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Topic: Philosophy
October 10, 2012 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

The modern era in the West marks the beginning of a new way of understanding the purpose of a social system and how people fit in to it. The transition to the modern world was from a medieval world that was perceived to have inherent ends and truths, based on Aristotelian metaphysics and Catholic moral theology, that provided authoritative answers to fundamental questions about the nature of ultimate reality, knowledge, human nature and morality. In Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries, the radical political turmoil, stemming from the Protestant Reformation, and a growing sense of the rights of humans were leading philosophers like Hobbes (1588-1679), Locke (1632-1704) and Rousseau (1712-1778) to articulate a fundamentally new type of social and political system. Instead of the divine rights of kings to assert complete rule over subjects, which created an obligation for subjects to obey those divine rights, there emerged the concept that the social and political order should be structured so as to protect and preserve the natural rights of human beings qua citizens. This new understanding of how to understand society and individuals—later called social contract theory—provided the conceptual underpinnings of the eventual emergence of democratic systems: The idea that the social system should be structured in a manner so as to allow individual citizens to be free to live according to their life goals and values within the limits of respecting those same rights of others. This meant that individual citizens should agree to give up some of their rights, e.g. to steal and kill, for the larger benefit of living safely and in a manner of one’s own choice. 

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 ourwebsite.

July 12, 2012 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

Those of us who work in clinical ethics focus most of our intellectual energy on addressing ethical dilemmas in individual cases. Clinical ethics allows little time for armchair reflection. The urgent cases presented to us require fairly quick decisions. That is, if we are to be helpful, we have to find thoughtful ways to analyze ethical questions and reach prudent recommendations. But even for clinical ethicists, it is worthwhile from time to time to take a step back and consider the historical philosophical context in which we work and the challenges it poses for ethical reflection and judgments.

Clinical ethics has been criticized by some not having an adequate basis on which to give substantive answers to pressing ethical questions in medicine. I want to show how this concern is not only, not a problem, but is a sign of progress. First a little background about the state of contemporary western ethics as expressed in one of the most important critiques of philosophical ethics and morality in the past 100 years.

In his 1981 work entitled After Virtue, Alasdair McIntyre claims the actual moral world in which we live is in “a state of grave disorder”. The concepts and terms we use in contemporary ethical discourse, he believes, are nothing more than fragments of prior conceptual schemes that have largely lost their moral import. Even worse, we use ethical discourse in talking about obligation, rights and duties without fully realizing the lost moral orders in which these words once had their original meaning. This is a concerning charge for clinical ethicists since much of our daily work involves using just these kinds of terms. Do we have a clear grasp of what our moral terms mean and how they are being used?

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

June 27, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

“Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.” — Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary

“The chances of factual truth surviving the onslaught of power are very slim indeed … ” — Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future

Although this may be more apparent than real, it seems as if the lying and the lies are increasing in frequency on the national level. Politics has long been characterized as a blood sport, but the escalation of vicious contentiousness since 2008 is unusual and extreme. Factual truth has been cast aside, casually thrown to the wind as if one were systematically ripping the petals off a roadside wildflower and tossing them into the air as so much refuse. The losers are the public, of course, the citizens who depend on the government for sound fiscal policies, welfare for those unable to care for themselves, and protection in the form of national defense.

None of this is a surprise. As Arendt states in her essay “Truth and Politics”, modern ideologies “ openly proclaim them to be political weapons and consider the whole question of truth and truthfulness irrelevant”. Further, “it may be in the nature of the political realm to deny or pervert truth of every kind”. As the nature of truth as such is limiting (in other words, it is what it is) , politicians will naturally bend the truth to fit their purposes. As citizens, we need to be on our guard and strive to identify factual truth or the lack thereof in political pronouncements. But such activity requires substantial effort. Thinking is required, as is the concomitant ability to simultaneously hold two contrasting concepts or points of view in mind. A broad education is required, as is a good facility with language. Sadly for us, most of these requirements and capabilities are now in short supply.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

June 11, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

Does a person have a disease or disorder? Or is the person unwell with an illness? Are the concepts of disease and illness distinct? If we have been lulled to sleep by 100 years of Cartesian diktats from the medical establishment, we may miss the point. But if our thinking is super-sharp, we may be able to detect a critical difference.

A prominent legacy of Cartesian dualism, the mind/body problem, causes a split between the “I” that I know myself to be and the physical body that the “I” inhabits. “I” am a passenger in my body. My body carries “me” around, but we are two separate entities. Thus, my body is something separate from “me” and things can happen to it, e.g., my body can become diseased.

