New book: The Tango of Ethics3 January 2023 The Tango of Ethics: Intuition, Rationality and the Prevention of Suffering by OPIS Executive Director Jonathan Leighton is being […]Read More »
OPIS December 2022 Newsletter15 December 2022 Our latest newsletter was just sent out. It contains: reflections on totalitarianism and powerful AI an update on our […]Read More »
Front-page story in Swiss daily 20 Minutes mentioning OPIS31 August 2022 A front-page story mentioning OPIS in the widely circulated Swiss daily paper 20 Minutes on 26 August 2022 features […]Read More »
The Organisation for the Prevention of Intense Suffering (OPIS) is a think-and-do tank designing and promoting blueprints for a compassionate society grounded in deep ethical thinking. Our vision is a world that eliminates the preventable suffering of all sentient beings.
Our mission is two-fold:
- Advocate for solutions to specific causes of intense suffering
- Promote compassionate, evidence-based global decision-making where the prevention and alleviation of intense suffering is given the highest priority, within a system that aims to meet the needs of all
Specific cause areas we are currently focusing on include:
- Access to effective medication to relieve severe pain in humans, including:
- Morphine for terminal cancer and other serious conditions, especially in lower-income countries where it is largely inaccessible
- Effective treatments for excruciating cluster (“suicide”) headaches that are difficult to access due to strict legal regulations
- Ending the horrors of factory farming and other forms of torture of non-human animals
OPIS was founded in 2016 as a Swiss non-profit association and is headquartered in Geneva. Follow us on Facebook and on Twitter. (Read also this interview from January 2019 about OPIS and our goals.)
Impact through rationality and creativity
OPIS strives to make a difference in preventing suffering by developing projects that explore new terrain and present the opportunity to have real impact, complementing the work of existing organisations. We identify with the effective altruism (EA) movement and the importance of quantifying and optimising impact. But we are also looking to employ creative approaches that can help bring about systemic change, including value-spreading and awareness-raising through advocacy, education, films and campaigns, and developing new blueprints for ethical governance.
We collaborate closely with other organisations aiming to prevent and alleviate suffering. These include International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policies (IDHDP), International Association for Hospice & Palliative Care (IAHPC), Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance (WHPCA), the World Health Organisation (WHO), Hospice Burkina, Hospice Africa, PEA - Pour l’Égalité Animale, Clusterbusters, Cluster Headache Community, Cluster Headache Association of Finland, TheraPsil and others. OPIS is an official supporter of UK-based Compassion in Politics, a cross-party organisation working to put compassion, inclusion, and cooperation at the heart of politics; a member of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), a global network promoting objective and open debate on drug policy; and an ally of the Algosphere Alliance, a network of individuals and organisations dedicated to alleviating suffering in the world.
Why "intense" suffering?
Suffering is rarely if ever a good thing in itself, even though it can lead to personal growth and sometimes allow us to appreciate happiness that follows it even more. But the intense suffering of torture or certain chronic diseases can make life literally unbearable. This suffering, which cries out to be relieved, is on a whole different level, and it makes minor forms of suffering pale in comparison. There is nothing else that has greater urgency than preventing or relieving the intense suffering of sentient beings. Because so much of it is preventable, and in many cases even caused by human beings, it is essential that we explicitly recognise it as our highest priority as a society. OPIS supports all efforts to prevent or reduce any kind of suffering, but the focus on "intense" suffering ensures that we do not lose sight of our most urgent priorities.
Human and non-human animals
Does the suffering of non-human animals matter as much as human suffering, or are "some animals more equal than others”? We consider it self-evident that suffering matters for its own sake, regardless of who experiences it, and that equal degrees of suffering therefore matter equally. Although we naturally have the strongest feelings for those closest to us and value their lives most, as an organisation OPIS cares about any sentient being, human or non-human, that is suffering intensely. The sheer number of animals suffering on this planet, including the huge numbers kept in horrific conditions on factory farms or otherwise treated with cruelty, means that animal suffering is the area with by far the greatest potential for harm reduction, and it is also the area where the most impact can often be achieved for a given amount of resources. But OPIS is not focused only on non-human animals, as we believe that a holistic approach to preventing suffering on our planet requires that we also aim to relieve our own suffering, and that this approach provides a strong basis for new frameworks for society that protect all sentient beings from suffering.
