The 21st annual conference of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, APPE, was held in Cincinnati, Ohio. There were 283 delegates but not many from outside the US – 3 from Australia (Seumas Miller, Ed Spence and myself), one each from Japan, Chile, Netherlands. All the sessions were during the day on Friday and Saturday. There were 8 or 9 parallel sessions for most of the time, with a total of 80 separate sessions, some with 4-5 speakers in a panel or roundtable. So some sessions were quite small, with only 3 or 4 present. There was almost no free time, with the first day starting with the Keynote address at 8:15am and ending with the conference dinner.
The key note address was given by a practitioner, lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, who has been the individual appointed to administer the distribution of trust funds to victims of 9/11, of the Virginia Tech shootings, and the $20 billion trust set up with funds from BP after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. These ‘special funds’ could not be subject to rules in advance – “if this predetermined number of people are killed there will be a fund” – he argued; only the people and the politicians can determine action after the event.
Hence ‘yes’ for 9/11, but not for Hurricane Katrina. Were these funds, he asked, well intentioned mistakes, choosing as they did to prefer some citizens above others?
As to the personal qualities needed to be the ‘Special Master’ or administrator of such trusts, Feinberg saw the ability to persevere whilst in the crosshairs of those denied compensation by the terms of the trust, and a capacity ‘not to get sick’ whilst wrestling with the ethical issues as the key requirements.
The conference officially had an ‘international’ focus but this was not accompanied by any significant number of papers on an international theme.
Among the innovations at this year’s conference – the first under new executive director Stuart Yoak – were a series of special interest group meetings, often at breakfast or lunch. There were groups for business ethics, healthcare ethics, technology ethics and biomedical ethics among others. Another innovation was themed lunch-table discussions, with a person agreeing to host and lead discussion on an advertised topic with any who choose to join the table. The opportunities for authors to promote newly published books were also enhanced with additional sessions. There is a large book display at the conference with over 20 publishers providing books for sale at a discount and the Association receiving a share of sales (although it meets the cost of the Book-room operation).
Another innovation was to especially welcome all new members and first-time attendees at the welcome reception. For these people their name badges were marked with a ribbon, and attendees were asked to make them welcome and speak with them.
At the Members meeting (the AGM) the interim financial report showed the Association facing a deficit on its annual operations. The major expenditure items were staff salaries with income from subscriptions, conference surplus and a grant from the university at which the Association is based. Differences in accounting years between the Association and the university, and unfamiliarity with systems meant the situation was unclear, however. Another topic of discussion was the mismatch between the March conference date and January-December subscription year, but no change was proposed. A third topic of discussion was the publication of conference papers. Although a full paper must be submitted for review months ahead of the conference and acceptances are announced in December only abstracts are published, and the possibility of publishing the full papers, perhaps in a CD available only to attendees, was briefly considered but no decisions made.