Topic: Ethics and Morality
April 28, 2016 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

Much of American history can be described as the struggle to expand the moral community in which an increasing number of human beings are seen as having basic rights under the constitution. We forget sometimes that though the inclusion of all people was perhaps implied in our early documents, as in “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” from the Declaration of Independence, it has taken historical time and struggle to come closer to realizing that ideal. This struggle has been the quest for recognition of more and more individuals not assumed initially to have the right to vote and exercise control over their lives, which included African Americans, women, minorities, and more recently the LGBT community. The growing recognition of more and more individuals as being full fledged citizens has been a slow, often painful, birthing process of freedom, in the sense of unleashing human potential and possibilities, within the democratic process.

 

The recent uproar over the Anti-LGBT law passed in North Carolina is a reminder of how difficult it is for many states and communities to accept and accommodate historically marginalized people into the mainstream of society. This law was a quick reaction by the right wing North Carolina legislature and governor to an ordinance passed in Charlotte, similar to what other cities around the country are doing, allowing transgender people to use restrooms according to their gender identity. Perhaps this law also should be seen as a reaction to the Supreme Court ruling in 2015 legalizing same-sex marriage, which has been propelling society toward greater openness and acceptance of LGBT life styles, integrating them into the mainstream. Many who favor the Anti-LGBT law claim that individuals born as male, but are now identifying as female, could pose a risk to women and girls in public bathrooms, though there seems to be no substantial evidence whatsoever of such a risk. My sense is that the individuals who support this law in fact are using risk as a smokescreen in attempting to preserve what they perceive as waning values and norms in society: In the name of conservatism they hang on to an exclusionary vision of society that no longer fits the conditions of expanding freedom and opportunity.

 

 

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.

January 22, 2016 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

Normally, and rightly so, we take ethics far more seriously than we do etiquette.  After all ethics deals with what we take most seriously that relates to the good life, what we hold dear, our commitments to each other and ourselves, and all that is important to human life. From the Pre-Socratic thinkers forward, thinking about how we should live in order to achieve happiness and well being as a human being has been a theme of philosophical ethics, and still concerns us today in bioethics and clinical ethics. 

Etiquette on the other hand, deals with more superficial matters, such as how our actions appear to others, and whether or not they conform to common social standards for acceptable behavior. Etiquette then, at a minimum, pertains to a world of appearances and social custom, more of what someone is on the outside, not on the inside. 

No wonder we usually take etiquette less seriously, or should, than we do ethics. Many of us may enjoy someone showing a bit of irreverence toward social custom from time to time, especially if the social context is overly rigid and unforgiving. At times such irreverence can be not only humorous, but also important. But I want to argue that in general a certain amount of conformity to standards of etiquette is essential for any functioning society. 

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.
January 4, 2016 | Posted By Valerye Milleson, PhD

"I now know that if you describe things as better as they are, you are considered to be romantic; if you describe things as worse than they are, you are called a realist; and if you describe things exactly as they are, you are called a satirist." – Quentin Crisp

A theme that has run through many of my blog posts so far is the concept of eudaimonia. This New Year, which not only highlights the annual rituals of goal setting and actively plotting to become the best person you can be in the year to come but also is a reminder of the birth of famed raconteur and master of wit, Quentin Crisp, seems to me like the perfect time to discuss this concept in greater detail.

"If I have any talent at all, it is not for doing but for being." – Quentin Crisp

Despite his humble self-description, Quentin Crisp has been a hero to many, and in his vocation of being he was one of the strongest advocates of “living well” in recent times. Living well (or “good spirit”, happiness, human flourishing, etc.) is roughly what ancient Greek philosophers meant by eudaimonia. Aristotle’s definition in the Nicomachean Ethics of “living well and doing well” (Book I, Chapter IV) is apt and fairly uncontroversial; but it is far from self-explanatory. After all, “living well” can mean different things to different people. For Aristotle, living well basically meant living a life of excellence in reason (along with certain external goods necessary to keep this virtuous activity going smoothly). The Stoics agreed with Aristotle’s account on the role of excellence in reason, but disagreed with him about the importance of such things as wealth, family, friends, power, beauty, etc. in one being able to achieve eudaimonia. The Cynics and the Stoics held fairly similar views of eudaimonia, but in general the Cynics seemed to actively disavow these external things, and living well to a Cynic would have been more akin to the life of a virtuous ascetic. The Cynics also tended to be, like Mr. Crisp, satirists, cosmopolitans, and lovers of excellence and humanity.

