Genetic Engineering

Types of Genetic Engineering

In this video I explore – somatic-cell gene therapy, germ-line gene therapy, enhancement genetic engineering (designer babies), eugenic genetic engineering, animal genetic engineering, gm crops, embryo cloning, reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning.

Ethical Responses

In this video I look at what would Natural Law, Utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, Situation Ethics and Christian Ethics say to the different forms of genetic engineering.

As Christian Ethics is so varied I have not included it in the table below 

 

Natural Law

Utilitarianism

Kant

Situation ethics

Somatic-cell GT

☺ Fulfils precept to live

☺ Produces greatest good for greatest number

☺/☹ Depends on which way you argue it

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Germ-line GT

☺ Again helps fulfil purpose of life and reproduction

☺ Produces greatest good for greatest number

☺/☹ Depends on which way you argue it

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Enhancement GT

☹ Against God’s design and doesn’t seem to have a purpose.

☺  Makes people happy

☹ It doesn’t make other ‘that’ happy

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Eugenic GT

☹ No purpose in editing God’s design

☺/☹ Depends on the   situation 

☺/☹ Depends on which way you argue it

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

GM crops

☺ Help solve problem of world hunger which helps to also fulfil the precept of life.

☺ Solving the problem of world hunger outweighs any costs

☺ Imperfect duty to make people happy 

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Animal GT

☺ Humans have dominion over animals so nothing wrong with using them to fulfill the precept of life.

☺ Produces greatest good for greatest number

☺ Kantian ethics is based on the ability to reason so using animals to fulfil imperfect duty is not a problem.

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Embryo cloning

☺ Life is scared so this would be a NO.

☺/☹ Depends on the   situation 

☺/☹ Depends on which way you argue it

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Reproductive cloning

☹ No purpose in editing God’s design

☺/☹ Depends on the   situation 

☺/☹ Depends on which way you argue it

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Therapeutic cloning

☺ Helps fulfill purpose of life – to live.

☺ Produces greatest good for greatest number

☺/☹ Depends on which way you argue it

☺ Can be most loving thing to do but pragmatics and costs have to be taken into account.

Ethical Responses to Euthanasia

In this video I explore the different ethical responses to euthanasia including Natural Law, Utilitarianism (act,rule and preference), Kantian ethics, situation ethics and Christian ethics.

Root of Natural Law

Roots of Natural Law

  • The roots of Natural Law can be dated back to the Greek (8th – 6th C BC) and Roman era (27th BC to 476 AD).
  • However, the two man roots of Aquinas’ Natural Law lie in Aristotelian work and the Stoics. 

Stoics

The Stoics existed in the 3rd C and they emphasized the importance of ‘logos’ (rationality that governs the world and sees human nature as part of one natural order). They believed that Natural Law is the Law formed by right reason. Right reason only serves its own ends and is not corrupted into serving special interests. This right reason helps humans to judge whether or not they want to follow a divine spark which existed in them. Being Pantheist they said humans have a divine spark within them which right reason helps them to follow.

Aristotle 

Aristotle believed that we can judge the extent to which an action is good by seeing if it helps us to attain our ultimate good. It is difficult to see what our ultimate good is, it is not like maths. Higher social activities which other animals cannot do are ones which should be fulfilled in order to live a well functioning life. He also believed reason was key in working out ethics, this he called practical ethics. In ethics, Aristotle claimed, we go from ‘true but obscure judgements’ to general ethical principles (see parallel with primary and secondary principles). We can work out these principles by comparing to what extent they help us to achieve our ultimate good. 

In summary: Everything has a purpose and by fulfilling it we can reach our supreme good – eudaimonia.

Aquinas came along and identified three crucial things from Aristotle and the Stoics which he married with ideas of Christian Theology to create Natural Law theory. Those three points were:

  1. Human beings have an essential rational nature given by God in order for us to live and flourish.
  2. Even without knowledge of God, reason can discover the laws that lead to human flourishing.
  3. The Natural Laws are universal and unchangeable and should be used to judge the laws of particular societies.

