This review essay examines H. TristramEngelhardt, Jr.'s The Foundations of Bioethics, a contemporary nonfeminist text in mainstream biomedical ethics. It focuses upon a central concept, Engelhardt 's idea of the moral community and argues that the most serious problem in the book is its failure to take account of the political and social structures of moral communities, structures which deeply affect issues in biomedical ethics.
H. TristramEngelhardt has made profound contributions to both philosophical and religious bioethics, and his philosophical and religious works may be read in mutually illuminating ways. As a philosopher, Engelhardt has mustered a powerful critique of secular efforts to develop a shared substantive morality. As a religious scholar, Engelhardt has affirmed a Christian bioethics that does not emanate from human rationality but from the experience of God found in Orthodox Christianity. In this collection of essays, both (...) defenders and critics of Engelhardt's religious bioethics have their say, and the spirited nature of their discussion attests, in its own right, to Engelhardt's enduring influence. (shrink)
Once God is no longer recognized as the ground and the enforcer of morality, the character and force of morality undergoes a significant change, a point made by G.E.M. Anscombe in her observation that without God the significance of morality is changed, as the word criminal would be changed if there were no criminal law and criminal courts. There is no longer in principle a God's-eye perspective from which one can envisage setting moral pluralism aside. In addition, it becomes impossible (...) to show that morality should always trump concerns of prudence, concerns for one's own non-moral interests and the interests of those to whom one is close. Immanuel Kant's attempt to maintain the unity of morality and the force of moral obligation by invoking the idea of God and the postulates of pure practical reason are explored and assessed. Hegel's reconstruction of the status of moral obligation is also examined, given his attempt to eschew Kant's thing-in-itself, as well as Kant's at least possible transcendent God. Severed from any metaphysical anchor, morality gains a contingent content from socio-historical context and its enforcement from the state. Hegel's disengagement from a transcendent God marks a watershed in the place of God in philosophical reflections regarding the status of moral obligations on the European continent. Anscombe is vindicated. Absent the presence of God, there is an important change in the force of moral obligation. (shrink)
In his 1993 health-care reform proposal, Bill Clinton offered health care as a civil right. If his proposal had been accepted, all Americans would have been guaranteed a basic package of health care. At the same time, they would have been forbidden to provide or purchase better basic health care, as a cost of participating in a national system to which they were compelled to contribute. A welfare entitlement would have been created and an egalitarian ethos enforced. This essay will (...) address why such egalitarian proposals are morally unjustifiable, both in terms of the establishment of a uniform health-care welfare right, and in terms of the egalitarian constraints these proposals impose against the use of private resources in the purchase of better-quality basic health care, not to mention luxury care. (shrink)
The prospect of germ-line genetic engineering, the ability to engineer genetic changes that can be passed on to subsequent generations, raises a wide range of moral and public policy questions. One of the most provocative questions is, simply put: Are there moral reasons that can be articulated in general secular terms for accepting human nature as we find it? Or, at least in terms of general secular moral restraints, may we reshape human nature better to meet our own interests, as (...) we define them? This question in turn raises the further question of whether human nature as it now exists has a moral standing akin to sacredness that can be understood in nonreligious terms. This essay will take as a given that it is not possible to show in general secular moral terms that human nature has a sanctity or special moral standing that should guide secular health-care policy. In addition, as this essay shows, it is not possible through appeals to considerations of authorizing consent or beneficence toward others to remedy this failure to establish a sanctity or special moral standing for human nature. Absent a religious or culturally normative understanding of human nature and given the availability of germline genetic engineering, there is a plurality of possibilities for refashioning our nature. The unavailability of substantive secular moral constraints on germ-line genetic engineering discloses a secularly licit plurality of possibilities for human nature. The likelihood that we will be able to refashion our human nature reveals how few general secular moral constraints there are to guide us. Paradoxically, the more we are able to reengineer our human nature, the less guidance is available. The plurality of possible conceptions of human well-being that can be pursued through germ-line genetic engineering challenges our self-understanding as humans. Given human freedom, and in the absence of taken-for-granted religious or cultural moral constraints, the likelihood of germ-line genetic engineering opens the possibility of human nature in the plural. (shrink)
En 1986, H.T. Engelhardt justifiait l'autonomie de la bioéthique à l'égard des éthiques religieuses en partant du fait que les hommes de notre temps sont « moralement des étrangers », les uns pour les autres. En 1991, il entreprit de mieux discerner les relations entre éthiques séculière et religieuse, en gardant la même orientation de pensée, mais en s'attaquant à l'idéologie d'un humanisme athée. Il cherche à établir sur les bases d'une rationalité universelle un « cadre de référence neutre (...) », commun à l'ensemble des partenaires du débat éthique contemporain, mais qui laisserait la place à une pluralité de visions philosophiques, religieuses et morales. Car ce serait ruiner toute éthique que de vouloir fonder la bioéthique sur le seul recours au consentement libre et éclairé du malade et sur le respect de son autonomie, à l'exclusion de toute recherche de « buts transcendants ». – La pensée d'Engelhardt n'est pas exempte d'ambiguïtés sinon de contradictions : il ne dit pas comment son humanisme séculier donnera satisfaction aux partisans des éthiques religieuses ni quel sera le statut institutionnel de ce cadre de référence commun ni quelle issue il propose entre le nihilisme et le relativisme moral ni sur quelle base pourrait se faire une hiérarchisation des valeurs dans une bioéthique séculière. Sa pensée devrait se prolonger en direction des droits de l'homme, mieux distinguer entre principes premiers et principes dérivés, creuser davantage le concept de subjectivité.In 1986 H. T Engelhardt justified the autonomy of bioethics as regards religious ethics by starting with the fact that people in our day are “moral strangers” in regard to each other. In 1991 he studied further the relations between secular and religious ethics while keeping the same line of thougbt, but in attacking the ideology of atheistic humanism. He is trying to establish, on the basis of a universal rationality, a “neutral framework “ that would be shared by all those debating contemporaneous ethics. It would leave room for a plurality of philosophical, religious, and moral visions, For it would destroy all ethics if one wished to base bioethics only on trying to get a free and enlightened agreement from the patient and on the respect of his autonomy, in exclusion of every search.for « transcendental ends ». The thougbt of Engelhardt is not free from ambiguities, if not contradictions: he doesn't say how his secular humanism will give satisfaction to the supporters of religious ethics; nor what the institutional status of tbis common framework would be; nor what he proposes as the way out between nihilism and moral relativism; nor on what basis a hierarchy of values could be created in secular bioethics. His ideas call for further reflection : found etbics on the rights of man; distinguish more clearly between first principles and principles that are derived ; and dig deeper into the concept of subjectivity. (shrink)