School of Medical Education

Staff Profile

Jan Deckers

Senior Lecturer in Bioethics

Background

Welcome

Jan Deckers teaches and researches in ethics and law. His main areas of expertise lie in these topics:

·      methods of ethical reasoning and critical appraisal

·      global health impacts

·      the human use of other animals

·      human embryo research

·      human reproduction

·      health impacts of climate change

·      the provision of feedback

·      the use of AI for moral enhancement

·      leadership

·      naturalness

·      genetic engineering

·      factors that influence inequalities in health

·      deliberative reasoning

Jan has reviewed for journals and funding bodies on many aspects of ethics and law (see ‘Peer review policy’ below), is an associate editor for the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry (largely dealing exclusively with articles submitted under the rubric of ‘research ethics’) and an International Editorial Advisory Board member of Diametros.

Jan has organised several conferences, including an international conference on the ethics of lab-grown flesh and enhanced animals, funded by the Wellcome Trust, and held on 18-19 September 2014. He is also a Jiscmail list owner for a mailing list on ‘animal ethics’. It aims to develop the field of animal ethics by sharing information about relevant conferences, funding opportunities, academic publications, and jobs. Scholars can also use the list to request help with academic writing and teaching. Feel free to contact Jan to subscribe.

News

Thanks to a grant from the Wellcome Trust, digital versions of Jan’s book ‘Animal (De)liberation. Should the Consumption of Animal Products Be Banned? London: Ubiquity Press, 2016’ can be read free of charge from http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/bay

Several scholars have reviewed the book. A recent review is available at: http://www.ebibliotekos.com/2019/08/banning-meat-consumption-book-review-by.html

A reply to some early reviews can be read in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jep.12807/full

Broadcasts

- The podcast of the Café Politique talk held on 4 December 2017 at Blackwells (Newcastle) is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPwPuHLByKU

- The film 'Animal (De)liberation: Should the Consumption of Animal Products Be Banned?' was shown for the first time in UK cinemas on 13 January 2017 at Northern Stage, Newcastle, as part of a series of screenings organised by Cinema Politica. It was released publicly on 9 November 2017, at https://vimeo.com/177529077

- 'The morality of angling'. Contribution to the 2017 ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) Festival of Social Science. See https://fishingforanswers.wordpress.com/ (introduction and menu) and direct link for Jan's thoughts on angling: https://fishingforanswers.wordpress.com/2017/09/14/5/

- 'The ethics of in-vitro flesh and enhanced animals': a conference on this theme, convened by Jan and funded by the Wellcome Trust, was held on 18-19 September 2014. The audio-visual materials were produced by Andy Fanning, Web Development Officer, Learning & Teaching Support Unit, Medical Sciences Faculty Office, Newcastle University. The audio-visual recordings and powerpoint slides can be accessed here: http://interactive.ncl.ac.uk/case/195/1/7/view/

- 'An Introduction to the UK Vegan Project', presented at the 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/

- Talk on the ethics of consuming farmed animal products for BBC 3 Free Thinking Festival, 'Theory Slam' event in the Sage, Gateshead: A condensed version (2 mins) was broadcast on BBC Radio 3's Night Waves, 9 December 2010. It is available on BBC i-player from 38 mins 30 sec. in the programme at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b00wbnxq 

Peer review policy

Jan only reviews for journals that adopt a 'wide open access' (WOA) approach. This approach consists in peer-reviewed journals being prepared to publish all articles that survive scientific scrutiny through an appropriate peer-review process, regardless of the author's ability or willingness to pay. Ideally, papers submitted by those authors who cannot or will not pay should also be published as 'open access articles'.  

Qualifications

• BA's and MA's in Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Theology (Catholic University of Leuven, 1990-1997)

• Teacher Training Programme (Catholic University of Leuven, 1995)

• PhD (University of St Andrews, dissertation title: ‘The Scientific Basis for an Ecological Ethic in the Context of Process Thought’, 2001)

• Fellow, Higher Education Academy (2013)

Research

I. Research interests

To access Jan's articles, either click on the publications tab or read Jan's own versions of most of his publications, which are freely available via this link:
http://eprint.ncl.ac.uk/author_pubs.aspx?author_id=84981.

 

Jan welcomes enquiries from anyone who is interested in bioethics, including PhD students, particularly from scholars who wish to cooperate on any of his topics of expertise.

 

II. Current work

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 the article Negative 'GHIs', the Right to Health Protection, and Future Generations. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 2011, 8(2), 165-176. In this paper, 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.

Recent work, facilitated by a grant from the Wellcome Trust, focuses on evaluating the positive and negative GHIs associated with the human consumption of animal products, partly by comparing traditional with more novel versions, including ‘lab-grown flesh’. The most extensive treatment is in the book ‘Animal (De)liberation. Should the Consumption of Animal Products Be Banned? London: Ubiquity Press, 2016’, available at http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/bay

A recent chapter compares the negative and positive GHIs of people who consume animal products in different socio-ecological contexts, notably the Maasai and Scots. It will be published as: Deckers, J. Could Ecologically Sound Human Nutrition Include the Consumption of Animal Products?, in: Joan Sabate (ed). Environmental Nutrition. Connecting health and nutrition with sustainable diets. Elsevier, 2019, in press.

Another chapter focuses in particular on the role played by novel technologies, including lab-grown flesh. See: Linnea Laestadius, Jan Deckers, and Stephanie Baran, Food crimes, harms, and carnist technologies. In: Allison Gray and Ronald Hinch (eds.). A handbook of food crime. Immoral and illegal practices in the food industry and what to do about them, Bristol: Policy Press, 2018, chapter 18.

