Should there be limits to the human alteration of the natural world? Through a study of debates about the environment, agricultural biotechnology, synthetic biology, and human enhancement, Gregory E. Kaebnick argues that such moral concerns about nature can be legitimate but are also complex, contestable, and politically limited.
Much work in bioethics tries to sidestep bedrock questions about moral values. This is fine if we agree on our values; arguments about human enhancement suggest we do not. One bedrock question underlying these arguments concerns the role of emotion in morality: worries about enhancement are derided as emotional and thus irrational. In fact, both emotion and reason are integral to all moral judgment.
The emerging phenomenon of genetic paternity testing shows how good science and useful social reform can run off the rails. Genetic paternity testing enables us to sort out, in a transparent and decisive way, the age-old but traditionally never-quite-answerable question of whether a child is genetically related to the husband of the child's mother. Given the impossibility of settling this question for certain, British and American law has long held that a biological relationship must almost always be assumed to exist. (...) According to what is known as the “marital presumption” or “presumption of legitimacy,” a child born to a woman within a marital relationship is assumed to be the biological child of the woman's husband unless he was absent, impotent, or sterile. In other words, if paternity was not a physical impossibility for the husband, there was a nearly irrebuttable presumption that he was the father of the child. The husband was locked into the role of fatherhood. a. (shrink)
: A comparison of casuistry with the strain of particularism developed by John McDowell and David Wiggins suggests that casuistry is susceptible to two very different mistakes. First, as sometimes developed, casuistry tends toward an implausible rigidity and systematization of moral knowledge. Particularism offers a corrective to this error. Second, however, casuistry tends sometimes to present moral knowledge as insufficiently systematized: It often appears to hold that moral deliberation is merely a kind of perception. Such a perceptual model of deliberation (...) cannot offer a convincing account of the possibility of moral progress. This second problem is one to which particularism is itself prone. To redress it, other aspects of casuistry must be exploited: Casuistry contains an account of presumptive generalizations that explains how moral deliberation might be structured by rules while also depending at critical junctures on perception. (shrink)
One of the themes running through this issue of the Hastings Center Report is the complexity of how private moral commitments cash out in the public sphere. It's a theme I find both fascinating and important.The lead article is about how hospices in Oregon have dealt with the state's law permitting physician-assisted death. Most patients who have sought physician-assisted death in Oregon did so while in hospice, suggesting to some people that hospices are centrally involved in physician-assisted death—both in patients' (...) decision-making and in administering the medications. In fact, their involvement is much more limited and circumspect, as authors Courtney Campbell and Jessica Cox document.The focus of the article .. (shrink)
In May 2016, right around the time that this issue of the Hastings Center Report should be published, The Hastings Center is holding a conference in New York City titled “Bioethics Meets Moral Psychology.” The goal of the conference is to consider the lessons that bioethicists should learn from the raft of literature now accumulating on how the mental processes of perception, emotion, and thinking affect things that bioethicists care about, from the education of health care professionals to the conflicts (...) that arise in clinical care, the “culture wars” over bioethical policy issues, the status of different cultures’ value systems, and the very understanding of the values that are foundational in moral thinking. The articles in this issue simply provide more evidence that bioethics is meeting moral psychology. (shrink)
For the last six months or so, some of us at The Hastings Center have been participating in a kind of short-term book group. Together we have been thinking about the contribution of moral psychology to bioethics. One of our questions is whether bioethics’ understanding of moral values should draw on what moral psychology tells us about moral values. Bioethics tends to look to philosophy for guidance. Can it learn from insights in moral psychology into the biological, environmental, and cultural (...) influences on morality? The question can be taken in many directions. One that I've wrestled with has to do with debates about genetic engineering, where a common concern is that genetic alteration of other organisms, and maybe also of humans, doesn't sit well with the kind of relationship that people want to have to nature. (shrink)
Good ethics start with good facts, as Tom Murray, past president of Hastings, often said when he was here, and that alone might be enough to declare that fields like genetic science and synthetic biology warrant their own subfields of ethics—“genethics” and “synthethics.” Perhaps getting clear on how genetic science might be used to improve human health requires such deep immersion in the genetic science that those studying the science's ethical implications are in effect in a subfield of ethics. A (...) further issue is whether the ethical questions about the scientific facts in a nascent field are new. (shrink)
Moral philosophy has its version of physics’ search for a unified theory. Physicists have often thought it unseemly that the four fundamental forces governing how particles interact with each other cannot be reduced to one. Moral philosophers have often tried to unify the fundamental values governing how moral agents interact with each other. Bioethicists have mostly given up on complete unification and settled for drawing on multiple fundamental values. They see unification as a metatheoretical and unproductive project, too much the (...) stuff of physics and not enough like engineering. Still, there's been a long-running debate within bioethics about how many and which values to keep in the toolkit. Can autonomy, beneficence, and justice, fashioned into “principles,” do all of the essential work? Or are “dignity” and “solidarity,” for example, also sometimes necessary? The lead article in this issue of the Hastings Center Report argues for including solidarity in the kit. (shrink)