windsor Terrace, Newcastle, 19.15-21.15 hrs.
- 22 March 2012, 'Ethical eating event', Medsin, Newcastle, Jack Spratts, 19.00 hrs.
- 13 March 2012, 'Bioethics and brain programming', Newcastle Science Festival, Literary and Philosophical Society, 12.30-13.30 hrs.
- 2 December 2011, 'An Introduction to the UK Vegan Project', Newcastle Animal Ethics and Sustainable Food Policy Conference. A Minding Animals International Pre-conference, Newcastle University. For slides and audio, please visit: http://backdoorbroadcasting.net/2011/12/animal-ethics-and-sustainable-food-policy-a-minding-animals-international/
- 25 September 2011, 'Meat in moderation? Is Fairlie's critique on vegan fare fair?', Friends of the Earth Alnwick at Alnwick Food Festival.
- 15 July 2011, Participant in 'Philosophy in schools: an introduction to philosophy for children' workshop, Sapere, Heythrop College, London.
- 1-3 June 2011, 'La expansión de la ética sobre los animales y el aumento mundial de alimentacion a base de productos de origen animal', XVII Semana de Ética y Filosofía Política (Nosotros y los otros), Congreso Internacional de la Asociación Española de Ética y Filosofía Política, Universidad del País Vasco, San Sebastian.
- 6 November 2010, Talk on the ethics of consuming farmed animal products for BBC 3 Free Thinking Festival, 'Theory Slam' event in the Sage, Gateshead, 3.30 hrs. (A condensed version was broadcast on BBC Radio 3's Night Waves, 9 December 2010. It is available on BBC i-player at www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00wbnxq/Night_Waves_Free_Thinking_2010_The_Joys_of_Failure).
- 2 October 2010, Facilitator for ethics discussion, 'Pharmaware' meeting, Medsin, Newcastle University.
- 30 June - 2 July 2010, 'Negative GHIs and farmed animal products', Presented at 'Global ethics: 10 years into the millenium', 3rd International Global Ethics Association conference, University of the West of England, Bristol.
- 21-22 June 2010, 'Human relations with other animals: The art of stepping outside one’s own story', Paper presented in Bristol Zoo, Conference on 'Beyond exceptionalism: The animal in human explanation', ESRC/MRC Network on 'Understanding human behaviour through human/animal relations'.
- 21 May 2010, 1900 hrs, Contributor to panel discussion on 'The Uninvited' (performed by Ensemble), The Anne Frank Community Cohesion Festival, Woodhorn Museum, Northumberland County Council and The Anne Frank Trust UK.
- 4 April 2010, 1400 hrs, 'Some problems in vegan ethics', Public lecture organised by VegNE, Micklewood Park, Longhirst.
- 27 March 2010, 'What we should do to safeguard the human right to food in 2050', Medsin Global Health Conference on '2050 - A Healthy Future?', Newcastle University.
- 10-12 March 2010, 'What are the ethical issues associated with actual and potential flu pandemics, and how should we resolve them?', International Swine Flu Conference, The Renaissance London Heathrow Hotel, London.
These talks show that Jan's research interests relate mainly to:
1. Public health ethics, law, and the consumption of animal products
2. Animal ethics and law
3. The ethics and law of embryo research
4. The ethics and law of abortion
1. Public health ethics, law, and the consumption of animal products
The GHI (Global Health Impact) concept plays a pivotal role in Jan's bioethical theory. The GHI is a unit of measurement that evaluates the impacts of human actions on the health of all biological organisms. The theory is introduced in an article (Negative 'GHIs', the Right to Health Protection, and Future Generations. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 2011, 8(2), 165-176) wherein Jan argues that the negative GHIs of many people who live today violate the right to health protection of future generations. Consequently, it is argued that many people must reduce their negative GHIs so that they do not exceed their fair share.
Current work focuses on evaluating the negative GHIs on public health associated with the consumption of animal products.
The negative GHIs of the farm animal sector in relation to human hunger are explored in: Does the consumption of farmed animal products cause human hunger?. Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition 2011, 6(3), 353-377.
The negative GHIs of the sector in relation to human disease are examined in: Could some people be wronged by contracting swine flu? A case discussion on the links between the farm animal sector and human disease. Journal of Medical Ethics 2011, 37(6), 354-356.
