Bioethics Discussion Blog: Science vs Ethics: Three Years of Public Comments

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Science vs Ethics: Three Years of Public Comments

Since I first started my original "Bioethics Discussion Pages" many years ago, I have always been impressed by the observation, from the responses to various ethical issues, that the general public has as much insight into the discipline of ethics as do the professional ethicists. Most of the time they can express and support their conclusions regarding these issues in a clear and logical way.

If you have time, read this example issue page. It's about the relationship of ethics and science. Chronologically, the order of the comments starts at the bottom of this posting. Some of the comments are written by students and perhaps a professor has written one of them but I think most are just written by thoughtful individuals. And I think together they have parsed out a feeling about the relationship which in many ways is something we all must consider as we see how science is expanding. What do you think? ..Maurice.




---- THE ETHICAL ISSUE ----

Can Science be ever Separated From the Question of Ethics?

Science is a discipline of knowledge which involves many aspects of human thought and endeavour. Ethics is concerned with human character and conduct. One might think that science cannot be science without a consideration of the ethics involved. But is that really true? Wendy, a Jr. College student from Singapore writes the following:

Date: Sat, Feb 14, 1998 8:14 AM From: singalee@pacific.net.sg To: DoktorMo@aol.com

Hi! My name is Wendy and I'm an Arts Student researching for my essay entitled " Can science be ever separated from the question of ethics " I would appreciate it if you will post this question for discussion. Please include your own views about this question.

Thank you

Here is the question:
Can Science be ever Separated From the Question of Ethics?

---- THE DISCUSSIONS ----


Date: Fri, Apr 6, 2001 7:11 AM From: galletti@freemail.it To: DoktorMo@aol.com

I think there exist two level of relationship between science and ethics: 1) The reasoning level. From this point of view ethics is distinct from science, because we can't derive a moral judgement from mere assertions of facts (i.e. Hume'law). We need of premises that contains moral judgments, in addiction with empirical (factual and therefore scientific) observations. 2) The practical level. This is the level of the possibile control of ethics over science. It doesn't mean that ethics should say always "no" to science but that scientific advances have to be compared with our moral standards. I think that the most powerful standard that we have is the utilitarian model, combined with rules of justice in certain areas of biomedical research (i.e. the allocation of health resources).


Date: Thu, Mar 15, 2001 4:33 PM From: mtrunks_ki@hotmail.com To: DoktorMo@aol.com

Ethics: The system of human mental activities that allows us to assign a degree of "goodness" or "badness" to a situation, action, or idea based on the societal perceptions of the time. The most common moral ethic is an aversion to anything that harms a person, or something seen to be alive. This is due to an underlying fear response that assumes that anything that can affect a living system in a seemingly adverse way can also affect you personally. Our brains evolved in such a way as to process potentially harmful stimuli and direct them to parts of the brain that will ultimately cause us to abhor or at least be wary of the stimulus again. This is merely part of our survival "instinct", an unchangeable set of physical neural pathways that serve as the program for self preservation. Without this, we would simply have not had a physical reason to avoid a lion, and would have died off, maybe or maybe not to be replaced by an organism who had happened to develop a similar categorization system.

Science: The process of gathering and interpreting facts and measurments to deduce underlying patterns. A scientific experiment, or for that matter anything a human "does", consists of a highly, highly, highly, complex collection of atoms and energy (the human) manipulating or otherwise changing it's surrounding collection of atoms and energy(the environment). In a carefully designed experiment, the reorganization of the environment will give new or previously unrecognized knowledge about something. So therefore an experiment, or science, is merely changing one's viewpoint to allow the human brain to accept or realize information through specific sensory neural pathways.

Ethics and Science: Both ethics and science are therefore physical phenomena occuring or being caused by the brain. As such, they are for the most part inseparable, both being abstract and inevitable processes of the mind. A scientific experiment is conducted by human beings for what they "think" is their betterment, but in actuality fullfils a similar drive to attain knowledge. We humans are stuck, for the time being, constantly interpreting this knowledge and assigning it levels of importance and deadliness, degrees to which it will stop our collection of atoms from "living".


Date: Thu, Jul 13, 2000 4:24 PM From: Filomena.Bettencourt@MIH.Gov.cv To: DoktorMo@aol.com

I think that we can't separete ethics question from science, because we don't find a science real and general ethic. This situation made the world what he is today, we are just loking for a science general ethic, without one we might have a unethic world.


