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)
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)
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)
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)
As described by Lori Gruen in the Perspective column at the back of this issue, federally supported biomedical research conducted on chimpanzees has now come to an end in the United States, although the wind-down has taken longer than expected. The process began with a 2011 Institute of Medicine report that set up several stringent criteria that sharply limited biomedical research. The National Institutes of Health accepted the recommendations and formed a committee to determine how best to implement them. The (...) immediate question raised by this transition was whether the IOM restrictions should be extended in some form to other nonhuman primates—and beyond them to other kinds of animals. In the lead article in this issue, Anne Barnhill, Steven Joffe, and Franklin Miller consider the status of other nonhuman primates. (shrink)
I recently wrote to a friend and occasional Report contributor that part of the job of editor, as I understand it, is to recognize the merit in and, in effect, foster the advancement of work that one actually believes is in some sense wrongheaded. It's a point I want on the table as I introduce the two articles in this issue of the Report—not because I necessarily think these articles are wrongheaded, but because I want it clear that publishing the (...) articles does not necessarily mean I or others at the Center think they are right, either. We publish articles that we think advance thinking, but that can mean publishing articles that challenge morally compelling positions. Thus, deciding whether one agrees with a .. (shrink)
For the last couple of years, The Hastings Center has been running a research project titled “The Ethical Issues of Synthetic Biology” (funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation) that is focused primarily on whether the prospect of altering microorganisms to meet human ends is intrinsically troubling. “Synthetic biology” is not necessarily limited to the alteration of microorganisms, but the applications now under development—such as yeast that produce a precursor of the antimalarial drug artemisinin or blue-green algae that produce fuel—are (...) certainly limited to that. A set of essays in this issue of the Report features a variety of different takes on the field. For the last six months of the project .. (shrink)
This issue of the Hastings Center Report includes a special report that comes out of a three-year Hastings Center research project on controversies surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders in children. Over the last couple of decades, the number of children diagnosed with mental disorders has risen significantly, and so, too, has the number of children prescribed medications. Some critics have accused psychiatry of overdiagnosis—of sometimes diagnosing children with psychiatric disorders when their behavior is actually within the range (...) of normal. This controversy led Erik Parens and Josie Johnston, authors of the report and the Hastings Center investigators in this project, to ask what a .. (shrink)
One of the early steps in the process of putting together an issue of the Hastings Center Report is ticking through each column we plan to run in that issue and making sure that we have somebody lined up to write it and—if we already have somebody lined up to write it—that the person hasn't forgotten. But as this issue approached, one of those we had all nicely lined up contacted us first, to say that he was retiring from this (...) particular gig.For many years, we have had a wonderful rotating line-up for At Law: Rebecca Dresser, of Washington University of St. Louis; Lawrence O. Gostin, of George Washington University; and Carl Schneider, of the University of Michigan, have taken turns, each writing twice a year. .. (shrink)