Bioethicists, get out of the way!

In “The Moral Imperative for Bioethicists,” Steven Pinker argues that ethicists should not use their philosophical distinctions and niceties to slow down research. “Given this potential bonanza, the primary moral goal for today’s bioethics can be summarized in a single sentence. Get out of the way. A truly ethical bioethics should not bog down research in red tape, moratoria, or threats of prosecution based on nebulous but sweeping principles such as ‘dignity,’ ‘sacredness,’ or ‘social justice.’ Nor should it thwart research that has likely benefits now or in the near future by sowing panic about speculative harms in the distant future.”

Is there any way to settle moral disagreements?

When people disagree about moral issues, is there any rational way to resolve those disputes? Some think there are moral principles that any rational person must accept. But in “Can Moral Disputes Be Resolves?” Alex Rosenberg says there aren’t any such principles. The problem, according to Rosenberg, is that moral judgments are not true or false statements based on applying moral principles to particular circumstances. They are instead expressions of our responses to conduct. “Many people will not find this a satisfactory outcome. They will hope to show that even if moral judgments are expressions of our emotions, nevertheless at least some among these attitudes are objective, right, correct, well justified. But if we can’t find objective grounds for our emotional response to honor killing, our condemnation of it might turn out to just be cultural prejudice.”

Peter Singer on racism and speciesism

In an interview with George Yancy, Peter Singer discuss the origins and nature of racism and speciesism: “I don’t see any problem in opposing both racism and speciesism, indeed, to me the greater intellectual difficulty lies in trying to reject one form of prejudice and oppression while accepting and even practicing the other. And here we should again mention another of these deeply rooted, widespread forms of prejudice and oppression, sexism. If we think that simply being a member of the species Homo sapiens justifies us in giving more weight to the interests of members of our own species than we give to members of other species, what are we to say to the racists or sexists who make the same claim on behalf of their race or sex? … The more perceptive social critics recognize that these are all aspects of the same phenomenon. The African-American comedian Dick Gregory, who worked with Martin Luther King as a civil rights activist, has written that when he looks at circus animals, he thinks of slavery: “Animals in circuses represent the domination and oppression we have fought against for so long. They wear the same chains and shackles.”

When medical treatment is futile

Futility cases … when doctors believe further medical treatment is futile and yet the patient’s family asks for treatment beyond palliative care … are nerve-wracking: “For most doctors, these cases present a crisis of conscience. How can we obey a central pillar of our profession — to do no harm — when we are forced to provide treatment that will only prolong suffering?” In “It’s Not Just about the ‘Quality of Life,’ ” Sandeep Jauhar sugguests: “Embracing the ethic of social justice can help us out of this morass. Social justice in medicine promotes the allocation of limited resources to maximize societal benefit.”