The negative GHIs of the sector in relation to climate change and a range of other environmental issues are the subject of two further papers: Should the consumption of farmed animal products be restricted, and if so, by how much?. Food Policy 2010, 35 (6), 497-503; Justice, Negative GHIs, and the Consumption of Farmed Animal Products. Journal of Global Ethics 2011, 7(2), 205-216
Last but not least, the policy options that are available to curtail the negative GHIs associated with the consumption of farmed animal products are discussed in: What Policy Should Be Adopted to Curtail the Negative GHIs Associated with the Consumption of Farmed Animal Products?. Res Publica 2010, 16(1), 57-72.
2. Animal ethics and law: The vegan project
In 'Vegetarianism: Sentimental or Ethical?' (Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics; full details and link in publications) Jan engages with the common charge that the feelings that motivate vegetarians in their dietary choices would be sentimental. Including a discussion of the positions of Singer and Regan on the ethics of vegetarianism, it is argued that neither of our two most renowned animal ethicists hit the nail on the head on this issue. Jan argues for 'minimal moral veganism', a position that demands that many people ought to adopt vegan diets in many situations. This vegan project is developed further in two papers on 'Should Whiteheadians be vegetarians?' (Journal of Animal Ethics, 2011, issues 1(1) and 1(2)). It is defended against important charges that have been made against such a project in 'In defence of the vegan project' (Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, in press). Whereas the vegan project may seem at odds with the law on the use of animals, Jan has argued that this project is actually consistent with European legislation on the use of animals for research. See J. Deckers, The New EU Directive on the Use of Animals for Research and the Value of Moral Consistency. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, on-line first, DOI 10.1007/s11673-012-9400-0: See http://download.springer.com/static/pdf/253/art%253A10.1007%252Fs11673-012-9400-0.pdf?auth66=1352055414_5a5e4366053c52234adbb0a684fd1fcf&ext=.pdf
3. The ethics and law of embryo research
The paper 'An Analysis of the Arguments Underpinning UK Embryonic Stem Cell Legislation on the Embryo’s Status' (Journal of Stem Cells 2007, 2 (1) 47-62) is Jan's most recent contribution to the debate on embryonic stem cell research. It engages directly, and comprehensively, with the arguments on the status of the embryo that have been used in UK Parliament and in the reports published by their chief advisors in the debate on embryonic stem cell research preceding the introduction of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulations 2001.
4. The ethics and law of abortion
A paper with the title 'The right to life and abortion legislation in England and Wales: A proposal for change' was published in Diametros (2010, 26, 1-22). It argues for a radical overhaul of the law on abortion in England and Wales.
Jan is an Associate Fellow of the Graduate School of the Faculty of Medical Sciences. Together with Derek Bell (Politics), Jan supervises a PhD project by Cristina Fernandez-Garcia on the ethical issues associated with human genetic enhancement.
Current work is most directly related to the project on 'Deliberating the Environment: Scientists and the Socially Excluded in Dialogue' (Project grant funded by ESRC Science in Society Programme; Project team: Derek Bell, Mary Brennan, Jan Deckers, Tim Gray, Nicola Thompson): We explored the potential of a novel institutional mechanism, the ‘deliberative exchange’, to facilitate mutual learning between two disparate social groups. We defined a ‘deliberative exchange’ as a one-to-one deliberation between two persons from different social groups facilitated by a researcher in which the participants work collaboratively to consider and address important ethical and policy issues. In this pilot study, the participants were persons from low income households and academic scientists. Each participant participated in a series of deliberative exchanges in which he or she was invited to discuss different environmental issues. The project had two related aims. Firstly, to explore the potential of the deliberative exchange as a method for facilitating and studying mutual learning between individuals with different backgrounds and experience. Secondly, to study the process of deliberation between persons from low-income households and academic scientists and the effects that such deliberation has on the participants.
Medical undergraduate curriculum:
Ethics: Ethics and Genetics, Common Ethical Issues, Impaired Newborn, Confidentiality, Truth Telling, Ethics of CPR, Autonomy at the End of Life, Unborn Human Life, Errors, Transplantation.