Using the example of Australia, the negative GHIs of the farm animal sector in relation to obesity are examined in Obesity, Public Health, and the Consumption of Animal Products. Ethical Concerns and Political Solutions. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 2013, 10(1), 29-38.

The negative GHIs of the 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

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. The use of AI for moral enhancement

Work in this area has been developed through collaboration with Francisco Lara, Universidad de Granada. Some have suggested that genetic biotechnologies could and ought to be used to make human beings more moral. We consider that these proposals are problematic. However, we argue in this paper that the use of another new technology, AI, would be preferable to achieve this goal. Whilst several proposals have been made on how to use AI for moral enhancement, we present an alternative that we argue to be superior to other proposals that have been developed. For our proposal to develop a Socratic assistant for AIenhancement, see: Lara F, Deckers J. Artificial Intelligence as a Socratic Assistant for Moral Enhancement. Neuroethics 2019, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12152-019-09401-y

 

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) presents Jan's most comprehensive account on 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. The article has been reprinted, and is available from http://tinyurl.com/pws6coy

 

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 proposes amending the law on abortion in England and Wales. It can be accessed here: http://tinyurl.com/pvbhsxg

 

5. The ethics of deliberation, and genetic engineering

In a project on 'Deliberating the Environment: Scientists and the Socially Excluded in Dialogue' (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. 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. The final report can be read here: http://www.ncl.ac.uk/cre/publish/pdfs/rr05.01b.pdf

Participants’ views on genetic engineering are published in: https://eprint.ncl.ac.uk/70417

 

III. Postgraduate supervision

Jan was the main supervisor for a PhD project by Cristina Fernandez-Garcia on the ethical issues associated with human genetic enhancement. Cristina completed this project successfully in 2018.

Teaching

Undergraduate Teaching

MBBS: Ethics (e.g.: 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 Personal and Professional Development (e.g.: Introduction to Communication Skills, Active listening, Critical Appraisal Skills, Gathering Information, Valuing Diversity, Critical Appraisal of Pharmaceutical Literature).

MPharm

CMB 1006: Practical Skills in Biomedical and Biomolecular Sciences

CMB 2000: Essential Biomedical Research Skills

BMS 3022: Bioethics

 

Postgraduate Teaching

MMB 8100: Research Skills and Principles for the Biosciences

HSC 8040: Health and Health Care Policy (for MSc in Public Health and Health Services Research and MSc in Social Science and Health Research students)

MCR 8001: Research Governance and Ethics

MSc Physician Associate Studies

MSc 8001 MSc in Clinical Science

ONC 8008: Ethical Dimensions of Cancer/Palliative Care

HSS 8010: Research Ethics in a Wider Context (Postgraduate and postdoctoral students at Universities of Newcastle, Northumbria, Durham, Teesside, and Sunderland)

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

 

Some pedagogic aids

The following list of questions has been developed to provide learning aids that might help those who wish to use some of Jan’s writings (available via the ‘Research’ tab) in educational contexts (tertiary and secondary education). Ideas have been organised around three themes:

 A. THE HUMAN CONSUMPTION OF ANIMAL PRODUCTS

Resource 1: Should the consumption of farmed animal products be restricted, and if so, by how much? Food Policy 2010, 35(6) 497-503:

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?

Resource 2: 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:

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?

Resource 3: Vegetarianism, Sentimental or Ethical? Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 2009, 22(6), 573-597:

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

Resource 1: An Analysis of the Arguments Underpinning UK Embryonic Stem Cell Legislation on the Embryo's Status. In: Koka, PS, ed. Stem Cell Research Progress. New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2008, pp. 59-80:

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?

Resource 2: Are those who subscribe to the view that early embryos are persons irrational and inconsistent? A reply to Brock. Journal of Medical Ethics 2007, 33(2), 102-106:

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?

Resource 3: Why two arguments from probability fail and one argument from Thomson's analogy of the violinist succeeds in justifying embryo destruction in some situations. Journal of Medical Ethics 2007, 33(3), 160-164:

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?

Resource 4: Why current UK legislation on embryo research is immoral. How the argument from lack of qualities and the argument from potentiality have been applied and why they should be rejected. Bioethics 2005, 19(3), 251-271:

1. What do you think about the House of Lords’ Select Committee’s attempts 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?

 C. GENETICS

Resource 1: Are scientists right and non-scientists wrong? Reflections on discussions of GM. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 2005, 18(5), 451-478:

1. What are the arguments that UK policy-makers and policy advisors used 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?

Resource 2: the genetics contextualised scenario: the case of ‘Mark and Katie’ (human genetics) See https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/genetics-contextualised-scenario

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)?


Educational resources under current development

Jan is currently developing a range of resources to share with those who teach ethics and law in the biomedical sciences, on the following themes (and with anticipated completion dates in brackets):

1. methods of ethical reasoning (June 2019)  


2. ethical aspects of communication skills (August 2019)


3. ethics and law related to consent (October 2019)


4. ethics and law related to incapacity (December 2019)


5. ethics and law related to (breaching) confidentiality (February 2020)


6. ethics and law related to research with human participants (April 2020)


7. ethics and law related to the use of nonhuman animals for biomedical purposes (June 2020)


If you wish to use any of these materials, please feel free to contact Jan.


Publications