Topic :Case study
7)Recently in Maharashtra, a controversy has arisen over a project by the United States Navy to build a radar facility at a nearby site. Much of the debate is concerned about the right of the local community to participate meaningfully in this decision. And a concern has arisen over the possibility that the facility could generate electromagnetic fields (EMFs) that could cause harmful health effects, namely, forms of cancer.
As a public health official, you are familiar with some of the recent research that has been done on EMFs. Among the important facts are the following:
- Many common everyday objects (electric shavers, microwave ovens, hair dryers, vacuum cleaners, electric can openers) produce electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Concern arises from larger projects such as electric power lines, substations, and radar facilities like the one proposed for Lajas.
- Epidemiological evidence exists showing slightly higher risks associated with living next to these field-generating facilities. (Epidemiological evidence results from studies that compare groups exposed to EMFs to others not exposed.) These studies then look for significantly higher incidents of illness in the exposed groups.
- But other epidemiological studies do not show significant risk ratios.
- Some have argued that there is a causal mechanism to explain the cancers associated with EMFs. For example, it is argued that EMFs interfere directly with cellular activity. But EMFs are pervasive (including the earth’s own field) and it has not been demonstrated why the EMFs generated by electric power lines or radar facilities are special. Another series of studies have been carried out to see if EMFs trigger (or activitate) a cancer-causing gene that is directly responsible for the cancer. But scientists have not been able to confirm this hypothesis.
- An extensive animal study conducted at the Illinois Institute of Technology showed no positive results. It involved a controlled experiment in which three groups of rats were exposed to varying EMFs while a control group had no exposure. No significant difference between the four groups was found.
You have been asked to speak to a group of concerned citizens about the health effects of living near electromagnetic fields. Furthermore, you are personally opposed to the US Navy’s project; you feel that it is being imposed on the community without their informed consent. How do you respond to the community’s health concerns about EMFs?
- Should you accept the responsibility of answering the public’s questions about EMFs given your views on the undesirability of the project in general?
- What does it mean to assess risk? Is this a value neutral process?
- What kinds of ethical responsibilities do experts have related to communicating risk information to the public?
Key demand of the question
The questions poses a practical problem that may arise in the professional life of a person. The basic purpose of the question is to test the analytical capabilities of the student. It wants us to bring out the key ethical questions posed by each question (following the narration of the situation) and answer accordingly.
Structure of the answer
- Discuss the ethical issues involved in the given responsibility. E.g personal values/ convictions/ prejudices vs available evidence; responsibility of declaration of personal views and keeping them aloof from the available research evidence etc. form an opinion based on your discussion as to whether you should accept the responsibility of answering the public’s questions.
- Define risk assessment in a simple definition. DIscuss the need for inclusion of the interest of different stakeholders; subjectivity in risk assessment; need to consult all the relevant sources of information; etc. Discuss why it is not a value neutral process.
- List the responsibilities of such experts. E.g disclosure of all information; disclosure of personal views; consultation and comprehensive perusal of relevant information; taking adequate precautions etc.