The 20-minute film The Battle for Compassion, based on the book of the same name, captures the thinking and philosophy of OPIS.
And in case you were wondering: the OPIS logo is based on Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of love and joy, who wore a sun disc with cow horns. Love and joy are emotions that are instrumental in reducing suffering and are key elements of the world we strive for. The horns also reflect the significance of animal suffering.
Projects and Activities
OPIS’s overall work is aimed at promoting a global society that eliminates preventable suffering. Our projects and activities support this aim at different levels, as described below:
Global access to pain relief
Advocating globally for access to effective pain relief, including access to morphine in low- and middle-income countries, where the vast majority of terminal cancer patients and others in severe pain are unable to obtain it. In 2018 we held an official side event at the Human Rights Council in Geneva titled "Ending the Agony: Access to Morphine as an Ethical and Human Rights Imperative", in partnership with International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policies (IDHDP). We also issued a widely distributed summary guide to the issue that is being used as an advocacy tool.
Support for local efforts to provide access to morphine
We have a close collaboration with Hospice Burkina, the palliative care association of the West African country of Burkina Faso, to bring morphine and palliative care to all those in need. We have co-organised and successfully crowdfunded a national conference in December 2019, in association with the Ministry of Health, to help launch palliative care as an integral part of the national health program. Collaborations with other countries are anticipated.
Cluster headaches and legal access to effective medication
Advocating for solutions to cluster headaches, also known as “suicide headaches” and recognised as one of the most excruciating pains known to medicine. A number of chemicals of the indoleamine class have been found to be highly effective at preventing and aborting attacks and episodes, but overly restrictive drug legislation makes access difficult. We are pursuing several approaches, including an information campaign and promoting more pragmatic drug policies in collaboration with other organisations.
Ending the torture of non-human animals
Promoting the end of factory farming and the torture and abuse of animals through talks, articles and books in several languages, advocacy tools and support for other organisations and their campaigns, as well as a guide to thriving on a plant-based diet. Members of our team are also active in groups like Vegan Option Canada and Animal Rebellion that seek to make vegan options widely available, and encourage a societal shift towards an anti-speciesist ethic that acknowledges non-human animal suffering as equally important as human suffering.
Visual overview of world suffering data
An ongoing project to collect data on present world suffering and estimate potential future suffering, and to represent it through a visually powerful overview, to help assess and adjust our priorities as a society. Data are being gathered on sources of suffering, numbers of individuals affected and estimated intensities and durations. Both human and animal suffering are being included and will be both treated separately and compared. More background is contained in this document.
White paper/manifesto for compassionate governance
Research, write and widely disseminate a white paper/manifesto with specific solutions to suffering, and principles and concrete steps to promote cooperative, needs-based global decision-making. This includes reference to a more holistic ethical framework that addresses conflicts and shortcomings of existing ethical theories and acknowledges the role and limits of both rationality and intuition. We are also interested in how the study of complex systems can guide activism and the creation of stable political systems based on compassion.
Films and creative campaigns
Create short videos and a full-length documentary, and develop creative campaigns that will reach many people worldwide with the message of action-oriented compassion for human and non-human animals, and help communicate the ideas in the manifesto for ethical governance. The film "Earthlings", for example, had a dramatic effect in raising awareness of the widespread intense suffering of animals at the hands of humans. Our goal is to inspire people with a concrete vision for a more compassionate society and how we can bring it about in practice. See this concept note that ties the research and drafting of a manifesto with creative communication campaigns as part of a unified project to promote stable compassionate governance.
Management and operations
Jonathan Leighton, Executive Director
Jonathan founded OPIS in 2016 and brings a mixture of rationality and creativity to his passion of helping to reduce suffering in the world. A research molecular biologist by training, Jonathan holds degrees from Harvard University and the University of Basel. He spent several years in industry before turning to writing and public speaking on ethics and compassion. He is the author of a new book titled The Tango of Ethics: Intuition, Rationality and the Prevention of Suffering (2023), which develops a more holistic approach to ethics based on phenomenological experience and the urgency of suffering, and The Battle for Compassion: Ethics in an Apathetic Universe (2011), which methodically addresses the question “What matters?” He also produced a short film to communicate some of the key ideas from his first book. @JonLeighton1
Jean-Christophe Lurenbaum, Associate
Jean-Christophe decided at an early age to dedicate his life to organising the creation of greater happiness in the world. With this aim, he first trained as an economist and became a key strategist in charge of major projects at France’s largest public corporation, La Poste. He wrote Naître est-il dans l'intérêt de l'enfant? Idéologie de reproduction versus non-souffrance (2011), the result of a decades-long historical exploration of the conflict between the ethic of non-suffering and the ideology of reproduction. In 2013 he co-founded the Algosphere Alliance, a network and direct democracy for the alleviation of suffering.
