Going hand-in-hand with the advances in biology and its many new applications, are questions of an ethical nature.
Ethical considerations lie at the root of many personal and social decisions we make. At its most basic level ethics concerns itself with what we consider to be good and bad, and how we should live and behave in our communities.
In the field of genetics, for instance, it may become technically feasible to genetically clone a human. Whether we should or not is an ethical consideration.
With many of these issues, there often is not a simple right or wrong solution. Which isn’t to say that a simple solution cannot be imposed by a legal ruling or a religious doctrine.
Potentially the most fascinating and intellectually challenging aspects to this comes from within the plurality of a liberal society. After all, this currently is where the majority of scientific discoveries are made, and not in the intellectual vacuum of a theocracy.
The sheer pace of bio-technological innovation is a further complicating factor. Many of our ethical beliefs on what is permissible are derived from both our current social framework and our cultural heritage. The social institutions we use to define our ethical stance, especially from a legal perspective, are often worked out at a much slower pace than the innovations in biology and medicine.
In addition to the immediate legal considerations of whether it is permissible to to turn off a life support system, even though that system’s technology could keep the person alive, the questions raised here can cause us to reflect more deeply on who and what we are as humans.
Broadening this out from the intensely personal to a society at large, then some fascinating social issues arise from the continued innovations in bio-technology. For instance, if life threatening hereditary illnesses can be vastly reduced, what impact does a population which will potentially live longer have on the earth’s resources, on prejudices against the elderly, on financial markets and on government social planning.
Advances in biological sciences are presenting us with many opportunities to reconsider and reflect on issues such as: The relationship between the individual and the group; the gap between the haves and have nots; our value perceptions of what constitutes health; the allocation of healthcare resources; who we bring into this world and who we let leave … and many more.
If you would like to explore this topic further, here are some resources:
A Multidisciplinary To Moral Issues In Medicine And Biology
Ed. David Steinberg M.D.
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© David R. Durham