Date: Thu, Apr 27, 2000 7:59 PM From: amhames@hotmail.com To: DoktorMo@aol.com

CAN SCIENCE EVER BE SEPARATED FROM THE QUESTION OF ETHICS? Science is a branch of study concerned with facts, principles, and methods. However, ethics is the moral science that governs what we do with it. It is the branch of philosophy that studies the principles of right and wrong in human conduct. The question of their individuality has been in existence for quite some time. I would argue that in theory they can exist separately but in practice they cannot. In Aristotle's structure of the soul, one can see that science takes precedence over ethics. In the rational side of the human soul, there are two divisions. They are the practical and the contemplative. Aristotle always gave the contemplative side superiority over the practical. The contemplative division consisted of the pure sciences (math, physics, metaphysics), but the practical enabled the human with moral actions (ethics, politics). Though this trend was set many, many years ago, it still holds true today. I agree with a response on the web-page. Ethics do govern what is allowed in science. Some one also mentioned that every act has its own consequences. Because of this, ethics can never be separated from science. There should always be the Kantian question of the end justifying the means.


Date: Thu, Apr 27, 2000 7:13 PM From: mkbledsoe@hotmail.com To: DoktorMo@aol.com

Does the end justify the means? Since there is no universal answer to this question, it must be applied to situations as they occur. Ethics serve as a check on the power of scientific study. Without the limitations that our ethics impose on science, scientists would have enough power to drastically alter the world as it exists today. Examples of this unregulated power lie in cloning as well as human and animal experimentation. As noted in previous responses to this question, ethics will always play a role in regulating scientific activities. Although it may be helpful to learn new things by unethical methods, the result of this experimentation and discovery could be devastating to our culture. Because of these risks, ethics will always be a part of science.

Ethics also act as insurance to scientists since their every idea is heavily scrutinized before it is carried out. This gives scientists a method of defense if anything should go wrong because their experiments must be approved, and the blame for any negative results is shared with the moral regulators of science.


Date: Tue, Apr 25, 2000 7:47 PM From: MayDay913@aol.com To: DoktorMo@aol.com

"Science is a discipline of knowledge which involves many aspects of human thought and endeavor. Ethics is concerned with human character and conduct." With this basic definition in mind, there is no finite interaction between these two disciplines. L. Wingblade's response presents some ideal points. The methodical approach of science and ethics are very different. Science uses empirical methods and interprets data, while ethics focuses on the moral grounds as to why we should or should not do things. In that aspect, the two disciplines do differ. However, it is in defining the two through daily actions that they intertwine. As E. Portilla presented, it is hard to think of any human doing or interaction without thinking in an ethical mindset. Society as a whole strives to maintain standards that provide respect, justice, and truth to all its members. In order to do this, questions of how to treat people and what things are right and wrong are always at hand. Science is definitely an area where ethical consideration will always need attention. As technology increases, and the progression of science opens doors to further engineering of human lives, ethical dilemmas will only increase. Issues of euthanasia, abortion, cloning, and others will forever be attached to ethical issues because they deal with the direct treatment of human lives. To separate this scientific approach from the extensive realm of morality separates human beings from human thought. I agree that ethics is a set of rules that are constantly changing and govern to what degree science may act. The necessity of ethics in our society is only increasing to keep the human race in check. Without this moral code and thought, science could overpower the human race.


Date: Tue, Nov 9, 1999 1:38 PM From: Loren_C._Wingblade@jackson.cc.mi.us To: DoktorMo@aol.com

Wendy: In one sense science is already seperated from ethics because they use different methods. Science is empirical--it collects data and tries to interpret it. Ethics tries to answer the question "how best should we live our lives." Philosophy and ethics are armchair "sciences" which use logic instead of empirical data and tries by rational approaches to come to the correct answer. So in this sense they are seperate and always will be.

On the other hand, ethics gives us values in by which to guide our lives. Science never attempts this, so science relies on ethics to give us values. Our material culture (technology, science, engineering) always moves at a faster rate than our non-material culture (values, ethics, norms, rules of law, philosophy). In the future we will need even more so than now ethical guidelines in which to structure the use of our technology and our sciences. Our technical expertise is growing faster than our ability to handle it. Because of science we are moving into areas which humans have not explored before. We need the guidelines that ethics can provide.

