The Ethics of Objectivity

Child leukaemia
The word ‘ethics’ comes from the Greek ethos, which means ‘custom or practice, a mode of behaviour’. When we study the ethics of a particular practice or profession, we often call those ‘applied ethics’ as we are looking at the implications of general theories for specific forms of conduct. Examples of applied ethics would be medical ethics (doctors) or legal ethics (lawyers).

There is a never-ending debate over the difference between ethics and morals because they seem to be saying the same thing. Without going into it, let’s just say that morals are more of an individual belief system (subjective), whereas ethics are more of an imposed and regulatory system of conduct (objective). There is clearly a lot of common ground between the two and it can be said that if the one becomes less important to society it is inevitable that the other does as well.

This is what has happened in Ireland, especially in the last decade. We have been shocked by stories of the physical and sexual abuse of children by the clergy; we have read much about banking and business scandals, tax evasion by prominent people, political corruption and the ‘brown envelope’ mentality, and recently, corruption in the gardaí.

Being in a constant state of shock and outrage is not good for you. Our brain knows this and its defence mechanism is to progressively become less shocked and more hardened to these outrages. Remember the shock we felt at the first gangland executions? Front-page headlines for weeks. Now the average response is “I couldn’t be arsed if they kill each other, good riddance”. Only the tabloids make headlines about these killings now, usually to glorify, rather than vilify.

This defence mechanism is collectively translated into public indifference. As Edmund Burke famously said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

The disregard for the consequences of behaviour towards others eventually becomes acceptable and finally becomes the new morality. This new morality must necessarily impact on the ethical behaviour of professionals, and the recent spate of solicitors being kicked out of the legal profession for dishonesty is proof of that.

Doctors and lawyers are not the only professionals that have a Code of Ethics. Engineers do as well.

The very first entry in the Engineers Ireland Code of Ethics is as follows:

“1.1 Members shall behave with integrity and objectivity in their relationships with colleagues, clients, employers, employees and with society in general.”

The CEO of EirGrid, Mr Fintan Slye, answered a question from the Oireachtas Transport and Communications Sub-Committee on the 5th December 2013 regarding the health risks of living near very high voltage electric pylons: “I know they are completely safe”. He has made the same or similar statements to the electronic and print media on numerous occasions.

He did this at a time when the Department of Energy’s published report and also the European Commission’s report on the subject very clearly stated that Electro Magnetic Radiation (EMR) is a known risk of childhood leukaemia and lists the overhead power-line technology as a potential carcinogen. It has been recently discovered that since 2009 EirGrid have been in possession of a report by the Office of the Chief Scientific Advisor which concluded that:

“There is a body of epidemiological evidence which suggests that time-weighted average exposure to power line magnetic fields above 0.4μT is associated with a small increase in the risk of leukaemia in children. If real, this is a “threshold response’” with no observed effect below this approximate value. The general public is exposed to average fields of this magnitude very rarely. If the risk were real, it would correspond to an increase of about 1 case of childhood leukaemia in Ireland every four years.”

Earlier in the Report it is stated that even at 40 metres away from a 400kV line, the EMR was 1.0μT, over double that safety limit of 0.4μT.

One child sentenced to death or at best chronic suffering every four years. Is that enough to shock you? Should it be a headline on the Irish Times or the Independent?

On 7th January, 2014, the GridLink Project Manager, Mr John Lowry of Eirgrid, said in the Irish Examiner: “I can assure people there are absolutely no health implications …”.

On 28th April 2014, Mr Brendan Murray, Manager, Transmission Projects, of EirGrid made the same claim on RTE News.

In addition to the abovementioned reports of 2005 and 2009, in the last six months EirGrid have been provided with research findings by a number of medical experts like Professor Anthony Staines of UCD; Professor Denis Henshaw of Bristol University (the world authority on EMR and childhood leukaemia), and Dr John Swanson, scientific advisor to the UK’s National Grid, all of whom say there is a definite link between high voltage power lines and childhood leukaemia. During a recent lecture here, Professor Henshaw even went so far as to accuse EirGrid of “corporate manslaughter”.

