In this issue of CQ we introduce a new feature, in which noted bioethicists are invited to reflect on vital current issues. Our first invitee, John Harris, will subsequently assume editorship of this section.
Biomedical research involving human participants is highly regulated and subject to stringent ethical requirements. Clinical research ethics, regulation and policy have tended to focus almost exclusively on the protection of participants' interests against harms that might result from taking part in research. Less consideration, however, has been given to the interests that patients may themselves have in research participation, even in trials that may be beyond the bounds of current clinical research practice. In this paper, we consider the case of (...) a suggested extension to clinical trial protocols to explore the ethics of participation in ‘risky’ research. We argue that patients may have a strong interest in taking part in research, and that even when greater-than-usual risks may be present, such research can be both ethically and scientifically justified. Finally, we suggest that there might be scope in some cases to assert a right to participate in research, and that the possibility of such a right merits further consideration. (shrink)
This paper identifies human enhancement as one of the most significant areas of bioethical interest in the last twenty years. It discusses in more detail one area, namely moral enhancement, which is generating significant contemporary interest. The author argues that so far from being susceptible to new forms of high tech manipulation, either genetic, chemical, surgical or neurological, the only reliable methods of moral enhancement, either now or for the foreseeable future, are either those that have been in human and (...) animal use for millennia, namely socialization, education and parental supervision or those high tech methods that are general in their application. By that is meant those forms of cognitive enhancement that operate across a wide range of cognitive abilities and do not target specifically ‘ethical’ capacities. The paper analyses the work of some of the leading contemporary advocates of moral enhancement and finds that in so far as they identify moral qualities or moral emotions for enhancement they have little prospect of success. (shrink)
In a number of papers, including the one published in this journal, Robert Sparrow has mounted attacks on consequentialism using principally what he takes to be an important fact, which he believes constitutes a reductio ad absurdum of consequentialism in its many forms and of this author's approach to enhancement and disability in particular (see page 276). This fact is the current longer life expectancy of women when compared with men. Here the author argues that Sparrow's arguments and entire approach (...) utterly fail. In doing so the author hopes to shed further light on the role of normalcy, normal species functioning and species-typical functioning in debates about enhancement and disability. (shrink)
John Harris has previously proposed that there is a moral duty to participate in scientific research. This concept has recently been challenged by Iain Brassington, who asserts that the principles cited by Harris in support of the duty to research fail to establish its existence. In this paper we address these criticisms and provide new arguments for the existence of a moral obligation to research participation. This obligation, we argue, arises from two separate but related principles. The principle of fairness (...) obliges us to support the social institutions which sustain us, of which research is one; while the principle of beneficence, or the duty of rescue, imposes upon us a duty to prevent harm to others, including by supporting potentially beneficial, even life-saving research. We argue that both these lines of argument support the duty to research, and explore further aspects of this duty, such as to whom it is owed and how it might be discharged. (shrink)
In Enhancing Evolution, leading bioethicist John Harris dismantles objections to genetic engineering, stem-cell research, designer babies, and cloning and makes an ethical case for biotechnology that is both forthright and rigorous.