Manu Herrán, Associate
Manu is a passionate thinker and communicator dedicated to finding ways to prevent suffering. A computer engineer, he has created AI and life simulations, and he is the author of fiction stories and about 100 essays investigating issues related to evolution, cooperation, conscience, sentience, intelligence, death, ethics and other themes. He is the founder of the REDcientifica magazine and author of the philosophical book Arena Sensible (in Spanish; "Sensitive Sand"). Manu is a regular public speaker on animal suffering and also on the neglected possibility of suffering in inorganic substrates. Most recently he established Sentience Research. @mherran
Robert Daoust, Associate
Robert is one of the world’s experts on suffering and has long advocated for a discipline dedicated to its study, for which he created the term “algonomy”. Over the years he has systematically compiled a wealth of references and accumulated extensive knowledge on the topic of suffering, for which he was a main contributor to the Wikipedia entry. In 2013 he co-founded the Algosphere Alliance, a network and global democracy for the alleviation of suffering.
Sorin Ionescu, Researcher
Sorin holds a Master in Software Engineering from Concordia University in Montreal and has a background in artificial intelligence. A social activist, he believes that love is the most powerful engine in the pursuit of alleviating suffering, and he strives to create bridges and partnerships between social change groups with diverse approaches. Sorin is working with Vegan Option Canada to add vegan options to the menus of all public institutions in Canada, and is an active member of Regard Animal, spreading awareness of speciesism and animal rights through art and social union. He is also on the Communications Committee of the Algosphere Alliance.
Abi Russell, Strategic Catalyst
Abi graduated with a degree in law from Newcastle University, after which she worked in various locations across Europe, primarily with people forced to flee their homes. She then joined Second Tree, a grassroots organisation working with refugees in Northern Greece, where as Chief of Staff she has been instrumental in its management and growth. Second Tree’s vision encompasses inclusivity, where there is no “other” and refugees are seen as autonomous individuals rather than victims. Curious and caring, Abi is driven by her dedication to making the world a better place, and she joined the OPIS team to help us achieve our ambitious goals.
Alyssa Berris, Campaigner
Alyssa holds a master’s degree in sociology and is a co-founder of Vegan Option Canada and the Gatineau Vegetarian Association. A social activist for the recognition of vegan rights, for the fight against climate change and the improvement in the wellbeing of animals, Alyssa is involved in the collective effort for a healthy, sustainable and socially responsible global ecological transition. She is also a member of the Algosphere Alliance.
Juan-Pablo L’Huillier, OPIS Ambassador on Pain Relief
Juan-Pablo is a marketing and communication professional working in the cultural and music scene. He developed a severe case of SUNCT, a devastatingly painful condition that destroyed his life until he found relief through ayahuasca. He joined OPIS as an Ambassador to share his experience of intense suffering and advocate for better solutions, including the use of psychedelics as an effective treatment for some conditions, and more generally, to support us in our goal of preventing the intense suffering of all sentient beings.
Board of Directors
Jean-Christophe Lurenbaum - see bio above
Marieke de Visscher
Marieke studied both Business Administration and Health Sciences and is working as an implementation consultant in the healthcare sector, leading numerous IT-related projects over the years. She is also currently a Board member of Effective Altruism Netherlands after years on the management team and investing in the Effective Altruism movement. She considers that addressing and preventing the most excruciating forms of suffering should be our highest priority. Marieke also took the Giving What We Can pledge.
