Bioethics Blogs

Why Ethicists Should Speak Out Against Torture

Sen. Feinstein of the U.S. Senate released a committee report two months ago on the use of torture by CIA interrogators in the 2000s.  While some have expressed outrage, many have been silent on the matter.  I think ethicists are obligated to speak on this issue, and Christian ethicists should be able to articulate the moral high ground regarding the treatment of prisoners or the fighting of wars.

I will mention a few areas that should be of particular concern to ethicists:

A Stance for the Healing Profession of Medicine

With the exponential growth of biotechnology in recent years, the profession of medicine has become too narrowly focused on its technical enterprise at the expense of its broader calling to heal.  At the heart of the Hippocratic tradition is the concept that the work of the physician is done for the sake of healing and is not to be misused in the service of some other agenda.  The ancients were wise in considering the possibility of medicine becoming a powerful tool in the hands of some enterprise unconcerned with its subject (the patient) or healing.

A program of torture developed by psychologists undercuts this endeavor significantly.  Medical practice of rectal rehydration to keep alive those who probably wish they were dead twists healing practice into an instrument of torture.  The overall agenda of a surveillance agency or government department may contradict the healing endeavor.

We might cover Kantian ethics in every university philosophy intro class, but it seems we are apt to use people as a means to an end.  Sometimes our rationale is about money (or “jobs”); sometimes it is about military power (“security”).  However, the philosophy is easy to see: we have no problem doing terrible things in order to accomplish our goals.  Ethicists of all stripes should speak out against this.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.