Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bad Council

Conservative bioethics takes “dignity” for a spin in a disquieting new report.

Scientific advances that alter minds and bodies in novel ways can make people uneasy. The President's Council on Bioethics has become a forum for the airing of this disquiet, and the concept of "dignity" a code word for addressing it. This body recently released a 555-page report, and what it reveals should alarm anyone concerned with American biomedicine and its promise to improve human welfare. The May 2008 issue of The New Republic spells it out: this brand of government-sponsored bioethics does not want medical practice to maximize health and flourishing; it considers that quest to be a bad thing, not a good thing.

Although the Dignity report purports to be based on universal moral concerns, it springs from a movement to impose a radical political agenda, fed by fervent religious impulses, onto American biomedicine. How did the United States, the world's scientific powerhouse, reach a point at which it grapples with the ethical challenges of twenty-first-century biomedicine using Bible stories, Catholic doctrine, and woolly rabbinical allegory? Read the article, note the credentials (better, the incredentials) of the report’s contributors, and laugh…or weep.

2 comments:

bob koepp said...

How did the United States, the world's scientific powerhouse, reach a point at which it grapples with the ethical challenges of twenty-first-century biomedicine using Bible stories, Catholic doctrine, and woolly rabbinical allegory?

Well, the use of Bible stories, at least, is not entirely unrelated to so-called "narrative ethics." This is not to say thay Kass's notion of 'dignity' represents a sound ethical precept. Just to put his approach into a familiar context.

This whole business is quite unfortunate, since the role played by the concept of 'dignity' in an ethics like that of Kant is much more in tune with mainstream thought in bioethics.

dr_dredd said...

I've felt this way about Kass and the current Bioethics Council ever since the 2003 report "Beyond Therapy." Chapter 5 is called "Happy Souls" and discusses psychotropic medication. The Council says: "By using drugs to satisfy more easily the enduring aspirations to forget what torments us and approach the world with greater peace of mind, what deeper human aspirations might we occlude or frustrate? What qualities of character may become less necessary and, with diminished use, atrophy or become extinct, as we increasingly depend on drugs to cope with misfortune?"

From this, one can take away the message that antidepressants are somehow bad. This perpetuates the very real stigma that patients with psychiatric disorders feel.

Forgive me, but it seems to me that this is a very Catholic viewpoint (e.g. suffering is somehow good for the soul). That's fine if you're Catholic, but those of us who are not deserve to be heard as well.