Suppose that you are soon to be a parent and you learn that there are some simple measures that you can take to make sure that your child will be healthy. In particular, suppose that by following the doctor’s advice, you can prevent your child from having a disability, you can make your child immune from a number of dangerous diseases and you can even enhance its future intelligence. All that is required for this to happen is that you (or (...) your partner) comply with lifestyle and dietary requirements. Do you and your partner have any moral reasons (or moral obligations) to follow the doctor’s advice? Would it make a difference if, instead of following some simple dietary requirements, you consented to genetic engineering to make sure that your child was free from disabilities, healthy and with above average intelligence? In this paper we develop a framework for dealing with these questions and we suggest some directions the answers might take. (shrink)
In this paper the permissibility of stem cell research on early human embryos is defended. It is argued that, in order to have moral status, an individual must have an interest in its own wellbeing. Sentience is a prerequisite for having an interest in avoiding pain, and personhood is a prerequisite for having an interest in the continuation of one's own existence. Early human embryos are not sentient and therefore they are not recipients of direct moral consideration. Early human embryos (...) do not satisfy the requirements for personhood, but there are arguments to the effect that they should be treated as persons nonetheless. These are the arguments from potentiality, symbolic value and the principle of human dignity. These arguments are challenged in this paper and it is claimed that they offer us no good reason to believe that early human embryos should be treated as persons. (shrink)
On both sides of the debate on the use of embryos in stem cell research, and in reproductive technologies more generally, rhetoric and symbolic images have been evoked to influence public opinion. Human embryos themselves are described as either “very small human beings” or “small clusters of cells.” The intentions behind the use of these phrases are clear. One description suggests that embryos are already members of our community and share with us a right to life or at least respectful (...) treatment, whereas the other focuses on the differences between embryos and adult human beings with normal capacities, that is, their lack of sentience and of personal identity. The research on stem cells has been nicknamed “Frankenstein science” or presented as “research that could stop Parkinson disease.” Again, one description reminds us of scary science-fiction scenarios where the scientist is guilty of “playing God,” whereas the other description highlights the worth and potential benefits of the research outcomes. (shrink)
The European Union is a nightmare from the perspective of the ethics and regulation of science. A hitherto insoluble problem has been the task of drafting ethical principles which do not founder on the radically different attitudes taken to the question of the moral status of the human embryo. Following the conclusions reached in an international project, EUROSTEM, we suggest that this problem can be solved by concentration on the scope of principles and we emphasize that European research should be (...) funded in a way that does not discriminate between individual states and researchers in the EU. Finally, we observe that the availability of any eventual embryonic stem cell therapies will pose a dilemma for those countries and those people that have declared stem cell research to be unacceptable. (shrink)
When children are too young to make their ownautonomous decisions, decisions have to be madefor them. In certain contexts we allow parentsand others to make these decisions, and do notinterfere unless the decision clearly violatesthe best interest of the child. In othercontexts we put a priori limits on whatkind of decisions parents can make, and/or whatkinds of considerations they have to take intoaccount. Consent to medical research currentlyfalls into the second group mentioned here. Wewant to consider and ultimately reject one (...) ofthe arguments put forward for putting medicalresearch into the second category. We willargue that some objections to children'sparticipation in research are either based onan implausibly restrictive conception of whatis in fact in the child's best interests orthat there is an implicit and false premisehidden in this argument; i.e., the premise thatour children have so deeply fallen into moralturpitude that we must assume that they wouldnot want to fulfill their moral obligations,or, that they will grow up to be morallydeficient and will then wish not to have actedwell while a child. (shrink)
This paper argues that a precautionary approach to scientific progress of the sort advocated by Walter Glannon with respect to life-extending therapies involves both incoherence and irresolvable paradox. This paper demonstrates the incoherence of the precautionary approach in many circumstances and argues that with respect to life-extending therapies we have at present no persuasive reasons for a moratorium on such research.
The Oxford Readings in Philosophy series brings together important recent writing in major areas of philosophical enquiry, selected from a variety of sources which may not be conveniently available to the university student or general reader. In this volume, John Harris presents the examples of the very best philosophical writing in bioethics from an internationally renowned list of contributors; authors featured include Peter Singer, Helga Kuhse, Tom Beauchamp, Ruth Macklin, and Ronald Dworkin. The book begins with a substantial overview by (...) John Harris, looking at the evolution and nature of bioethics, contemporary debates, and introduces each of the pieces included, setting them in their academic context. -/- Organized thematically, the volume covers the beginnings of life, end of life, value of life, quality of life, future generations, and professional ethics. It is a wide-ranging volume that covers the broad spectrum of the major topics in bioethics, and its clear and accessible approach makes it essential reading for all students of bioethics. (shrink)