Aquinas believed our telos isn’t eudaimonia buy rather perfection. We should strive for this because we are made in the image and likeness of God. Furthermore, for Aquinas this isn’t something which can be achieved in this life but rather starting in this life and continuing through to  the next.

Natural Law helps us to fulfil our telos of perfection and this in itself will help to live a fulfilled life and flourish.

Aquinas said that humans have a natural inclination to do good and avoid evil. Hence, he distinguished between real and apparent good. As no human would for this reason knowingly commit an evil action, he said people are evil unknowingly. They are following “apparent good” (something which seems to be good or the right thing to do but does not fit with the perfect human ideal). A “real good” on the other hand is the right thing to do, it fits the human ideal. 

Natural Law: Strengths & Weaknesses

In the table below are the strengths and weaknesses of Natural Law. Please find underneath it a show video on the same topic. 

Strengths

Weaknesses

1. There is emphasis on innate human reason which is a positive because unlike emotions reason does not change. It also means the theory is universal and can attract a large number of supporters.

1. Natural Law finds it difficult to relate to complex decision to basic principles in practice e.g. should more money be spent on hospitals or schools?

2. Clear-cut approach to morality and establishes common rules.

2. It commits a Naturalistic Fallacy according to G.E.Moore. One cannot derive an ought from an is i.e. is we assume God created a moral law is a fact or that we have a natural inclination to care for others as a fact- this does not we ought to follow the moral law or care for others.

3. The basic principles of preserving human life, reproduction, learning and living in a society are common in all cultures hence Natural Law is a reasonable theory.

3. Natural Law is based on five assumptions, the primary one being that humans and the world in general has a purpose, however, modern science can be used to show why this isn’t the case.

4. Natural Law does not just dictate what should be done it goes beyond that, like Virtue Ethics, it concentrates on human character and virtues.

4. Neilsen uses cultural relativism to question Natural Law and the belief in one common law.

5. Natural Law relies on practical wisdom as well as reason including the body, some emotions and passions sometimes.

5. Baron says that relying too much on reason is bad because this leads to corruption as human nature is corrupt. He believers it is better to follow scripture and revelation. 

6. All things required for happiness e.g. health, friendship etc are morally good and can be achieved through Natural Law.

6. It is difficult to work out the primary purpose of everything e.g. is the primary purpose of sex to procreate or enhance a relationship – the clitoris provides evidence that the sole purpose of sex is not just to have children.

7. It is useful for the issues where the Bible is silent e.g. IVF

7. Some Catholic Scholars believe Natural Law is not enough on its own to be a true Catholic- Church teaching and revelation are of utmost interest too!

8. One cannot rely on predicting consequences because often we are wrong so Natural Law provides a good alternative to consequentialist theories

8. Vardy and Grosh criticize the way Aquinas works from general principles to lesser purposes and sees his view of human nature as unholistic and simplistic. 

9. It puts a high premium on life and protects the vulnerable.

9. It is self-contradictory you cannot say that clear-cut rules are provided and then uses casuistry to allow room fro flexibility.

10. It upholds human rights and has been included in the UN declaration of human rights.

10. What is more important actions or consequences? e.g. if a man with an axe asked you where your friend was surely it is more moral to lie and save the life of your friend?

11. Casuistry allow it benefit from flexibility as well as adhering to benefits from being absolutist.

The Status of the Embryo

AS Ethics 

The Status of the Embryo and Abortion

The status of the embryo is extremely important when exploring the morality behind abortion because it implies whether abortion is an act of murder or not. There are several suggestions of the status of an embryo:

  1. Personhood 
  2. Natural Law/Christianity
  3. Aboriginal People
  4. Ensoulment 
  5. Science (viability)
  6. Kant
  7. Judith Jarvis Thomson

Personhood – Life begins when develop into a person

Personhood essentially suggests that when a human being is a person acts such as abortion become murder otherwise they are acceptable. This is a secular approach to medical ethics and is a subjective one too (that is perhaps one of its problems). 

