Various theories have been put forward in an attempt to explain what makes moral judgments justifiable. One of the main theories currently advocated in bioethics is a form of coherentism known as wide reflective equilibrium. In this paper, I argue that wide reflective equilibrium is not a satisfactory approach for justifying moral beliefs and propositions. A long-standing theoretical problem for reflective equilibrium has not been adequately resolved, and, as a result, the main arguments for wide reflective equilibrium are unsuccessful. Moreover, (...) practical problems that arise in using the method of wide reflective equilibrium undermine the idea that it is a viable approach for justifying moral judgments about cases and policies. Given that wide reflective equilibrium is the most prominent version of coherentism, these considerations call into question the coherentist approach to justification in bioethics. (shrink)
Principlism has been advocated as an approach to resolving concrete cases and issues in bioethics, but critics have pointed out that a main problem for principlism is its lack of a method for assigning priorities to conflicting ethical principles. A version of principlism referred to as 'specified principlism' has been put forward in an attempt to overcome this problem. However, none of the advocates of specified principlism have attempted to demonstrate that the method actually works in resolving detailed clinical cases. (...) This paper shows that when one tries to use it, specified principlism fails to provide practical assistance in deciding how to resolve concrete cases. Proponents of specified principlism have attempted to defend it by arguing that it is superior to casuistry, but it can be shown that their arguments are faulty. Because of these reasons, specified principlism should not be considered a leading contender in the search for methods of making justifiable decisions in clinical cases. (shrink)
Some defenders of the view that there is a common morality have conceived such morality as being universal, in the sense of extending across all cultures and times. Those who deny the existence of such a common morality often argue that the universality claim is implausible. Defense of common morality must take account of the distinction between descriptive and normative claims that there is a common morality. This essay considers these claims separately and identifies the nature of the arguments for (...) each claim. It argues that the claim that there is a universal common morality in the descriptive sense has not been successfully defended to date. It maintains that the claim that there is a common morality in the normative sense need not be understood as universalist. This paper advocates the concept of group specific common morality, including country-specific versions. It suggests that both the descriptive and the normative claims that there are country-specific common moralities are plausible, and that a country-specific normative common morality could provide the basis for a country's bioethics. (shrink)
An objection often is raised against the use of reproductive technology to create "nontraditional families," as in ovum donation for postmenopausal women or postmortem artificial insemination. The objection states that conceiving children in such circumstances is harmful to them because of adverse features of these nontraditional families. A similar objection is raised when parents, through negligence or willful disregard of risks, create children with serious genetic diseases or other developmental handicaps. It is claimed that such reproduction harms the children who (...) are created. In reply to this Harm to the Child Argument, it has been pointed out that the procreative acts that supposedly harm the child are the very acts that create the child. This reply has been developed into an argument that, in most of the types of cases under consideration, creating the child does not harm her. This reply, the No Harm Argument, has been stated in three main ways, and it is one of the most misunderstood arguments in bioethics. This paper examines the main rebuttals that have been made to the No Harm Argument and argues that none of them is successful. (shrink)
Although there are important moral arguments against cloning human beings, it has been suggested that there might be exceptional cases in which cloning humans would be ethically permissible. One type of supposed exceptional case involves infertile couples who want to have children by cloning. This paper explores whether cloning would be ethically permissible in infertility cases and the separate question of whether we should have a policy allowing cloning in such cases. One caveat should be stated at the beginning, however. (...) After the cloning of a sheep in Scotland, scientists pointed out that using the same technique to clone humans would, at present, involve substantial risks of producing children with birth defects. This concern over safety gives compelling support to the view that it would be wrong to attempt human cloning now. Thus, we do not reach the debate about exceptional cases unless the issue of safety can be set aside. I ask the reader to consider the possibility that in the future humans could be cloned without a significantly elevated risk of birth defects from the cloning process itself. The remainder of this paper assumes, for sake of argument, that cloning technology has advanced to that point. Given this assumption, would cloning in the infertility cases be ethically permissible, and should it be legally permitted? (shrink)
Casuistic methods of reasoning in medical ethics have been criticized by a number of authors. At least five main objections to casuistry have been put forward: (1) it requires a uniformity of views that is not present in contemporary pluralistic society; (2) it cannot achieve consensus on controversial issues; (3) it is unable to examine critically intuitions about cases; (4) it yields different conclusions about cases when alternative paradigms are chosen; and (5) it cannot articulate the grounds of its conclusions. (...) Two main versions of casuistry have been put forward, and the responses to these objections depend in part on which version one is defending. Jonsen has advocated a version modeled on the approach to casuistry used by moral theologians in the 15th and 16th century, involving comparison of the case at hand with a single paradigm and a lineup of cases. The present author has advocated another version, drawn from experience with cases in clinical ethics, which involves comparing the case at hand with two or more paradigms. Four of the five objections are unsuccessful when directed against Jonsen'sapproach, and all of them are unsuccessful when directed against the approach involving comparison with two or more paradigms. (shrink)