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.

November 24, 2015 | Posted By Valerye Milleson, PhD

“I will not cease to be myself for foolish people. For foolish people make harsh judgments on me. You must always be yourself, no matter what the price. It is the highest form of morality.” – Candy Darling

November 24 this year marks the 71st anniversary of the birth of Candy Darling. She was an actress, an icon, and an Andy Warhol Superstar; she inspired two songs by Lou Reed/The Velvet Underground; she had cameos in movies with Jane Fonda and Sophie Loren; and she performed in a number of stage plays, including one by Tennessee Williams. She was glamorous and stunning, even in her deathbed photos, and Zsa Zsa Gabor reportedly referred to her as “one of the world’s most beautiful women.” She was also openly and publicly transgender in an era when being so was in some ways even more dangerous than it is today.

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.

October 6, 2015 | Posted By Claire Horner, JD, MA

A Catholic hospital came under fire recently for stating that it would not permit doctors to perform a tubal ligation during a c-section scheduled for October.  According to news reports (including anarticle written by the patient herself), the pregnant patient has a brain tumor, and her doctor have advised her that another pregnancy could be life-threatening.  Her doctor has recommended that she have a tubal ligation at the time of her c-section.  While my knowledge about this hospital, this case, and the participants is limited to what has been reported in the media, it raises an interesting question: in our pluralistic society, where conscientious objection is respected while maintaining a patient’s right to a certain standard of care, is it ethical to allow a religiously-affiliated health care institution to refuse to provide certain treatments it finds morally objectionable?

As background, the Catholic Church has historically been outspoken on bioethical issues and has a strong and robust bioethical teaching.  Catholic hospitals are governed by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs), a document promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that clearly articulates the bioethical policies that must be followed in a health care institution based on the Church’s moral teachings.  It explains the Church’s teaching against direct sterilization as a method of birth control based on the principle of double effect.  “Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution.  Procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available.” (Directive 53).  In other words, if the sterilization procedure directly treats a pathology, it is licit; if it is used as a form of birth control to prevent a pregnancy, even if that pregnancy would be life-threatening, it is not licit.

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.

August 21, 2015 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

I love to read novels and works of non-fiction in concentrated sittings so I can really lose myself in what I am reading. Because I am so busy during the course of my work-a-day professional life I rarely have such luxury. This is why vacation for me means a time when I can find a few really interesting books on my reading list and just devour them. Having recently returned from vacation and being overdue for my AMBI Blog, I thought I would share a few thoughts on my vacation reading, and even see if there is a lesson for bioethics.

This summer my reading was unusual in that it was all non-fiction, which included “The Return of George Washington” by Edward J. Larson, “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson, and “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I really didn’t plan to be reading these books together. But as it turns out, after finishing all three, I found a theme of interesting, often disturbing, questions about the past and present treatment of African Americans in the United States—questions that challenge the moral foundation and integrity of American democracy from its origins to the present.

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.

August 3, 2015 | Posted By Valerye Milleson, PhD

Two notable things happened this past month that I feel compelled to write about: NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft reached Pluto; NASA engineer and managerClaudia Alexander died of cancer. These events highlight some very powerful lessons in bioethics, and indeed about the human condition itself.

Lesson #1: We can do so much.

New Horizons is the first spacecraft to visit Pluto, a mission taking almost ten years (or more, if you count pre-launch), traveling over three billion miles, and costing around seven-hundred million dollars. It will be our first opportunity to truly investigate an ice dwarf planet, and the information gleaned from it holds the potential to complete much of our knowledge of the planetary types in our own solar system. Over eighty years after its discovery by Clyde Tombaugh, Pluto – our final (local) planetary frontier – is within our grasp.

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.