The practice of modern medicine is based on this seemingly real separation. But if that’s all there is, much is being missed. Investigation of the illness vs. disease antinomy offers a profound opportunity for improved medical care of people as patients.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

May 29, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

April 2012 brought news of the latest shot fired over the bow of genetic inheritance as we know it. Ever since the discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick in 1953 and the subsequent elucidation of the triplet nature of the genetic code by Marshall Nirenberg and others in the early 1960s, many scientists have fantasized about obtaining mastery over this primordial biomolecule.

An interim pinnacle of achievement in this hopeful process would be to create a DNA-like molecule whose information content would be both heritable and evolvable. Synthetic Genetic Polymers Capable of Heredity and Evolution presents elegant work along this path which may signal a substantive shift in humankind’s ability to manipulate the language of life.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

April 11, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

Scientists now have the capability of changing the world. Literally. A prominent researcher observed in a 2011 Science article that "our genome engineering technologies treat the chromosome as an editable and evolvable template". The advent of such technologies is disturbing from many points of view.

Until very recently scientific research contributed to the advancement of knowledge about the world around us without simultaneously creating tools for altering the characteristics and parameters of that world. None of these activities threatened the integrity of the biosphere — namely, that of planet earth. The ability to do so should give all of us, primarily scientists, pause, but they do not. As Hans Jonas observed, the deeds of biological engineering are irrevocable.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

January 27, 2012 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

For most of the past 20 years I have had the privilege of talking with and learning from medical students in small group discussions. As medical students leave the classrooms of the first and second year and transition into the third year, they confront a new reality: they are now actually encountering patients directly for the first time and are working with physicians in the daily care of patients. The more encounters they have with patients and their families and with their clinical mentors, the more stories they have to tell, which often lead to vexing questions that shed light on many of the problems of our health care system in the United States. 

One of the common themes throughout each year is the growing disenchantment with primary care, for a variety of reasons. Most of the students are assigned at some point to a clinical mentor who is a practicing internist seeing many patients each day in a primary care setting. Students often present cases of patients with complex medical and psychosocial issues that require interaction with and support from the physician. Not infrequently do we hear accounts of how patient non-compliance is a barrier to a constructive outcome. The idea of seeing patients over time with the same medical problems, while not heeding medical advice, strikes many students as a frustrating aspect of primary care. Also the students talk of these same physicians continuing to work into the evening, doing mountains of administrative work because of multiple insurance forms to complete. 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

November 3, 2011 | Posted By Michael Brannigan, PhD

During a high school cross-country race last month in Minnesota, Andover's Josh Ripley stopped to aid injured opponent Mark Paulauskas from Lakeville South, carried him more than 100 yards to medical help and then jumped back into the race. As Ripley came to the finish line 211th in a field of 261, the Lakeville squad greeted him with cheers (http://tinyurl.com/3bjzhsv).

If "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing," Ridley failed miserably. We worship winners and assign the losers to public recognition's dustbin.

Yet did you know that Vince Lombardi, just before he died, regretted his one-liner?

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

 

October 17, 2011 | Posted By Michael Brannigan, PhD

Georgia Holland, a volunteer from Christ Church United Methodist of Troy, and Miriam Santiago, who lives in a trailer home on First Avenue, carry away debris from the home from the flooding of Tropical Storm Irene. Sept. 3, 2011. (Brian Nearing/Times Union)

Shinichi Hashiura and his wife, Toyoko, were inseparable. They were working alongside each other in their barbershop-salon when Japan's 3/11 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami flattened their village, crushing Toyoko as she tried to aid an elderly neighbor.

Just as his wife often hairdressed for the aged in their homes, the Daily Yomiuri reports that 62-year-old Hashiura now gives free haircuts to countless occupants in shelters throughout the blistered region.

Calamity is a cruel teacher. It offers an invaluable lesson in these fractured times -- the meaning and importance of community. Yet today we cheapen the term, using "community" loosely, applying it to groups, organizations and collectivities as in academic community, online community and business community.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

August 3, 2011 | Posted By Michael Brannigan, PhD

What comes to mind when we think of ethics?

Problem-solving? Decision-making? Pondering, "What is the right thing to do"? "How am I to act"?

Herein lies the persistent hazard for ethics, particularly as an institutionalized field: its near-obsession with "the problem."

To explain, I first offer two senses of ethics. First, it is the formal philosophy and theology discipline that I've been trained in, together with other humanities and science courses. Second, it is an applied field, like my work in health care ethics, and more thoroughly institutionalized.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

 

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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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