Communication Skills and other aspects of PPD (Personal and Professional Development) Strand: Introduction to Communication Skills, Active listening, Critical Appraisal Skills, Gathering Information, Valuing Diversity, Critical Appraisal of Pharmaceutical Literature.
Module leader Bioethics (MRes in Medical and Molecular Biosciences)
Provision of ethics teaching for MSc in Public Health and Health Services Research and MSc in Social Science and Health Research
Various workshops for postgraduate students: on 'Introduction to Bioethics' (Faculty of Medical Sciences Graduate School training programme); and on 'Personal and Professional Ethics' and 'Environmental Ethics' (Faculty of Science, Agriculture, and Engineering Graduate School; Postgraduate researcher development programme)
CPD Staff Development Unit: Ethics of Research and Research Supervision
Postgraduate and postdoctoral students at Universities of Newcastle, Northumbria, Durham, Teesside, and Sunderland: Contributor to module 'HSS8010: Research Ethics in a Wider Context'
The following list of questions has been developed to provide learning aids that might help those who wish to use Jan’s writings (available free through the hyperlink in the 'Current work' section) in educational contexts (tertiary and secondary education).
Ideas have been organised around three themes: A. the consumption of animal products; B. embryo research and abortion; C. genetics.
A. THE CONSUMPTION OF ANIMAL PRODUCTS
1. What will be the relative share of greenhouse gas emissions from the farm animal sector if data are extrapolated from recent studies to the year 2050?
2. How could sustainability indicators help to address the moral question of whether the consumption of farmed animal products should be restricted?
3. Why might it not be sufficient to rely on sustainability indicators alone to address the question of this article?
4. How is the concept of ‘externality’ defined and what does a case study from the UK show about the externalities associated with the different diets that are compared?
1. How is the concept of negative GHI defined? What is the benefit of having such a concept?
2. Why might a total ban on the consumption of farmed animal products not be acceptable?
3. What are the benefits and the disadvantages of the option to raise the prices of farmed animal products?
4. What is your view about the argument for a qualified ban?
1. Why might some people think that vegetarians are sentimental?
2. Should there be a place for sentiments in ethics?
3. What might be good reasons to adopt vegetarianism in some situations? Why might some vegetarians be inconsistent?
4. Why might even vegan diets demand that some animals are killed in some situations?
B. EMBRYO RESEARCH AND ABORTION
1. What is the name of the report that helped to shape the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, and what do you think of its claims?
2. Should young human embryos be used for research on the basis of the view that they may not be able to feel pain?
3. Should young human embryos be granted moral status?
4. What are the eight arguments used by members of Parliament and their advisory bodies to justify extending embryo research around the turn of the century? Do you agree with them?
1. Define moral absolutism, moral relativism, and Pyrrhonian moral scepticism?
2. Which of these positions do you favour, and why?
3. Are those who subscribe to ‘the F view’ irrational?
4. What are the arguments that have been developed to counter Brock’s claim that ‘the F view’ is inconsistent?
1. How has the claim that it is highly probable that little embryos will die early been used in debates about embryo research, and what do you think about the claim?
2. What is meant by the ‘Embryonic Stem Cell Lottery’? Do you think the argument justifies embryo research?
3. What are the arguments developed to counter the claim that early embryos are like lottery tickets?
4. Which argument about a famous violinist did Thomson develop, and how is the argument used here?
1. What do you think about the House of Lords’ Select Committee’s attempt to justify embryo research?
2. What is meant by ‘sentience’? Do you think sentience is relevant to determine moral status?
3. Describe the four arguments from potentiality that are discussed? What do you think of them?
4. What is ‘egalitarian speciesism’? Do you agree with it?
1. What are the arguments that have been used by UK policy-makers and policy advisors to reject the view that GM is unnatural? What do you think of these?
2. Why did some interviewees reject the view that GM is unnatural?
3. Why did some interviewees hold the view that GM is unnatural?
4. Do you think that the benefits associated with GM technologies are significant enough to endorse these technologies?
1. If you are a geneticist or a GP, what is the dilemma in relation to carrier identification (theme 1)?
2. What are the ethical issues raised by pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and human reproductive cloning (theme 2)?
3. What are the ethical issues raised by amniocentesis (and other methods that aim to establish a prenatal diagnosis) (theme 3)?
4. What are the ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cell research (theme 4)?