Mary Anne Warren was an American writer and philosopher who died last year (2010). She put forward a criteria and said to be a person you don’t have too meet all the criteria but at least a few and because a foetus does not meet any of it, abortion is not murder because the foetus is not a person.

Criteria

  1. Consciousness – foetuses are not aware of objects and events external or internal to the  being and are not capable to feel pain.
  2. Reasoning – Foetuses cannot solve new and complex problems
  3. Self-motivated activity – they are not capable of activity independent to genetic or direct external control 
  4. The capacity to communicate – the foetus does not communicate
  5. Self-awareness – babies are not aware of themselves.

Furthermore, she rejects the idea  of the foetus as a potential person, a being which would develop these characteristics. She said predicting the potential person a foetus would develop is difficult and there remains a chance it would still not meet these criteria and hence using this argument does not work, she said following a criteria is better

Conclusion: Abortion is acceptable as a foetus is not a person

Evaluation

Problems:

  1. Even young babies are not self-aware.
  2. Later foetuses have the ability to feel pain and communicate by kicking.

Responses:

  1. But they have the ability to communicate and engage in reasoning.
  2. There is no evidence for this and it is arguably just a perception of the mind.
  3. Sperm has the potential to be a person yet no-one sees it as a human its the same with a foetus.

Natural law /Christianity

The tradition Roman Catholic view is the life begins at conception so abortion is absolutely always wrong. Furthermore, the Sanctity of Life argument is used to demonstrate this.

One of the primary precepts in Natural Law is life hence we have a duty to protect and abortion goes against this and again is deemed incorrect.

Natural Law only permits the act of abortion (although it is not discussed as abortion) when we have to use the principle of double affect. When two actions conflict a second criteria is used in Natural Law and that is (i) the action must not be immoral and (ii) the intentions must be good. So if a pregnant women discovers she has cervical cancer the doctor may terminate the pregnancy by performing a hysterectomy because performing a hysterectomy to protect the women’s life is not immoral and the doctors intention is not to kill the foetus but rather save the mother. This would be fine for those who subscribe to Natural Law.

Evaluation

Strengths

-By using the Sol principle and clearly saying life begins at conception, ethic is straightforward and clear.

-Allows flexibility as well as a clear cut approach.

Weaknesses 

  • If a pregnancy will lead to unhappiness on the mother’s part and there is a threat of depression etc as this is an unwanted baby then sure the principle of double affect would kick in and suggest that abortion is fine with the intention of protecting the mother.
  • If you do not accept that life begins and conception and Christian teachings then this theory is not one worth abiding by.
  • Again we can argue against this using GE Moore’s naturalistic fallacy just because abortion is wrong or life begins at conception it doesn’t mean we ought to not do it or abortion is wrong.

Aboriginal people

Aboriginal people believe life only begins once a person is named. A name is what distinguishes a person from a bunch of cells so unless the foetus is named abortion is arguable acceptable.

Ensoulment

This links to the Christian belief that ensoulemt happens at conception so life begins at conception and any form termination is immoral as it is killing. 

St Augustine, another theologican offers another way to approach this matter. He suggests that when the embryo ‘quicks’ i.e. starts to move, the embryo has been ensouled so any point after this (after 16/17 weeks) makes abortion murder but before that it is fine.

Science – Viability

The embryo isn’t even viable till 24-weeks so the mother has greater rights than the embryo and should be able to grant an abortion before this point. The human fertilisation and embryology act, suggests that after 14 days when the primitive streak begins to appear the foetus is now a human in its own right.

Kant

Kant has no clear opinion on the this matter but supporters of Kantian Ethics argue that the embryo is a potential human and hence the same ethical reasoning should be applied when looking at humans so abortion is wrong.

