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About OPIS

The Organisation for the Prevention of Intense Suffering (OPIS) is a think-and-do tank designing and promoting 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:

  1. Advocate for solutions to specific causes of intense suffering
  2. Promote a compassionate ethical foundation for global decision-making where the prevention of intense suffering is given the highest priority

Specific cause areas we are currently focusing on include:

  • Access to effective medicines to relieve severe physical 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.

 

      À propos d'OPIS       Über OPIS       Sobre OPIS     

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 ethical blueprints for society.

We collaborate closely with other organisations aiming to prevent suffering, including International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policies (IDHDP), International Association for Hospice & Palliative Care (IAHPC), Hospice BurkinaCompassion in PoliticsPEA - Pour l’Égalité Animale and others.

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 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 Dug 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 tryptamine 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 papers and blueprints for compassionate governance

Writing and widely disseminating white papers with specific solutions to suffering and guidance for global decision-making, and designing blueprints for more stable and compassionate governance. This includes developing a more holistic ethical framework that addresses apparent 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 social systems can guide activism and the creation of more stable compassionate governance.

Creative communication tools and campaigns

We are planning to create films and other communication tools and develop creative campaigns that will reach many people worldwide with a message of action-oriented compassion for human and non-human animals. 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.

Team

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. Jonathan obtained a PhD in molecular biology after studying at Harvard and the University of Basel, and spent several years in industry before turning to writing and public speaking on ethics and compassion. He is the author of The Battle for Compassion: Ethics in an Apathetic Universe (New York: Algora Publishing, 2011), which offers a sweeping overview of our situation as a species and methodically addresses the question “What matters?” He also produced a short film to communicate some of the key ideas. He is currently working on a new book that develops a more holistic approach to ethics. @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. @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, Campaigner

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.

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.

Board of Directors

Jonathan Leighton - see bio above

Jean-Christophe Lurenbaum - see bio above

Jonas Vollmer

Jonas is Executive Director of the Effective Altruism Foundation and manages and coordinates EAF's activities. He studied medicine and economics with a focus on health and development economics, during which time he acquired expertise central to charity evaluation. He previously served on the boards of several charities. His career choice, motivated by effective altruism, was covered in major Swiss media outlets. @Jonas_Vollmer

Advisory Board

David Pearce

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 Atout

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 Sibal

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 Leenaert

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 Watson

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

Oscar Horta

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.

Jamie Catto

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 Caviola

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 Brewer

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

Compassion
There is no meaningful ethics without compassion. Compassion means caring about others' suffering and taking concrete actions to relieve it. The focus on "others" is central to ethics, encapsulated in the Golden Rule in all its variations over the millennia: "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." Compassion is the starting point for any ethical framework and activism that stems from it, with the circle of compassion extending to all sentient beings with the capacity to suffer.
In principle, rationality alone can provide a sufficient argument for being compassionate, because the distinctness of our individual identities is actually an illusion and we are all, in a sense, variations of one other. So from a bird's eye perspective, another one's suffering is equally important to one's own. But in practice, rational argumentation is usually insufficient, and spreading compassion requires that we tap into people's capacity for empathy, raise their awareness of suffering and also encourage them to practice self-compassion.
Ethical philosophy

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.

Ethical theories such as “negative utilitarianism” (NU) that focus on suffering rather than happiness have in the past been overlooked because they seemed to conflict with our intuitions, such as that minor suffering is trivial, or that bringing more happiness into the world is also a good thing. But as individuals, we can personally value the creation of happiness, while still recognising that alleviating intense suffering will always be the ethical priority, because it cannot be cancelled out simply by adding more happiness elsewhere. One shorthand way of formulating this pragmatic ethical philosophy is with the term “xNU+”: “U” stands for utilitarianism - but only in the narrow sense of optimising impact, without aggregating suffering and happiness; “N” stands for negative - that is, focusing on suffering; “x” refers to extreme or intense suffering as our ethical priority, and not minor pains such as pinpricks or the occasional headache; and very importantly, the “+” explicitly acknowledges that human beings have the need and desire to lead happy, meaningful lives, and a workable ethical framework has to allow space for people to thrive, and also accommodate some of their moral intuitions, if they are also to be effective as ethical agents of change.
This approach to ethics shifts the emphasis away from judging individual people as more or less "virtuous", and even from the distraction of labelling specific actions as either "ethical" or "unethical". Ethics is better seen as a continuous process of promoting compassion and rationality, and taking concrete steps to prevent as much future suffering as possible. However, whenever there are decisions to be made about having impact in reducing suffering, all things being equal, we should focus on the most intense suffering and on situations where the greatest number of individuals are affected. More reflections can be found here.

Get Involved

Are you interested in helping to reduce 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.

Donate

We rely on private donations to support our organisation and run projects. The Donate button below allows you make a single or monthly donation via your PayPal account or credit card. We are a Swiss non-profit association, although we do not currently have tax exempt status for Swiss residents. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.

Donations can also be made directly to:

OPIS
IBAN: CH17 0900 0000 9116 4774 4
BIC: POFICHBEXXX
Postfinance Ltd, Mingerstrasse 20, 3030 Berne, Switzerland

If you are considering donating specifically to support our projects to promote morphine access in lower-income countries, this document provides an assessment of the potential effectiveness of donations compared to other cause areas.

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