ABSTRACT This paper identifies human enhancement as one of the most significant areas of bioethical interest in the last twenty years. It discusses in more detail one area, namely moral enhancement, which is generating significant contemporary interest. The author argues that so far from being susceptible to new forms of high tech manipulation, either genetic, chemical, surgical or neurological, the only reliable methods of moral enhancement, either now or for the foreseeable future, are either those that have been in human and animal use for millennia, namely socialization, education and parental supervision or those high tech methods that are general in their application. By that is meant those forms of cognitive enhancement that operate across a wide range of cognitive abilities and do not target specifically ‘ethical’ capacities. The paper analyses the work of some of the leading contemporary advocates of moral enhancement and finds that in so far as they identify moral qualities or moral emotions for enhancement they have little prospect of success.
According to what we call the Principle of Procreative Beneficence (PB), couples who decide to have a child have a significant moral reason to select the child who, given his or her genetic endowment, can be expected to enjoy the most well-being. In the first part of this paper, we introduce PB, explain its content, grounds, and implications, and defend it against various objections. In the second part, we argue that PB is superior to competing principles of procreative selection such as that of procreative autonomy. In the third part of the paper, we consider the relation between PB and disability. We develop a revisionary account of disability, in which disability is a species of instrumental badness that is context- and person-relative. Although PB instructs us to aim to reduce disability in future children whenever possible, it does not privilege the normal. What matters is not whether future children meet certain biological or statistical norms, but what level of well-being they can be expected to have.
The doctor‐patient relationship is built on an implicit covenant of trust, yet it was not until the post‐World War Two era that respect for patient autonomy emerged as an article of mainstream medical ethics. Unlike their medical forebears, physicians today are expected to furnish patients with adequate information about diagnoses, prognoses and treatments. Against these dicta there has been ongoing debate over whether placebos pose a threat to patient autonomy. A key premise underlying medical ethics discussion is the notion that the placebo effect necessitates patient deception. Indeed, the American Medical Association guidelines imply that placebo treatment necessary entails a form of deception. As a consequence of this assumption, the fulcrum of debate on the use of placebo treatment has hinged on whether that deception is ever justified. Recently performed experiments with open‐label transparently prescribed placebos have begun to challenge the notion that deception is necessary in eliciting the placebo effect and such effects necessarily involve a binary distinction between autonomy and beneficence. In this article we focus on the content of disclosures in distinctive open‐label, transparently disclosed placebo studies and inquire whether they might be said to invoke deception in clinical contexts, and if so, whether the deception is unethical. We find that open placebos may be said to involve equivocation over how placebos work. However, drawing on surveys of patient attitudes we suggest that this equivocation appears to be acceptable to patients. We conclude that open placebos fulfil current American Medical Association guidelines for placebo use, and propose future research directions for harnessing the placebo effect ethically.
In an article in this journal, Christopher Cowley argues that we have ‘misunderstood the special nature of medicine, and have misunderstood the motivations of the conscientious objectors’. We have not. It is Cowley who has misunderstood the role of personal values in the profession of medicine. We argue that there should be better protections for patients from doctors' personal values and there should be more severe restrictions on the right to conscientious objection, particularly in relation to assisted dying. We argue that eligible patients could be guaranteed access to medical services that are subject to conscientious objections by: (1) removing a right to conscientious objection; (2) selecting candidates into relevant medical specialities or general practice who do not have objections; (3) demonopolizing the provision of these services away from the medical profession.
ABSTRACT We respond to a number of objections raised by John Harris in this journal to our argument that we should pursue genetic and other biological means of morally enhancing human beings (moral bioenhancement). We claim that human beings now have at their disposal means of wiping out life on Earth and that traditional methods of moral education are probably insufficient to achieve the moral enhancement required to ensure that this will not happen. Hence, we argue, moral bioenhancement should be sought and applied. We argue that cognitive enhancement and technological progress raise acute problems because it is easier to harm than to benefit. We address objections to this argument. We also respond to objections that moral bioenhancement: (1) interferes with freedom; (2) cannot be made to target immoral dispositions precisely; (3) is redundant, since cognitive enhancement by itself suffices.