EirGrid does not employ a medical expert and therefore it must be concluded that the abovementioned engineers from EirGrid are not acting on medical advice when they make these statements to the public.

Is there controversy about this research? Of course there is, but there is also controversy about cigarettes and their impact on your health, and yet we have health warnings on cigarette packets and an age limit on buyers.

Are these engineers from EirGrid entitled to their opinion about EMR and cancer? Of course they are, but that is all it is; an opinion. As they do not have any medical qualifications, it is not even a professional opinion, but rather a personal point of view such as you might share with friends in the pub, but not on the national media as a spokesperson for EirGrid, a huge national organisation.

As an organisation dependant on public funds, it is incumbent upon EirGrid to be scrupulously fair in its dealings with the public, and this includes the statements it releases to the public. To this end it is incumbent on any EirGrid official to only deliver statements to the public that they know are factually correct. They can only know that if the information delivered falls within their realm of professional competence.

Alternatively, if an opinion is voiced, it must be made quite clear that it is only an opinion, in other words either unsupported, or contradicted, by objectively established facts. Moreover, as it is an opinion on which the speaker has no professional qualification or expertise, this should also be made clear to the listening public.

This would be in the interests of proper public participation, something that is essential for meaningful consultation. We need to avoid the situation where the average citizen would be misled in any way, particularly when it concerns the health of their family, and more especially their children.

Can it be said that these EirGrid officials (Messrs Slye, Lowry and Murray), who are all members of Engineers Ireland, have not ‘behaved with objectivity in their relationships with … society in general’? You might very well think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

What I can say is that if you do think that, you are entitled to make an Ethics Complaint to Engineers Ireland: 22 Clyde Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4,Ireland; Tel: +353 (0)1 6651300; Fax: +353 (0)1 6685508; Email:; Web:

About Neil van Dokkum

Neil van Dokkum (B. SocSc; LLB; LLM; PGC Con.Lit) Neil is a law lecturer and has been so since arriving in Ireland from South Africa in 2002. Prior to that Neil worked in a leading firm of solicitors from 1987-1992, before being admitted as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa (a barrister) in 1992. He published three books in South Africa on employment law and unfair dismissal, as well as being published in numerous national and international peer-reviewed journals. Neil currently specialises in employment law, medical negligence law, family law and child protection law. He dabbles in EU law (procurement and energy). Neil retired from full-time practice in 2002 to take up a lecturing post. He has published three books since then, “Nursing Law for Irish Students (2005); “Evidence” (2007); and “Nursing Law for Students in Ireland” (2011). His current interest is the area of disability as a politico-economic construct. Neil is very happily married to Fiona, and they have two sons, Rory and Ian.
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9 Responses to The Ethics of Objectivity

  1. The Irish Way says:

    Thank you. I look forward to reading your posts. The information you’ve outlined is invaluable, clear, concise and makes sense out of all the nonsense that we are being bombarded with.
    Sometimes an issue can be so covered with misplaced ‘facts’ and ‘statements’ that we become exhausted at trying to locate the truth buried underneath it all. Your skill at unraveling the complexities and presenting the simple truth is appreciated.

  2. Neil van Dokkum says:

    You are too kind.

    Can you imagine Mr Slye saying: “Despite having no medical qualifications whatsoever, and I must stress that this is only my personal opinion, especially as there are those with medical qualifications who would strongly object to what I am about to say: Pylons and the electirc cables that they carry are completely safe”.

    Yeah right!

  3. The Irish Way says:

    Back in 2007 WHO (World Health Organisation) sent to the Irish Government this document.