Loren C. Wingblade

Loren_Wingblade@jackson.cc.mi.us


Date: Sun, Sep 26, 1999 8:23 PM From: TPAPE1@aol.com To: DoktorMo@aol.com

Science cannot be separated from ethics especially where the issues of genetic manipulation are considered. For example in stem cell research, we find those who view the act of harvesting aborted fetuses for use in creating cells for implantation into humans with various infirmities. While the end result seems quite noble, that of curing or improving the human condition of those who are ill, does that justify using fetuses? Are we not further devaluing human life? What is to prevent women from becoming pregnant so they can sell the aborted fetus to the highest bidder for stem cell use?


Date: Sat, Jul 17, 1999 11:46 PM From: KateErickson@csi.com To: DoktorMo@aol.com

Science is a collection of the results of a search for facts about our physical reality. Ethics is an arbitrary set of rules for behaving in a way that is acceptable to the culture setting forth those rules. In Medical Science, it seems the major ethical question is, "does the end justify the means?" Until various cultural societies unify their beliefs, the ethical standards practiced by each might vary considerably. In that regard, Medical Science has the choice to either ignore ethical standards altogether, or try to find an acceptable standard within whatever culture it operates. The latter choice seems the most rewarding probability, since funding for scientific research comes out of the power bases in the cultures which it serves. Another reason for adopting a set of ethical standards arises from human nature--researchers, themselves, hold widely disparate belief systems. Differing beliefs within any given discipline can breed chaos.


Date: Sat, Jan 9, 1999 3:02 PM From: danib54321@aol.com To: DoktorMo@aol.com

Science itself can stand alone without ethics because science should be the factual basis behind debates in ethics, and if ethics are mixed in with the science in the first place, we would have no basis for discussion of the ethics. And, if that seemed too circular, science: fact; ethics: opinion based (hopefully) on fact.

Sincerely, Danielle, danib54321@ aol.com


Date: Tue, Oct 27, 1998 8:52 AM From: kemist1@earthlink.net To: DoktorMo@aol.com

It was done before, this separation of science from ethics, maybe you heard about it. Joseph Mengela was the scientest and his subjects were the people of the death camps.
Date: Sat, Jun 27, 1998 7:35 PM From: ramilope@espm.insp.mx To: DoktorMo@aol.com

I think no human task can be separated from ethics in a general context. But, obviously, particularities arise. Despite the so called universality of science, points of view differ culturally, and no mater how an apparatus shows us the universe, each one of us interprets things differently. The same happens with the ethics of science, "cloning" or "vivisection" will mean different things to distinct human groups. So in this sense, science has nothing directly to do with ethics. If science pursues knowledge, maybe we should first discuss the morality of knowing things. On the other side, the USES of scientific knowledge will have to be discussed by non-scientists as well as scientists within each community's context, with no exclusion of global implications.

Eliseo Portilla, Guadalajara, MŽxico


Date: Mon, Mar 23, 1998 9:03 AM From: biopolis@bellsouth.net To: DoktorMo@aol.com

Science is an unending quest for knowledge. In that quest there are some revelations that should be kept under ceratin controls. Every action has a consequence. Science can not be separated from the consequences of the "fruits" of its efforts. Many things that science has revealed to the medical field are particularly useful. However, there are some aspects of science that seem to be dangerous, i.e. cloning humans. Although we may someday in the technical aspects be able to accomplish this task. The question still remains whether or not we should. Ethics and morality can not be separated from science because it is the only thing that prevents humans from destroying ourselves. Ethics and morality should force each person (especially scientists) to evaluate their motives.

Kellye, Pre-med major at Middle Tennessee State University


Date: Mon, Mar 23, 1998 8:52 AM From: biol@frank.mtsu.edu To: DoktorMo@aol.com

I think that ethics is linked to science in such a way that they could never be divided. Ethics acts as a set of ever changing rules that govern what is allowed in science. I think that the fields of science have advanced to the point where anything is possible-- however, as a science student I would not want to be a part of a field that had no guidelines. Ethics helps to keep our knowlege in check and used solely for our betterment as a world. Dr. Richard Seed is a perfect example of science going off half-cocked. Although the cloning of humans may eventually be a reality the morality of the action must be taken into account and the needs of the people must be paramount to the action.