In this article, I argue that there is no compelling therapeutic ‘need’ for human nuclear genome transfer (so‐called mitochondrial replacement) to prevent mitochondrial diseases caused by mtDNA mutations. At most there is a strong interest in (i.e. ‘want’ for) this technology on the part of some women and couples at risk of having children with mitochondrial disease, and perhaps also a ‘want’ on the part of some researchers who see the technology as a useful precedent – one that provides them with ‘a quiet way station’ in which to refine the micromanipulations techniques essential for other human germline interventions and human cloning. In advance of this argument, I review basic information about mitochondrial disease and novel genetic strategies to prevent the transmission of mutated mitochondria. Next, I address common features of contemporary debates and discussions about so‐called mitochondrial replacement. First, I contest the cliché that science‐and‐(bio)technology is fast outpacing ethics. Second, I dispute the accuracy of the term ‘mitochondrial replacement’. Third, I provide a sustained critique of the purported ‘need’ for genetically‐related children. In closing, I call into question the mainly liberal defense of human nuclear genome transfer. I suggest an alternative frame of reference that pays particular attention to issues of social justice. I conclude that our limited resources (time, talent, human eggs, and money) should be carefully expended in pursuit of the common good, which does not include pandering to acquired desires (i.e., wants).
Mitochondrial replacement techniques (MRTs) have the potential to allow prospective parents who are at risk of passing on debilitating or even life‐threatening mitochondrial disorders to have healthy children to whom they are genetically related. Ethical concerns have however been raised about these techniques. This article focuses on one aspect of the ethical debate, the question of whether there is any moral difference between the two types of MRT proposed: Pronuclear Transfer (PNT) and Maternal Spindle Transfer (MST). It examines how questions of identity impact on the ethical evaluation of each technique and argues that there is an important difference between the two. PNT, it is argued, is a form of therapy based on embryo modification while MST is, instead, an instance of selective reproduction. The article's main ethical conclusion is that, in some circumstances, there is a stronger obligation to use PNT than MST.
Despite broad agreement that the vulnerable have a claim to special protection, defining vulnerable persons or populations has proved more difficult than we would like. This is a theoretical as well as a practical problem, as it hinders both convincing justifications for this claim and the practical application of required protections. In this paper, I review consent-based, harm-based, and comprehensive definitions of vulnerability in healthcare and research with human subjects. Although current definitions are subject to critique, their underlying assumptions may be complementary. I propose that we should define vulnerability in research and healthcare as an identifiably increased likelihood of incurring additional or greater wrong. In order to identify the vulnerable, as well as the type of protection that they need, this definition requires that we start from the sorts of wrongs likely to occur and from identifiable increments in the likelihood, or to the likely degree, that these wrongs will occur. It is limited but appropriately so, as it only applies to special protection, not to any protection to which we have a valid claim. Using this definition would clarify that the normative force of claims for special protection does not rest with vulnerability itself, but with pre-existing claims when these are more likely to be denied. Such a clarification could help those who carry responsibility for the protection of vulnerable populations, such as Institutional Review Boards, to define the sort of protection required in a more targeted and effective manner.
Bioethics is a practically oriented discipline that developed to address pressing ethical issues arising from developments in the life sciences. Given this inherent practical bent, some form of advocacy or activism seems inherent to the nature of bioethics. However, there are potential tensions between being a bioethics activist, and academic ideals. In academic bioethics, scholarship involves reflection, rigour and the embrace of complexity and uncertainty. These values of scholarship seem to be in tension with being an activist, which requires pragmatism, simplicity, certainty and, above all, action. In this paper I explore this apparent dichotomy, using the case example of my own involvement in international efforts to end forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in China. I conclude that these tensions can be managed and that academic bioethics requires a willingness to be activist.
This article explores the links between our roles as academics, advocates, and activists, focusing on our research on treatment decisions for patients in vegetative and minimally conscious states. We describe how our work evolved from personal experience through traditional social science research to public engagement activities and then to advocacy and activism. We reflect on the challenges we faced in navigating the relationship between our research, advocacy, and activism, and the implications of these challenges for our research ethics and methodology—giving practical examples of how we worked with research participants, wrote up case studies and developed interventions into legal debates. We also address the implications of the impact agenda—imposed by the British Research Excellence Framework— for our actions as scholar‐activists. Finally, we ask how practicing at the borders of academia, advocacy, and activism can inform research—helping to contextualize, sensitize, and engage theory with practice, leading to a more robust analysis of data and its implications, and helping to ensure a dialogue between research, theory, lived experience, front‐line practice, law, and public policy.
The situation around the seeking of refuge, both in Australia and abroad, has become a core human rights issue of our time, engendering protest and activism from the public, researchers, healthcare professionals and academics. The question remains: do bioethicists have duties to advocate on behalf of such populations, and if so, why? I argue that if our work is founded upon the principle of justice, then we do have such duties, and that our research, in itself, can become a form of advocacy.
This article sketches a taxonomy of the activities in which bioethics academics engage, including activities that may make their own research more impactful, from little or no engagement outside academia to activism or extreme activism. This taxonomy, the first of its kind, may be useful in determining what obligations bioethics academics have in relation to activism and activities that fall short of activism.
