During a long cold drive home a couple weeks ago, there was a broadcast on NPR about efforts to help promote the survival of the rare northern spotted owl. The controversy has not centered on the importance of saving the spotted owl, but on whether or not it is ethically acceptable to hunt the barred owl which has moved into territory thereby dangerously threatening the spotted owl population. The barred owl is also an “at risk” species, but has been thriving in the northwestern forests where the spotted owls had fed, bred, and nested. The government faced a “Sophie’s choice” (Shogran 2014, NPR), and reluctantly accepted the morally disturbing decision to kill 3600 barred owls in order to try to help the spotted owl maintain a sustainable population. This distressing environmental dilemma serves as a unique analogy for responsible business decisions related to healthcare. We can turn to business ethics here, which offers the “precautionary principle” (Weber 2001, 134) whereby avoiding harm and meeting the needs of a community requires that if any deleterious action is going to be taken, the proponents of the activity must establish that safety is the intent and there is no other way to accomplish the task than to inflict some degree of harm. Though the cause of reduced numbers of spotted owls and the migration of barred owls is related to man’s stripping timber from the natural habitats of each, the solution needs to balance the competing interests in the existing ecosystem. Similarly, people seeking healthcare in the US are not to blame for the economic woes of our system but it seems compromises from everyone will be needed in order to assure a basic level of service for all.
The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.