Judith Jarvis Thomson

Thomson puts forward an analogy

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. … To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.’  – taken from Wikipedia

But you still have the choice whether you want to do this or not, not to give a choice would be violate your human rights – so the same way not to offer abortion would be to violate your human rights.

Some points:

  • The foetus is not a separate individual like the violinist it is a part of the women’s body.
  • Isn’t the choice with contraception not abortion?
  • Would unplugging the violinist be the same as killing him? Is an abortion the same as killing?

Ethical Application to Abortion and Right to a Child

Approaches to abortion + Right to a child

Ultimately, as discussed in a previous post ethical theories accept or reject abortion on the basis of what they consider the status of the embryo to be.

Natural Law

The tradition Roman Catholic view is the life begins at conception so abortion is absolutely always wrong. Furthermore, the Sanctity of Life argument is used to demonstrate this.

One of the primary precepts in Natural Law is life hence we have a duty to protect and abortion goes against this and again is deemed incorrect.

Natural Law only permits the act of abortion (although it is not discussed as abortion) when we have to use the principle of double affect. When two actions conflict a second criteria is used in Natural Law and that is (i) the action must not be immoral and (ii) the intentions must be good. So if a pregnant women discovers she has cervical cancer the doctor may terminate the pregnancy by performing a hysterectomy because performing a hysterectomy to protect the women’s life is not immoral and the doctors intention is not to kill the foetus but rather save the mother. This would be fine for those who subscribe to Natural Law.

Evaluation

Strengths

-By using the Sol principle and clearly saying life begins at conception, ethic is straightforward and clear.

-Allows flexibility as well as a clear cut approach.

Weaknesses 

    • If a pregnancy will lead to unhappiness on the mother’s part and there is a threat of depression etc as this is an unwanted baby then sure the principle of double affect would kick in and suggest that abortion is fine with the intention of protecting the mother.

 

  • If you do not accept that life begins and conception and Christian teachings then this theory is not one worth abiding by.
  • Again we can argue against this using GE Moore’s naturalistic fallacy just because abortion is wrong or life begins at conception it doesn’t mean we ought to not do it or abortion is wrong.

 

The right to a child

Reproduction, is of course a significant aspect to being a natural law theorist. However, this does not imply that everyone has a right to a child, the outcome of reproduction, they have a right to try to procreate.

One of the reasons why a couple does not have a right to a child is because the various methods such as surrogacy and AID threaten the sanctity of marriage which as Aquinas said is one of the important constructs of society. It also enables homosexual couples to have babies which is unnatural and opposed by the Natural Law theory.

Another primary precept is ordered society and some of the artificial techniques used to get the child involve a child having theoretically several parents which may result in mental problems and a loss of identity and this is a threat to the ordered society in which we live in.

Kantian Ethics

Abortion

Kant has no clear opinion on the this matter but supporters of Kantian Ethics argue that the embryo is a potential human and hence the same ethical reasoning should be applied when looking at humans so abortion is wrong. However, if the moral status of an embryo is not a person then abortion is acceptable.

The right to a child

Kant would not agree that we have a right to a child because a parent does not have a right to a real live child then how can a person have a right on a hypothetical child.

– If a child is born in response to a person’s emotional needs then it is being used as a means to an end not end in itself.

-Reason is King so one must be taken adrift with emotion, this is immoral

Utilitarianism

Abortion

In general all forms of utilitarianism would be in favour of  abortion because it always women to have a choice as well as unwanted pregnancies in general lead to nothing but pain which is what a utilitarian seeks to avoid.

Right to a child 

Right to a child is a little bit more difficult to say that utilitarianism would be in favour because of the vast amount of factors a utilitarian would have to consider here are some.

