RS#33: New Dilemmas in Bioethics
April 24, 2011 6 Comments
Episode #33 of the Rationally Speaking podcast is out: “New Dilemmas in Bioethics.” This is the one Massimo and I recorded live at the 2011 Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism. We discuss bioethics with two special guests: Jacob Appel, doctor, author, lawyer and bioethicist; and Jennifer Michael Hecht, poet and historian of science. Topics covered included: Should parents be allowed to select the gender and sexual orientation of their babies? Should pharmacists and physicians be allowed to refuse to provide treatments that violate their own religious or ethical principles? And when is assisted suicide acceptable?
One of the interesting things about this episode was the strikingly different approaches Jacob and Jennifer used when considering bioethical issues — Jacob clearly has pretty utilitarian inclinations, so the guiding principle behind his answers was “What would the expected positive and negative effects of this policy be?” He also has a relatively libertarian approach to bioethical policy, which I think grows naturally out of his utilitarianism — in general, allowing people the freedom to make their own choices will maximize utility (though of course you can find plenty of exceptions; I don’t mean to imply that Jacob’s worldview is that absolute).
Jennifer, meanwhile, had a much more deontological (rule-based) approach to ethics: she appears to judge some things as wrong not necessarily because they reduce overall utility, but because they’re inherently distasteful or because they violate a principle that she holds sacrosanct. (I’m interpreting their respective views, of course, so let me add the disclaimer that I can’t guarantee they’d agree with these characterizations).
I suspect most people are closer to Jennifer’s worldview, but Jacob’s is much more aligned with mine.