David is an influential philosopher who defends a form of negative utilitarianism and advocates the abolition of suffering in all sentient life, an argument he detailed in The Hedonistic Imperative, a book-length web-based manifesto from 1995. A committed vegan and an inspiration to countless philosophers and activists for his compassion and intellect, David is also a leading figure in the transhumanist movement and co-founder of Humanity+. He envisions a world where science and technology are used to replace suffering with gradients of bliss. @webmasterdave
Samah is a humanist, career diplomat and political advisor dedicated to building a more peaceful civil society. She held key diplomatic positions representing Palestine at the UN in Geneva and at the EU in Brussels. She has worked as a lobbyist to European Union institutions and as a political advisor to the President of the UN General Assembly, and served with the UN in Libya to work with the General National Congress President on institutional building. Samah has also founded two key social projects in the West Bank, Project Hope and Zajel, and is a partner at a private investment boutique in Geneva. She strongly believes that change towards a more peaceful world is possible through grassroots work and diplomacy.
Sandeep is CEO of Fourth Frontier, which builds wireless products for assessing health and enhancing wellbeing using novel biosensors and advanced algorithms. The technology allows the objective measurement of stress and pain and its management, and is applicable to both humans and other mammals. Previous positions included VP Business Development for India and South Asia at Qualcomm and Founder & CTO of hi-tech startup Kirusa. He is also a co-inventor of 25 US patents. Sandeep has a keen interest in the prevention of suffering of all sentient beings. He is a patron of Amnesty International, PETA and Humane Society International, and has participated in the India Against Corruption movement. He also serves on the board of GiveIndia, one of India’s leading philanthropic exchanges. @sandeepsibal
Andrés Gómez Emilsson
Andrés is a consciousness researcher at the Qualia Research Institute. He holds degrees in Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science and in Computational Psychology from Stanford University, where he also co-founded the Stanford Transhumanist Association. Andrés grew up in Mexico and represented his country in international math and science Olympiads. He has a wide range of interests and experience at the intersection of mathematics, philosophy and psychology. He is currently researching the mathematical and neurological correlates of hedonic states including bliss, with a deep passion for finding ways to abolish the hell of extreme suffering. He writes a fascinating, eclectic blog called Qualia Computing. @algekalipso
Tobias is an international public speaker and writes a popular blog called The Vegan Strategist. Together with Melanie Joy he co-founded and co-directs the Center for Effective Vegan Advocacy. He is known for his pragmatic, non-confrontational approach to encouraging people to adopt a cruelty-free vegan lifestyle. Tobias was also the founder of the Belgian non-profit vegetarian organisation EVA, and was elected a Fellow of Ashoka, an international organisation supporting high impact social entrepreneurs. @TobiasLeenaert
Nell is an engineer, entrepreneur and futurist thinker who grew up in Northern Ireland. Nell lectures globally on Machine Intelligence, AI philosophy, Human-Machine relations and the Future of Human Society. She is also Co-Founder of OpenEth.org, an ‘ethical explication engine’ that aims to crowdsource ethical heuristics for autonomous systems, and she serves on the Faculty of AI & Robotics at Singularity University. @NellWatson
Corin is co-founder of the Future of Governance Agency (FOGA), which brings governance innovation and power literacy to the public and its institutions, and is the co-author of “How to Rule a World – a guide to the established and emerging tools for power and governance in the 21st century”, to be released at the end of 2020. Corin belongs to the faculty of Singularity University’s Nordic Branch, teaching distributed ledger technology (blockchains) and governance, and was research director for Bitnation. They are also the principal investigator of the first governance study in a Mars simulation, spending September 2019 in the Himalayas in an isolated, confined and extreme environment with a crew to develop design principles for space societies. Corin was the Executive Director of the Global Challenges Foundation and led the inception and development of the New Shape Prize, which in 2018 awarded $1.8 million to the best ideas re-envisioning global governance from more than 2700 proposals. They also chair the Swedish branch of Effective Altruism.
Oscar teaches philosophy at the University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. He has been involved in vegan and anti-speciesist activism since the mid-1990’s and is a member of the organisation Animal Ethics. His main fields of work are speciesism and the moral consideration of animals living in the wild. He has many publications addressing these issues and has given talks about them in more than 15 countries.
Matt is co-founder and President of One Step For Animals, which takes a pragmatic approach to reducing as much as possible the number of animals suffering. Matt is a globally recognised authority on animal advocacy, factory farming, vegan diets and applied ethics. He has been Director for Engagement and Outreach for Farm Sanctuary and Senior Advisor for VegFund. Matt has presented at and written for diverse forums and is the author of many essays and several books, including The Animal Activist’s Handbook, The Accidental Activist, and his recent memoir and collection of essays, Losing My Religions.