    There are a number of issues outlined and an encouragement for the Irish Government to set up it’s own departmental agency to examine for themselves issues that were arising concerning electromagnetic fields.
    On page 5 we read:
    “A Scientific Advisory Committee.
    This independent scientific committee should be appointed to the review, from the Irish perspective, the published scientific data. It should be serviced by the agency, drawing on skills in the Civil Service, HSE, Irish universities and international bodies and be modelled on the UK Ad hoc Group on Non Ionising Radiation (AGNIR)”
    “An EMF Safety Users Group.
    Consultation with stakeholders on EMF issues is an important part of the process towards equitable solutions. We propose that the agency and the Irish Scientific Advisory Committee should organise regular meetings and consultations with stakeholders on topical issues. This would be especially important when major new EMF or other radiation emitting facilities were to be established such as major power line corridors.”
    It is important to take note that WHO advised the Irish government to focus on the ‘NON Ionising’ radiation and it also refers to ‘major power line corridors’ as ‘other radiation emitting facilities’.

    It’s also worth noting on the same document, page 55, there is a ‘guideline’ for physicians.
    Treatment of affected individuals should focus on the health symptoms and the clinical picture, and not on the person’s perceived need for reducing or eliminating EMF in the workplace or home.
    This requires:
    A medical evaluation to identify and treat any specific condition that may be responsible for the symptoms.
    A psychological evaluation to identify alternative psychiatric/psychological conditions that may be responsible for the symptoms.
    An assessment of the workplace and home for factors that might contribute to the presented symptoms, poor lighting (flickering light) or ergonomic factors. A reduction of stress and other improvements in the work situation might be appropriate.

    So … if we learn we are being ‘zapped’ we go to the doctor, he/she is advised to focus on dealing with the effect and not the cause – if we persist in our complaints he/she is advised to get a psychiatric evaluation!

    Those are the guidelines, from the World Health Organisation, for our government to deal with people’s concerns with Electromagnetic Fields. If the people complain then treat them like they’re nuts!
    It’s no wonder the state are sticking with ‘W.H.O.’ and acting like this self governing body is the only body of scientifically qualified people to share trusted information.

    • Neil van Dokkum says:

      Where there’s loads of money to be made, the rights of citizens, even the most vulnerable of those – our children, take a back seat. The WHO Report was even more damning than the Report of the Chief Scientific Advisor (who was originally commissioned to do a wool-over-the-eyes report, but this backfired):

      On page 38 of that WHO Report it says:
      “Results of pooled analysis of around twenty epidemiological studies suggest a doubling of the risk of leukaemia for children exposed to average magnetic fields over 0.3 to 0.4 μT.” The Irish Govt. Report says 0.4 μT.

      “Essentially the increased incidence of childhood leukaemia in Ireland, if caused by ELF magnetic fields, would be one extra case every three to five years where the annual incidence from other causes ranges from 35 to 55.” The Irish Govt. Report says one child every four years.

      This WHO Report was criticised for ‘softening’ the figures, with critics claiming that the data showed a much higher incidence of risk. The report of the CSA (for the Irish Govt) has ‘softened’ the WHO findings even further, and yet EirGrid hid it because they must have realised how incredibly damaging this Report could be to their plans for Grid25. In short, they don’t give a monkey’s about the health of citizens – it is all about money, money, money.

  4. The Irish Way says:

    Reblogged this on The Irish Way (blog) and commented:
    For everyone who’s interested/following this ‘Energy Scam’ in Ireland ‘The Law is my Oyster’ is well worth reading and following.

  5. Neil van Dokkum says:

    Thank you. We all have a part to play.

  6. Pingback: Medical Experts Slam EirGrid | The Law is my Oyster

  7. Greetings from Carolina! I was reading some of your incredible blogs on my iphone during lunch break.
    I really like the stuff you write about and your style is fantastic – you make complicated stuff understandable. Gee, I thought the Carolina government were the biggest bunch of crooks but these EirGrid guys are proper mafia! … Anyways, fantastic site!

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