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Jack Sisson's Life Ethics Blog
We must find new ways through many ethical issues, especially regarding bioethics, medical ethics, and criminal justice. Jack Sisson's 'Life Ethics' blog focuses on numerous areas of concern, including the philosophical and ethical dilemmas surrounding stem-cell research, abortion, medical research, and health care.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Treading Lightly at the Frontier
Here in the USA, the issues surrounding the start of human life can seem so fraught with ambiguity that coming to any conclusion at all seems exactly the wrong thing to do: Too many people will be hurt, too many lives are at stake, too much offense will be taken -- in short, too much effort yields too much pain.
Wondering what the rest of the world might be up to regarding it all (and hindered by my classically American-Philistine inability to read any language other than English) led me to a number of sites in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. One publication I found quite readable, and useful, was a "Debate Outline" from the Danish Council on Ethics, called The beginning of human life and the moral status of the embryo [367KB PDF]. If you are looking for a decisive conclusion, presented in stone, that will clear things up for you with no ambiguity at all, this is not the text for you. It is, after all, a "debate outline." If, however, you would like to read something to stimulate reasonable discussion -- in your own head if not in actual debate -- you could choose many worse starting points.
The entire thing is 39 A4-sized pages in length but will reward the patient reader. And if your stereotype about Scandinavian thinking on morality and ethics is that their collective mind is already made up -- those free-thinkers! those socialists! those makers of seductive '60s-era Noxzema-shaving-cream TV commercials! -- I urge you to think again.
The "outline" begins by presenting four points of view on the central questions. Here's a particularly enchanting excerpt, this one from the "3rd viewpoint" in a section headed, "When Is There Human Life, and What Moral Status Should It Be Ascribed?":
When does the new human life really come about?, we ask, in order to enable us to distinguish."Deference" certainly seems a concept alien to American discussions of complex political, social, and ethical issues. Our concept of frontier exploration is perhaps shaped too much by pop-culture references -- "How the West Was Won" -- and too little by fables and fairy tales, in which the protagonists tread lightly when setting forth on a journey whose outcome cannot be known in advance.
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