Since 2013 I am professor of philosophy at Wageningen University. Our group works on practical philosophy in relation to key themes of Wageningen University: health, food, nature, animals, environment. The university’s mission is to explore the potential of nature to improve quality of life – which as such is a great source for philosophical and ethical questions: what is quality of life? whose quality of life? how to balance promoting human interests and preservation of nature? what are our obligations to future generations? Our group is part of Communication, Philosophy and Technology: Centre for Integrative Development in the Department of Social Sciences, Wageningen UR, and we collaborate together with all philosophers and ethicists of the four Dutch technology universities in our 4TU Centre for Ethics and Technology. Since January 2022 I have the honor of leading this centre.
My own work focuses on ethics of public health.
Before I came to Wageningen I had worked as philosopher and ethicist at Utrecht University, the University of Amsterdam, the University Medical Centre Nijmegen, and as visiting scholar at the universities of Stellenbosch, Keele, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In Utrecht I served as coordinator of the international Master program in Applied Ethics; throughout my career I have taught ethics for a variety of student audiences: philosophy, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, food sciences; but also professionals (nursing, medicine, public health, occupational health).
My research and teaching cover a very broad area in applied philosophy and ethics, including animal ethics and business ethics, but the primary focus is public health. Together with Angus Dawson (University of Sydney) I initiated public health ethics as a new area of studies in moral philosophy. We founded Public Health Ethics, a journal published by Oxford University Press since 2008, and jointly led it until 2022 when I stepped down. The journal has quickly become the centre of a flourishing interdisciplinary scientific field.
My view on practical philosophy is to build bridges between theoretical analysis and practical moral problems in professional areas or public policy. This has resulted in in-depth analyses of problems in public health, such as: how far should professionals go in promoting health of citizens; what responsibilities do citizens have to take precautions against infection; and how should governments allocate scarce medical resources during an influenza pandemic. These are questions about health that go far beyond a medical-professional perspective; they concern responsibilities of all societal actors to contribute to health and quality of life.
My philosophical approach to practical societal issues is also the key in various consultative roles, for example for the World Health Organization. Since 2005, I have been member of the Health Council of the Netherlands and contributed to more than 20 advisory reports for the Minister of Health, including reports on collective vaccination, screening, preconception counseling, special policies for high-risk groups, and expert reports on Q-Fever and Mexican Flu.Since 2016 I have joint the Adviescommissie Pakket of Zorginstituut Nederland, a committee that advises on the content of the basic health insurance package.
I have been member of several research ethics committees, notably in the area of food research: TNO, Unilever Vlaardingen, and Wageningen University. Currently I am Wageningen Social Sciences Ethics Committee.
Key papers and books:
Facing Difficult but Unavoidable Choices: Donor Blood Safety and Deferral of Men Who Have Sex with Men. Bioethics 2022 (accepted for publication, co-authored with Roland Pierik; Thijs van de Laar and Hans Zaaijer of Sanquin Bood Services).
Sharing Responsibility: Responsibility for Health Is Not a Zero-Sum Game. Public Health Ethics 2019;12(2): 99–102. (co-authored with Angus Dawson)
Maternal Immunization: Ethical Issues. The Lancet Infectious Diseases 2016;16 (12): e310–e314. (co-authored with Philipp Lambach, Justin R Ortiz, and Andreas Reis, World Health Organization)
How (not) to argue for the rule of rescue. Claims of Individuals vs Group Solidarity. In: I. Glenn Cohen, Norman Daniels, and Nir Eyal (eds.) Identified versus Statistical Victims. An Interdisciplinary Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015: pp. 137-149.
What is the responsibility of national government with respect to vaccination? Vaccine. 2014; 32(52):7163-6. (co-authored with Hans Houweling, Netherlands Health Council)
Moral Principles for Allocating Scarce Medical Resources in an Influenza Pandemic. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 2009;6(2):159-169
Ethics, prevention, and public health, edited AJ Dawson and MF Verweij. Oxford University Press, 2007.
Preventive Medicine Between Obligation and Aspiration (monograph) Kluwer/Springer, 2001.
Medicalization as a moral problem for preventive medicine. Bioethics, 1999; 13:89-113.