The President’s Council on Bioethics has addressed the moral status of human preembryos in its reports on stem cell research and human therapeutic cloning. Although the Council has been criticized for being hand-picked to favor the right-to-life viewpoint concerning human preembryos, it has embraced the idea that the right-to-life position should be defended in secular terms. This is an important feature of the Council’s work, and it demonstrates a recognition of the need for genuine engagement between opposing sides in the (...) debate over stem cell research. To promote this engagement, the Council has stated in secular terms several arguments for the personhood of human preembryos. This essay presents and critiques those arguments, and it concludes that they are unsuccessful. If the best arguments in support of the personhood of human preembryos have been presented by the Council, then there are no reasonable secular arguments in support of that view. (shrink)
Two factors are discussed which have important implications for the issue of paternalism in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU): the physician's role as advocate for the patient; and the range of typical responses of parents who learn that their neonate has a serious illness. These factors are pertinent to the task of identifying those actions which are paternalistic, as well as to the question of whether paternalism is justified. It is argued that certain behavior by physicians which is often (...) thought to be paternalistic is not in fact so. Furthermore, an argument in defense of paternalism which has largely been overlooked is presented. Examples are given to illustrate how paternalism actually arises in the NICU, and it is argued that paternalism is justified in some cases. (shrink)
Jean E. Chambers and Timothy F. Murphy responded to my article “Cloning and Infertility” and extended the debate over human cloning in interesting ways. I had argued that none of the objections to cloning by somatic cell nuclear transfer are successful in the context of infertile couples who use cloning to have genetically related children, assuming the issue of safety is overcome by scientific advances.
The concept of minimal risk plays a key role in federal regulations on the protection of human research subjects. Although there has been considerable discussion of the meaning of minimal risk, the question of how this concept should be interpreted in research involving pregnant women and fetuses has not been addressed. This essay reviews the literature on minimal risk and argues for an interpretation of that concept in the context of research involving pregnant women and fetuses.
The first reported case of postmortem sperm retrieval occurred in 1978, involving a man who became brain dead after a motor vehicle accident and whose wife requested removal of his sperm so that she could be artificially inseminated. Physicians performed the retrieval by surgically excising the ducts that transport sperm from the testes and removing sperm from them. Since that time, several other methods for retrieving sperm from such patients have been reported, and at least 141 cases have been documented (...) in which requests were made for removal of sperm from men who were dead or irreversibly unconscious. Moreover, there have been several reports of pregnancies and births resulting from assisted reproduction using sperm retrieved in such cases. (shrink)
: Bernard Gert's theory of morality has received much critical attention, but there has been relatively little commentary on its practical value for bioethics. An important test of an ethical theory is its ability to yield results that are helpful and plausible when applied to real cases. An examination of Gert's theory and his own attempts to apply it to bioethics cases reveals that there are serious difficulties with regard to its application. These problems are sufficiently severe to support the (...) conclusion that Gert's theory is unacceptable as an approach for resolving bioethics cases, even relatively noncontroversial cases. (shrink)
Various arguments have been given against positive euthanasia, but little attention has been given to the question of whether these arguments are uniformly effective in all contexts. There appears to be a range of cases, involving non-voluntary killing of irreversibly unconscious patients, in which these arguments do not succeed. Various reasons have been given in support of positive killing in such cases. It can be argued that there is a range of cases for which a policy of allowing positive killing (...) is morally required. However, currently there are legal obstacles to implementing such a policy. (shrink)
: Continuing the dialogue begun in the March 2006 issue of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, I suggest that Bernard Gert's response to my paper does not adequately address the criticisms I make of his theory's application to bioethics cases.
In this case, one should expect that providing hydration sufficient to maintain fluid balance would tend to prolong the dying process. In a well-known case at Johns Hopkins University, fluids (and feedings) were withheld from a newborn with anomalies, and the infant died after 15 days, compared to three weeks in the present case, in which fluids were given. In the famous Baby Doe case, fluids and nutrition were withheld and the infant lived only six days. In the case at (...) hand, prolonging the dying process risks causing suffering for the infant from various complications that can arise, and it adds to the emotional burden on the family. We learned from the Johns Hopkins case that prolonged dying is also emotionally difficult for the nurses and other health professionals caring for the infant. (shrink)