This article reflects on the challenges of developing academic research that is undertaken to create social change. I describe the ways that my research has been generated and guided by activism. Even though the descriptor of my research interests is generally gender‐based violence and mental health, my research is situated within an ongoing political discourse that fundamentally opposes and normatively challenges ideologies such as those implemented at a governmental level during the Taliban regime in Afghanistan that continue to have power over Afghan women’s lives. I critique the emergence of two research projects that work with women survivors of violence and develop trauma therapeutic interventions using traditional storytelling. My positionality as a woman of Muslim origin and an academic in the U.K. resulted in inescapable juxtapositions and the necessary blurring of the boundaries between personal and professional viewpoints as well as highlighting the potency of traumatic stories in contexts of conflict, oppression, silencing and marginalization. I go on to explain why I have a moral obligation as an ethicist working in global health, with resources and expertise, to systematically develop my research questions and objectives in accordance with the end‐goal of tackling and deconstructing harmful ideologies and practices towards women and girls in societies marred by the violent complexities of national and international conflicts.
The work of a bioethicist carries distinctive responsibilities. Alongside those of any worker, there are responsibilities associated with giving guidance to practitioners, policy makers and the public. In addition, bioethicists are professionally exposed to and required to identify situations of moral trouble, and as a result may find themselves choosing to work as advocates or activists, with responsibilities that are distinct from those generally acknowledged within academia. The requirement for bioethics to make normative judgements entails taking a stance, which means there cannot be a sharp line between ‘academic’ or ‘objective’ bioethics, and advocacy/activism, but a continuum of bioethicists’ engagement and an associated continuum of responsibilities.
A discussion of the connection between activism and academia in bioethics, highlighting the author’s own trajectory, exploring the extent to which academics have an obliation to be ‘judges’ rather than ‘barristers’ (as explored by Jonathan Haidt) and asking questions about the relationship of disability to positions in bioethics.
ABSTRACT The ongoing ‘enhancement’ debate pits critics of new self‐shaping technologies against enthusiasts. One important thread of that debate concerns medicalization, the process whereby ‘non‐medical’ problems become framed as ‘medical’ problems. In this paper I consider the charge of medicalization, which critics often level at new forms of technological self‐shaping, and explain how that charge can illuminate – and obfuscate. Then, more briefly, I examine the charge of pharmacological Calvinism, which enthusiasts, in their support of technological self‐shaping, often level at critics. And I suggest how that charge, too, can illuminate and obfuscate. Exploring the broad charge of medicalization and the narrower counter charge of pharmacological Calvinism leads me to conclude that, as satisfying as it can be to level one of those charges at our intellectual opponents, and as tempting as it is to lie down and rest with our favorite insight, we need to gather the energy to have a conversation about the difference between good and bad forms of medicalization. Specifically, I suggest that if we consider the ‘medicalization of love,’ we can see why critics of and enthusiasts about technological self‐shaping should want (and in some cases have already begun) to distinguish between good and bad forms of such medicalization.
Patient and public involvement (PPI) has gained widespread support in health research and health policy circles, but there is little consensus on the precise meaning or justifications of PPI. We argue that an important step towards clarifying the meaning and justification for PPI is to split apart the familiar acronym and draw a distinction between patient and public involvement. Specifically, we argue that patient involvement should refer to the practice of involving individuals in health research or policy on the basis of their experience with a particular condition, while public involvement should refer to the practice of involving individuals in health policy or research based on their status as members of a relevant population. Analyzing cases from the UK, Australia, and the USA, we show how our proposed distinction can deliver much needed clarity to conversations on PPI, while guiding the development and evaluation of future PPI‐based policies.
Antibiotic resistance is one of the most pressing public health problems humanity faces. Research into new classes of antibiotics and new kinds of treatments – including risky experimental treatments such as phage therapy and vaccines – is an important part of improving our ability to treat infectious diseases. In order to aid this research, we will argue that we should permit researchers to pay people any amount of money to compensate for the risks of participating in clinical trials, including ‘challenge studies’ that involve deliberately infecting patients. We think that standard worries about paying for participation in risky research are reducible to concerns that can be addressed with the right screening mechanisms.
ABSTRACT This paper, which is based on an extensive analysis of the literature, gives a brief overview of the main ways in which solidarity has been employed in bioethical writings in the last two decades. As the vagueness of the term has been one of the main targets of critique, we propose a new approach to defining solidarity, identifying it primarily as a practice enacted at the interpersonal, communal, and contractual/legal levels. Our three‐tier model of solidarity can also help to explain the way in which crises of solidarity can occur, notably when formal solidaristic arrangements continue to exist despite ‘lower tiers’ of solidarity practices at inter‐personal and communal levels having ‘broken away’. We hope that this contribution to the growing debate on the potential for the value of solidarity to help tackle issues in bioethics and beyond, will stimulate further discussion involving both conceptual and empirically informed perspectives.