Jamie is a creative catalyst – a musician, filmmaker, author and coach who also runs workshops on personal development. Jamie was a founding member of the British supergroup Faithless and one half of the film-and-music project One Giant Leap. Jamie has become a strong opponent of factory farming and the suffering it causes to animals, viewing it as one of the greatest moral issues of our time, and actively supports creative projects to help end it. @JamieCatto
Lucius is a co-founder and current advisor to the Effective Altruism Foundation. He studied psychology at the Universities of Basel and Oxford and is carrying out research in cognitive and moral psychology at the Department for Experimental Psychology and at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford. He previously worked as an IT entrepreneur. @LuciusCaviola
Joe is a complexity researcher and a leader in the field of culture design, dedicated to helping humanity make the transition to sustainability. Much of his work has focused on values, identity and modes of thought that shape cultural understandings of political and social issues. He is co-founder and editor of Evonomics magazine, served as research director for TheRules.org, and is coordinator for the newly forming Cultural Evolution Society. @cognitivepolicy
Ethics & values
Ethics is essential for deciding on the principles by which we run our lives and organise ourselves as a society. By combining compassion with rational thinking, we can arrive at a basic ethical framework that gives highest priority to the prevention of intense suffering. It is often unclear what our optimal courses of action should be when so many conflicting opportunities for action exist. Even in theory, it is often impossible to arrive at a definitive conclusion that does not depend at all on our intuitions or on arbitrary decisions. But it is clear that compassion calls us on to strive to eliminate as much intense suffering in the future as possible.
There are many ethical theories in existence, but most of them are arguably flawed by inconsistencies and imprecisions, including the use of numbers in ways that are not rationally justified or that are disconnected from what we actually care about. Nonetheless, ethics must ultimately be about influencing outcomes: about choosing courses of action that have positive impact on the subjective experience of sentient beings.
"What can be worse than experiencing intense pain without relief? I've donated to support OPIS's initiative."
- Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University
OPIS is working to prevent intense suffering through evidence-based advocacy and education, including:
- Ensuring that terminal cancer patients can get morphine
- Allowing people with cluster "suicide" headaches to legally access life-changing treatments
We are also working on more ambitious projects to spread compassion in society and promote ethical governance that prioritises the prevention of intense suffering.
We rely on donations like yours - please support us! The Donate button allows you to make a single or monthly donation via your PayPal account or credit card.
Donations can also be made directly by bank transfer to our Euro bank account:
IBAN: CH17 0900 0000 9116 4774 4
Postfinance Ltd, Mingerstrasse 20, 3030 Berne, Switzerland
If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.
Some of our work focuses on promoting access to effective pain medication in lower-income countries. This document provides an assessment of the potential effectiveness of donations compared to other cause areas.
Testimonials and endorsements
“Important read on how to close the global pain divide at the national level.” - Prof. Felicia Knaul, Chair of the Lancet Commission on Global Access to Palliative Care and Pain Control, re: our article on our Burkina Faso initiative
“Another step forward for the cluster community – OPIS has just released a policy paper advocating for legalized access to psilocybin for the treatment of cluster headache.” - Clusterbusters, a major patient advocacy organisation
“I cannot thank you enough.” - Tony Taipale, President, Finnish Horton (Cluster Headache) Association
“I feel really emotional, such a poignant portrayal...it illustrates the struggle so well. Thank you so much for being our ambassador." - J.H., cluster headache patient, re: our animated video
“I am rarely speechless! Your work is astonishingly wonderful and will, I am certain, contribute to the reduction of suffering.” - Prof. Larry Schor, cluster headache researcher, Univ. of West Georgia
Are you interested in helping to prevent and alleviate suffering in the world? Although OPIS is not currently hiring staff, we are always looking for enthusiastic people willing to contribute some of their time and expertise to projects and campaigns from whichever location they are based in (our own core team is spread between Switzerland, Spain and Canada). The work can include basic online research, writing, graphic design, video creation, advocacy campaigns and event organisation. You can contact us here - please let us know about your background and interests. We look forward to hearing from you!
We are also looking for donors and philanthropists interested in supporting creative new projects and promoting the prevention of intense suffering as our highest global priority. You can donate directly here.