Mindy and Candice at MTSU


Date: Mon, Mar 23, 1998 8:50 AM From: biol@frank.mtsu.edu To: DoktorMo@aol.com

The basis for the scientific study is the quest for knowledge. Science itself is neutral, however new technologies are not always used in ethical ways. It is only those that pay for it that decide what ethical ramifications will come from new discoveries. The real question is, "Who's ethics are the standard?" There should be a separation from science and ethics. This is however is idealistic and not possible because the man with the gold makes the rules.

mark and bill


Date: Mon, Mar 23, 1998 8:50 AM From: biopolis@bellsouth.net To: DoktorMo@aol.com

Greetings. I am a biology student at Middle Tennessee State University and have a rather unique opinion. I believe "ethics" in the sense of right and wrong is just a way to mask human frailty. People seem to lack the ability to separate feelings and beliefs (religious or otherwise) from what needs to be done. If something is "objectionable" we say it is not ethical, ie. the cloning debate. We, the scientific community, need to stop worrying about feelings and the rest of the "touchy-feely" garbage going on in our politically correct society. Unfortunately, humans, being the perverse and untrustworthy beings that we are, cannot handle responsibility of such grand magnitudes.Some one will undoubtably abuse the privilages that science has afforded them. As much as I believe that ethics and science should be separated, they will not be anytime soon. The human race is still in it's infancy, and concepts such as ethics and morality are the borders we use to keep ourselves in check.

Cutting it short, Tim Atevi@aol.com


Date: Sat, Feb 28, 1998 8:26 AM From: HBRadest@aol.com To: DoktorMo@aol.com

An old question that always needs new answers.

a) Clearly certain ethical categories are present in scientific inquiry...commitment to truth, a sense of integrity, a respect for truthfulness, an appreciation of differences/conflict.

b) Less directly, it is not really possible to isolate inquiry from use. Thus, attention to the ends to which inquiries are put is part of the process of doing science although this should not be confused with censorship (by self, by scientific community (see Charles Peirce), by the state...). In this connection, the alleged separation of "pure" from "applied" science needs to be reexamined critically. They flow so obviously into each other. The separation reflects a classical dualism which is unwarranted.

c) Finally, "science" should not be objectified...it denotes what scientists are doing at a given time and in a given culture. To that extent, it is not separable from moral as from other values, e.g. aesthetic values as in notions like an "elegant" proof or "simplicity" (Ockham's razor). Further the "problems" that stir scientific interest reflect implicit cultural and social values and priorities.

Obviously, there's lots more...but these are the directions an inquiry into the relationship of the sciences and ethical values should take. Hence, John Dewey's notion of "intersubjectivity" rather than the illusory notion of "objectivity."

Howard B. Radest

4 Comments:

At Tuesday, October 04, 2005 10:31:00 AM, Anonymous Bob Koepp said...

Maurice -
I agree wholeheartedly with the notion that "the general public has as much insight into the discipline of ethics as do the professional ethicists." That's why I have consistently challenged calls for "professionalization" in bioethics. I've insisted that there are (and probably can be) no experts in substantive ethics, just lots of pretenders. Of course, this sort of "in your face" challenge hasn't exactly endeared me to bioethicists, but that's another story.

 
At Tuesday, October 04, 2005 4:11:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

I'm glad we agree on "no experts in substantive ethics". But I think there is a professional role within the bioethics discipline. That role is one of clinical bioethics in which the capacity to perform this satisfactorily is probably limited to those who have day in and day out experience in this area and who are uptodate in their understanding of the the current ethical consensus and associated law. The role itself, as I see it, is the skill to educate and mediate those stakeholders who are in conflict with regard to ethical issues. Other than that function, virtually any one, with few exceptions, can "do bioethics". And I don't know what to think about those in "organizational ethics". Maybe that is professional, maybe it isn't. ..Maurice.

 
At Tuesday, October 04, 2005 9:19:00 PM, Anonymous Bob Koepp said...

I don't want to divert discussion from the proper topic, but I do think it is misleading (and rather presumptious) to call mediators ethicists. Patients and families, not to mention administrators, often seem to view so-called clinical ethicists as specially skilled at discerning what is an ethical course of action. And too often, I see so-called clinical ethicists ready and willing to play along.

 
At Tuesday, October 04, 2005 9:54:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Bob, I would call a person whose work is in the field of clinical bioethics and who has the education in bioethics and has demonstrated the skills of communication and mediation as a "clinical bioethicist". Just being able to mediate conflicts within groups is not my definition of an ethicist.

I fully agree that clinical ethicists have no business themselves making ethical decisions. They should provide the "tools" for the stakeholders to make their own decision.

Since, I see from my website, the common folk would have their own skills to come to their own ethical conclusions with the facts of current law and ethical consensus explained to them, it is not necessary or appropriate for some "ethicist" to take away their own "ethical decision-making autonomy." ..Maurice.

 

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