Benefits

– joy of parents

– benefits may be unknown such as if the child turns out to discover an important theory

– Women are given the choice to sell their reproductive organs

– Financial benefits to surrogate

Disadvantages

– harm to unborn child if surrogate mother fails to take care of herself

– No way of avoiding medical problems which can affect the individuals involved

– psychological harm to the child of having multiple parents

– Possibility of rejection if child is born handicapped

– What if surrogate bonds with baby?

– Surrogate mother could black mail parents?

As we can see it is really difficult to work out a utilitarian answer to this ethic dilemma. We can however look at past experiences in  this matter and create generalised rules which would follow Mill’s rule utilitarianism which one would guess would be in favour for couples having a right to a child.

Religious Ethics – Here we would use the SoL principle

Euthanasia: Sanctity of life vs. Quality of life

Sanctity of Life and Quality of Life in relation to euthanasia.

Euthanasia

Euthanasia literally translates from the Greek as “good death” but it is more commonly defined as the intentional premature ending of life. There are four types.

 

Euthanasia can be one of two types; voluntary and involuntary

 

Voluntary = When individual requests for their life to be prematurely ended

 

Involuntary = When the individuals consent is not taken into account – even if the individual can make a consent.

 

There are two methods of terminating a life than can be classified as euthanasia

 

Active – this is when deliberate drugs are given to bring death

 

Passive – this is when drugs and other machinery on which the individual is reliant are withdrawn in order to hasten death.


What is the Sanctity of Life (SoL) argument?

The SoL argument states that human life is valuable in itself. According to SoL all life is worthy of RESPECT and REVERENCE and is intrinsically worthwhile. This implies all life is equal and we have a duty to protect it.

Ties with Christianity…

Christians sometimes use this argument to found some of the their ethics (particularly medical ones) because ‘the body is the temple of the holy spirit’.

Catholicism

 

The SoL principle is crucial to the catholic position. According to Natural Law any form of euthanasia should not be allowed because it conflicts the first primary precept of life – to live the supreme good. However, now it is recognised that not everyone can handle suffering physically and psychologically, it is impractical to assume that. So even though ‘suffering has a special place in God’s plan of salvation’ and it conflicts the primary precept, the Doctrine of double effect can be used to justify some acts. If the intention is to reduce pain by giving medication not to end the individuals life it can be justified as moral. The church distinguishes between ordinary and extraordinary means and euthanasia is an extraordinary means which can occasionally be used.


Evaluation


Strengths

– Avoids ‘group’ pressure and power of using euthanasia for selfish reasons
– Includes Christian teachings of love and compassion

Weaknesses 

– Outdated – not practical for a world where world population is exponentially growing.

– It is unclear then when this extraordinary means can be utilised.

 

Quality of Life

 

The Quality of Life principle essentially uses the ideas about Personhood to argue when people are considered persons and their life is worthwhile living.

 

Daniel Maguire

 

Maguire who is a professor of Theology argues that saying that God creates life and can only destroy it implies that we are his property. He says that we intervene to save and preserve life  and there is no real difference between than and euthanasia because they both have the goal of ending life with a good death. 

 

Peter Singer

 

Singer says we should move away from the SoL ethic because it is leading to people having a low quality of life. An individual can judge them self whether euthanasia is appropriate and if they are in a position where they can’t consent someone else must do it for them depending on the quality of their life which could be measured medically. 

He puts forward five new commandments which he believes we should abide by:

1. Human beings do not possess equal worth

2. Accept responsibilities for the consequence for our actions

3. Bring children into the world only if they are wanted

4. Do not discriminate on the basis of species

5. Respect a persons wishes to live or die

Number 5 obviously tells us how Singer feels towards euthanasia.

Evaluation

 

Strengths

– By focusing on the quality of life, we are approaching the topic more practically  in the 21st century.

 

Weaknesses

-Individuals in Permanent Vegetative State and other forms of suffering can be sometimes seem as a life not worth living. But this has further implication such as that many disabled and handicapped people have a life which is also not worth living – this does not sit well with the vast majority of people.