Interview: David S. Oderberg
David S. Oderberg is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading, UK, and has written extensively on bioethical issues such as abortion, euthanasia, genetic engineering, animal rights, and capital punishment from a natural law, anti-consequentialist viewpoint. He is also the editor of Ratio, an international journal of analytic philosophy. Xavier Symonds, Deputy Editor of BioEdge, asked him to comment on the state of contemporary bioethics.
Xavier Symons: In your opinion, what are the main philosophical concepts that bioethicists tend to misunderstand?
David S. Oderberg: There’s a lot of misunderstanding in the bioethics industry (because it is something of an industry), although I’d prefer to put it in terms of simple mistakes or confusions. I don’t think most bioethicists misunderstand what they believe or recommend at policy level, since most have a clear agenda, which is to pull apart as many “taboos”, i.e., commonsense traditional prohibitions, as possible.
A lot of the time, the ends justify the means inasmuch as bioethicists will use whatever argument they have to hand, whether good, bad, or indifferent, to advance a prior agenda. In that sense, I suppose you could say they misunderstand the function of argument, which is to get to the truth, not to advance a previously-adopted policy.
I recall reading, a number of years ago, a report by the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority, produced by a handful of bioethicists and devoted to defending human embryo experimentation. It was abundantly clear from the report that the authors (most of whom I had barely heard of as far as the philosophy profession is concerned) were intent on recommending embryo experimentation to the government as morally permissible, and they used whatever argument or “theory” they could to defend it.
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.