“Human dignity” has been enshrined in international agreements and national constitutions as a fundamental human right. The World Medical Association calls on physicians to respect human dignity and to discharge their duties with dignity. And yet human dignity is a term--like love, hope, and justice--that is intuitively grasped but never clearly defined. Some ethicists and bioethicists dismiss it; other thinkers point to its use in the service of particular ideologies.
Parents routinely turn to prenatal testing to screen for genetic or chromosomal disorders or to learn their child’s sex. What if they could use similar prenatal interventions to learn (or change) their child’s sexual orientation? Bioethicists have debated the moral implications of this still-hypothetical possibility for several decades. Some commentators fear that any scientific efforts to understand the origins of homosexuality could mean the end of gay and lesbian people, if parents shy away from having homosexual children.
Bioethics emerged in the 1960s from a conviction that physicians and researchers needed the guidance of philosophers in handling the issues raised by technological advances in medicine. It blossomed as a response to the perceived doctor-knows-best paternalism of the traditional medical ethic and today plays a critical role in health policies and treatment decisions. Bioethics claimed to offer a set of generally applicable, universally accepted guidelines that would simplify complex situations.
An estimated 100 million nonhuman vertebrates worldwide—including primates, dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, birds, rats, and mice—are bred, captured, or otherwise acquired every year for research purposes. Much of this research is seriously detrimental to the welfare of these animals, causing pain, distress, injury, or death. This book explores the ethical controversies that have arisen over animal research, examining closely the complex scientific, philosophical, moral, and legal issues involved.
In contemporary Western society, people are more often called upon to justify the choice not to have children than they are to supply reasons for having them. In this book, Christine Overall maintains that the burden of proof should be reversed: that the choice to have children calls for more careful justification and reasoning than the choice not to.
Legal texts have been with us since the dawn of human history. Beginning in 1953, life too became textual. The discovery of the structure of DNA made it possible to represent the basic matter of life with permutations and combinations of four letters of the alphabet, A, T, C, and G. Since then, the biological and legal conceptions of life have been in constant, mutually constitutive interplay--the former focusing on life’s definition, the latter on life’s entitlements.
Contrary to popular opinion, one of the main problems in providing uniformly excellent health care is not lack of money but lack of knowledge—on the part of both doctors and patients. The studies in this book show that many doctors and most patients do not understand the available medical evidence. Both patients and doctors are “risk illiterate”—frequently unable to tell the difference between actual risk and relative risk. Further, unwarranted disparity in treatment decisions is the rule rather than the exception in the United States and Europe.
One in six people worldwide will experience depression over the course of a lifetime. Many who seek relief through the healthcare system are treated with antidepressant medication; in the United States, nearly 170 million prescriptions for antidepressants were written in 2005, resulting in more than $12 billion in sales. And yet despite the dominance of antidepressants in the marketplace and the consulting room, another treatment for depression has proven equally effective: psychotherapy—in particular, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).
Proposals to make us smarter than the greatest geniuses or to add thousands of years to our life spans seem fit only for the spam folder or trash can. And yet this is what contemporary advocates of radical enhancement offer in all seriousness. They present a variety of technologies and therapies that will expand our capacities far beyond what is currently possible for human beings. In Humanity’s End, Nicholas Agar argues against radical enhancement, describing its destructive consequences.
Neuroscience increasingly allows us to explain, predict, and even control aspects of human behavior. The ethical issues that arise from these developments extend beyond the boundaries of conventional bioethics into philosophy of mind, psychology, theology, public policy, and the law. This broader set of concerns is the subject matter of neuroethics.