A True Bioethical Dilemma: Questionable Best Interest for Birds or Known Best Interest for Humans
With the current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the reactive response, there is a true bioethical dilemma that is arising. It has to do with the use of resources to rehabilitate and support those who are injured or will be injured as the oil spill continues or after the spill is stopped.
The issue of the cleaning of the birds contaminated with oil was brought up in a June 14 2010 presentation on National Public Radio. The debated issue is regarding the outcome of those birds rescued and cleaned and whether they are saved from death, can live and reproduce normally into the future. The research evidence seems to be equivocal. A nurse ethicist writing on a bioethics listserv today wrote the following which sets the ethical issue:
“I … heard the NPR piece about the oily gulf birds. And I was perplexed about defining our moral obligation to clean the birds. Being a nurse, I'd start by looking at the scientific research. If I remember correctly, NPR said that the research on cleaning the birds varies widely. The birds may survive being scrubbed of the oil only to die a few days or weeks later because of the oil they ingested. The studies that followed the birds for longer periods also varied widely with some birds surviving for months, but then not reproducing. So the science may not be helpful. I'd have to look into it much more deeply.... and not being a biologist, I might not be a good consumer of the research. However, birds are birds. People will be suffering from this oil spill as well. Should scarce resources be focused on the current bird problem or should we prepare for the future and help the tourist industry or the fishing industry? The financial circumstances for families could be devastating - through no fault of their own. Does our moral obligation change depending upon the funds distributed by BP to various people/industries? Just first thoughts about something that will play out for all of us, especially those near the gulf.”
So the issue is clear: Do the American people and government focus on using all the limited resources available for a known benefit to aid the rehabilitation of humans or continuing to use part of these resources for a scientifically as yet unproven benefit to rehabilitate birds? Any answers? ..Maurice.
Graphic: Widely distributed AP photo modified by me using ArtRage 3