February 20, 2015 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

It is my sense that the majority, perhaps the vast majority, of cases on which clinical ethics consultants (CECs) are asked to consult and make an ethics recommendation, there is, or would be, a general consensus on the part of the CECs about what counts as the appropriate recommendation. However, the question arises of how clinical ethics as a field should deal with issues that come up about which there is not a clear consensus, such as in cases where a basic right to have an autonomous choice respected by the patient is pitted over and against the obligation of the physician to do no harm—the traditional tension between respect for patient autonomy and beneficence/nonmaleficence. This tension or conflict often occurs in cases of alleged medical futility where the patient or the patient’s surrogate requests a treatment option the physician deems will only cause harm and no benefit to the patient. For example, consider a patient’s surrogate who insists that she will not consent to a DNR order and in fact expects the physician to perform CPR if the patient arrests. For a patient without capacity dying of metastatic disease, this directive by the surrogate presents a stark dilemma to the physician—is it a violation of the physician’s obligation to the patient to “do no harm” (nonmaleficence)? Or is respect for the patient’s wishes or her representative’s wishes so sacrosanct that the physician’s obligation to follow the patient’s wishes is paramount and outweighs the obligation to do no harm?

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. 

October 13, 2014 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

As I have been saying in recent blogs, most of what we do in clinical ethics, but also in most areas of bioethics, is procedural ethics. That is when we are faced with an ethical dilemma, our approach, whether consciously or unconsciously is usually to try to reach a reasonable compromise or consensus among the key participants that are in conflict consistent with well-established values and principles. This tendency reflects an obvious reality about the nature of contemporary ethics that we often ignore: in the current Western moral setting, our only viable methodology for resolving value laden disputes, whether at the micro level in clinical ethics or macro level in healthcare policy, is to attempt to craft an agreement or consensus among those with a say. Whether we are dealing with patients and families at odds with their physician on how to define the goals of care in the hospital setting or trying to build a consensus of opinion among voters in the political arena, we assume there are no final, authoritative moral answers that avail themselves to us. Whether we like it or not, we humans must figure out ethical dilemmas for ourselves and learn to get along.

Yet the idea of procedural ethics remains very worrisome for many people, including such bioethicists and Tristram Engelhardt, Jr. He believes that procedural ethics, such much of what we do in clinical ethics, is not really ethics in because it is based on convention and legalistic type standards. For him ethics worthy of the name must flow from a content-rich, canonical moral tradition that provides moral authority to our everyday ethical and moral judgments. The prototype ethical tradition was the medieval Christian Natural Law perspective grounded in Aristotelian philosophy. Aristotle assumed the inherent order and intelligibility of the cosmos, which also permeated his understanding of ethics. Humans, like all natural things, had a natural function, which was to be rational. But rational did not mean to that ethics was about finding intellectual or theoretical basis for right action according to rational rules in order to know and perform one’s duty—this was Kant’s (1724-1804) ethics during the 18th century following the rise of modern science. For Aristotle, the question was, how can one live and embody the good life; so rationality in this sense meant internal harmony between emotions and decision-making that resulted in well-established habits or states of character. This means finding in all of one’s activities the balance between excess and deficiency, or what he called the “mean”. Over time, forming the right habits according to the mean in all areas of life lead to excellence and happiness or what he called the good life. This was the natural fulfillment of the human function in practical terms consistent with the ancient Aristotelian.

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

September 16, 2014 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

Ok, I realize I am being somewhat provocative. But there is a real and very serious issue, which I am groping to address in a more precise manner.

In my last blog I described the contemporary moral setting from a philosophical perspective as one in which no single substantive normative moral perspective can resolve moral questions, such as the boundaries of human life and the scope of individual rights, with final moral authority. This is just to say, more simply and obviously when we reflect upon it, that in democratic, secular America, ethics, both philosophically and practically, becomes inextricably linked to public discourse in politics and public policy.

When bioethicists ask questions and make arguments about abortion, physician assisted suicide, stem cell research and cloning, and many other similar issues that pertain to questions about the value of human life in relation to both individual rights and societal goals, we have no privileged moral authority from which to draw. As bioethicists we engage in procedural, persuasive discourse, based on conventional moral principles that most often conflict, which is why there is moral dilemma or problem requiring analysis and prioritization. Our purpose in defending a particular moral position is to win assent from others. In short, for a bioethicist to promote a moral position, it is implicitly an attempt to build a consensus among readers and listeners that will hopefully impact public opinion about a particular moral problem or question. Moreover, to the extent these questions have public policy ramifications, and practically all do, it means that moral discourse is also oriented to effect change and function as a medium in which bioethicists often speak as advocates about how moral options should be framed as public policy positions in a democratic society. 

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. 

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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