Bioethics Discussion Blog: Some Random Thoughts by Ethicists on Truisms in Ethics

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Some Random Thoughts by Ethicists on Truisms in Ethics

I put the topic of truisms in ethics up on a bioethics listserv and got the following responses. Read their commentary. They may stimulate some thoughts on a variety of topics. ..Maurice.

Ethicist and physician, Steven Miles, wrote about the topic of truisms in ethics:

Cloning humans is an bioethics problem. (A truism even the problem itself is unimportant.)

Respect for the principle of autonomy is the highest medical ethics value (True in describing the field but arguable at best as a moral position.)



Another ethicist and physician Dr Erich H. Loewy wrote this commentary about truisms.


If you have doubts as to what the ethical way of proceeding is an ethicist may give you the Answer: There are many false assumptions wrapped in that statement.
· First we must realize that Ethicists are no more "ethical" than others. They merely know what tools and how to deal with them in judging answers as appropriate or inappropriate and things in between.
· Secondly beware of an ethicist who gives you an answer. If there were a "good" answer there would be no problem. Answers in general are rather bad in themselves, words in themselves or simply God awful. Taking a patient off a vent and letting him/her die peacefully is not a good in itself. Curing them would be but that is not attainable. So perhaps this is still the least evil answer in an array of bad ones.
· If you have doubts that is the most important part--for at least you recognize that there is an ethical problem. .
· It really is the job of an ethicist to question prior assumptions, insist that good ethics begins with good facts, and keep raising questions "what makes you say that", "why do you believe such and such to be true", etc.
· Regrettably there is no such thing as a Bioethicist. People who have sat a year on an ethics committee call themselves ethicists. And how can we correct them: we have failed to credential, have failed to set minimum standards, do not police ourselves and fail to discharge our social responsibility (ie; we run a mutual debating society that discusses the problems of "rich man's ethics" but almost never does more than pay lip service to access to health care or to the conditions which breed disease--poverty, crowding, lack of education, a minimal wage under the poverty level, etc. Instead we amuse ourselves with the weighty issue of whom the sperm of a dead man belongs.

Cannibalism is evil: Cannibalism to start with was to symbolically take someone’s strength into ones body-in some cultures enemy in others relative. The missionary being boiled is a fiction. Those who are Christian commit cannibalism every time they take community: symbolic cannibalism in most Protestant sects, actual cannibalism of your group believes in transubstantiation. So, what is wrong with that? It is what I meant by saying we need to examine our taboos, presumptions, etc. and not yield to an ethical imperialism no prettier than any other kind.

Physicians should/should not participate in Capital Punishment:
· Personally I detest the very idea.of capital punishment. Belonging to a society that practices this I am guilty every time someone is executed and state-condoned or ordered murder is still murder. And I don't like killing people.
· But that is beside the point. If the physician believes that capital punishment is a good thing than he can participate in shooting, electrocution or hanging. He/she cannot participate with any of the intellectual or actual tools they learned in the process of their training and which were taught to benefit and if possible not to harm man. Declaring someone dead is learned in medical school and, therefore, should not be done as a regular (and necessary) member of a team which executes on a regular basis.

3 Comments:

At Saturday, May 13, 2006 11:15:00 AM, Anonymous Emanon said...

From an email:

You have a post from April 15th - "Some Random Thoughts by Ethicists on Truisms in Ethics" which I hesitated to comment on, because some of what you wrote demanded more thought on my part. I simply wasn't ready to discuss some of the issues, because I hadn't given them any serious thought in the past. It was such a good post, and I hated to see it "pass by" without touching upon it. Notably, this is the paragraph that caused me to decide that I wasn't ready to comment:

"Cannibalism is evil: Cannibalism to start with was to symbolically take someone’s strength into ones body-in some cultures enemy in others relative. The missionary being boiled is a fiction. Those who are Christian commit cannibalism every time they take community: symbolic cannibalism in most Protestant sects, actual cannibalism of your group believes in transubstantiation. So, what is wrong with that? It is what I meant by saying we need to examine our taboos, presumptions, etc. and not yield to an ethical imperialism no prettier than any other kind."

Once I thought about it, I realized that I had, indeed, done at least some thinking about the subject, mostly regarding the subject of pure cannibalism ... as removed from any religious idea.

While the idea of cannibalism disturbs me, I don't think I have the same constraints against it that I've witnessed in other people. For example, if I were part of a group of people who are stranded, dying of hunger, and I knew that I was about to die, I would insist that they consume me once I'm gone. Then my own death would serve to give life to my fellows. If I weren't ready to die, but there were many people, including youngsters, and the situation was truly dire, I would quite likely be willing to die for the sake of the group.

That part came rather readily. Your applying the idea to religion, however, caused me to do some very serious rummaging around in my mind ... especially regarding beliefs which I had held as "Truth" for my entire life, without ever really exploring their nature.

I'm a Catholic, although to my extreme consternation, late last fall, it became apparent to me that I had lost my faith. This is not something I would put in a comment on anyone's blog (with my real identity,) because it's still a very real, very sensitive issue for me, and not one that I'm willing to bandy about with a group of strangers. Very few people are aware of my current state.

I'm fairly certain that I would not have been able to react your questions before now, because now I can look at things more objectively than I could have when I was living a life of blind faith.

Where religion is concerned, I've realized the connection between my own ideas about cannibalism, and the Eucharist. It was not something I had ever thought of before. Christians believe that Messiah has come. They believe that he laid down his (physical) life in order to save theirs (spiritual life.) I always took this at face value, and really believed that what they were talking about was the "sacrifice on the cross." The "do this in memory of me" part ... the Eucharist ... seemed to be something different, not really associated with the "sacrifice" itself, except as an unbloody reenactment of his death, and his subsequent sharing of his "life" with us, as spiritual nourishment, to sustain us on our journey "home."

Because of your post, I can now see a relation between my own view of cannibalism ... and the intended connection between the Eucharist and the sacrifice. I guess it would mean that he laid down his life to "feed" his believers ... and in doing so, give them a "portion" of himself which would let them mystically share in his life: "he who eats this bread and drinks this cup will never die." (or will have eternal life.) Not physical life, obviously, but spiritual life.

Very telling. I'd never associated the Eucharist with cannibalism, and had simply always believed that those who did were doing so out of ignorance.

How ironic that someone from a different faith would give me such an insight on my religion - and at a time during which my faith is completely non-existent - or at the very least, in serious doubt.

You don't need to reply to this email ... but I wanted to share with you the fact that, first of all, I wasn't ignoring your extremely interesting post ... and secondly, where my "meditations" on your post brought me.

Also ... I want to thank you, yet again, for your blog ... and for the time and care you spend on your posts.

 
At Saturday, May 13, 2006 12:17:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

I did reply with an e-mail to Emanon and indicated that I had not written the comment on cannibalism and religious practices but was actually written by the physician ethicist Dr. Erich Loewy. However, I am interested and pleased that the posting had stimulated some "new thinking" in the mind of one of my visitors. Isn't that what these blogs should be all about rather than.. ahem ..simply a day to day personal activity log of the blogger? ..Maurice.

 
At Saturday, May 13, 2006 4:19:00 PM, Anonymous Emanon said...

But Dr. Bernstein, not everyone is clever enough to set up a blog like your own.

Also - for some people, the daily fare is all they really have. And for others, the daily fare is all they're capable of ingesting. You can't fill the sea with a thimble ... or use a thimble as a container for the sea. And yet both the thimble and the sea have their own usefulness, and can't be used as a substituted for the other.

Thank you for your excellent and engaging blog. I will certainly visit you again.

 

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