Tag: natural law

Bioethics Blogs

Neil Gorsuch, Aid in Dying, and Roe v. Wade

In the absence of any “paper trail” that would give clues to Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s views on abortion, many commentators have turned to his book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, based on his doctoral dissertation at Oxford, where he worked with natural law theorist John Finnis.  Ronald M. Green notes with alarm that Gorsuch relies on an inviolability-of-life principle that would likely lead him to vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.  Furthermore, Green writes that Gorsuch’s conservative preference for allowing states to make their own decisions, would lead to a return to the pre-Roe reality in which women would have to travel long distances for abortions in those states that allowed it.  (https://ronaldmgreen.com/2017/02/17/how-will-neil-gorsuch-vote-on-roe-v-wade/)

However, there are more dire possibilities to consider. In a long and fascinating essay in Vox (March 20, 2017), J. Paul Kelleher argues that Gorsuch is not an originalist in the Scalia mold, but actually a natural law adherent like his mentor Finnis.  Natural law theorists believe that there is an over-arching moral law that judges can and must rely on when existing laws are unclear, or manifestly unjust.  The recognition of human life as a “fundamental good” that can never be intentionally harmed, is an example of such a moral law, and one that Gorsuch relies on in his condemnation of assisted suicide.

It’s important to see that Gorsuch is not merely agreeing with the current legal status of assisted suicide in our country.   In Washington v. Glucksberg, in 1997, the Court declined to follow the logic of the “privacy” cases stretching from contraception through abortion and find a constitutional right to assistance in ending one’s life. 

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.

Bioethics News

Peter Singer interviewed about, well, everything

The Journal of Practical Ethics recently posed 20 hardball questions to Peter Singer about his philosophy. It is a terrific insight into his thinking as his long career draws to a close.

About utilitarianism: Why do many intelligent and sophisticated people reject utilitarianism? Some people give more weight to their intuitions than I do—and less weight to arguments for debunking intuitions. Does that reduce my confidence in utilitarianism? Yes, to some extent, but I still remain reasonably confident that it is the most defensible view of ethics. I don’t know if everyone will accept utilitarianism in 100 years, but I don’t find the prospect frightening. It would only be frightening if people misapplied it, and I do not assume that they will.

On critics: There have been many critics of my views about euthanasia for severely disabled infants. I had some good discussions with the late Harriet McBryde Johnson, who was not a philosopher but a lawyer who had a rich and full life despite being born with a very disabling condition. As long as she was alive, when I wrote anything on that topic, I wrote with her potentially critical response in mind.

The objective truth of morality: You could just say “these are my normative views, and I’m going to treat them as if they were true, without thinking about whether moral judgments really can be objectively true.” If you do that, then in practice your decisions will be the same whether or not moral judgments can be objectively true. But given that I think morality is highly demanding, it becomes easier to say that, since morality is so highly demanding, and there is nothing irrational about not doing what morality demands, I’m not going to bother doing what I know to be right.

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.

Bioethics News

Trump SCOTUS Nominee is “a bioethicist”

Donald Trump’s new Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, is “a bioethicist” — at least according to one article published after Trump’s announcement.

Gorsuch, currently a judge of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado, was nominated by the President during a live television broadcast from the White House on Tuesday evening.

Gorsuch is a lawyer’s lawyer who made his name at Washington DC’s elite law firm Kellogg, Huber and Hansen. Yet he also has academic interests and has written extensively on end of life issues. In 2007 he published The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, in which he outlined his opposition to legal assisted dying. Gorsuch has a doctorate in legal philosophy at Oxford University, which he completed under the supervision of new natural law theorist John Finnis.

Liberal commentators slammed the Gorsuch nomination, saying that he would challenge worker’s rights, climate change policy and women’s rights.

“Neil Gorsuch has an alarming history of interfering with reproductive health and rights”, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards tweeted following the announcement.

Gorsuch, however, is yet to have written an opinion stating his position on abortion.

He describes himself as a textualist and an originalist. Speaking to an audience at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, Gorsuch said that judges should use “text, structure and history” to understand what the law is, “not to decide cases based on their own moral convictions or the policy consequences they believe might serve society best.”Princeton philosopher and conservative commentator Robert George described Gorsuch as an ‘intellectual giant’:  “[his] combination of outstanding intellectual and personal qualities places him in the top rank of American jurists.”

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Ethics, Undocumented Immigrants and the Issue of Integration: Making a Better Life for Everyone in New York City

Image via

STUDENT VOICES

By: Yohan Garcia

This essay is in response to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs video clip “Nisha Agarwal: IDNYC & the Undocumented Community.”  

According to a study conducted by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), an estimated 643,000 undocumented immigrants live within the five boroughs of New York City. Advocates of the New York City Municipal ID card hoped that government-issued photo identification would bring many of those undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. With the newly elected President of the United States, Donald Trump, many are wondering whether the NYC Municipal ID was the right thing to do as the cards can put undocumented cardholders at greater risk of being harassed by government authorities and even of deportation.

Nisha Agarwal, Commissioner at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, argues that the NYC Municipal ID card has helped many undocumented immigrants do things such as pick up their kids from school, access public and government buildings, interact more easily with police officers, and open bank accounts. Furthermore, the Commissioner argues that the Municipal ID has helped many undocumented immigrants increase their sense of belonging to New York City and to the United States. Given that sixty percent of NYC’s population is foreign born and less than half of the city’s population has a driver’s license, the Municipal ID proves to be an effective legal response to cope with the need for identification in NYC.

One of the biggest misconceptions about undocumented immigrants is that they take job opportunities away from American citizens.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Thruple Babies: Born of 3 Parents

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

If a thruple is a three-person relationship, then would their combined genetic child be a thruby?

A baby boy born in April  is believed to be the first child created from the DNA of three parents: mother, father, and egg donor using the spindle nuclear transfer technique. Despite the claims of the media, this is not the first child born with three genetic parents.

Mrs. Y is a carrier of the genetic mutation for Leigh syndrome, is a fatal neurological disease usually diagnosed in a child’s first year. The gene for the disease resides in the 37 genes of the mitochondrial DNA of the cell. The mitochondria live in the cell, but outside of the nucleus that houses most of an organism’s DNA (another 20,000 genes). Mitochondria and their DNA are always inherited from the mother.

After 4 miscarriages and two children dying of Leigh syndrome, Mrs. Y sought the help of John Zhang, and infertility specialist in New York. If the problem was the mitochondrial DNA, the solution would be to use a donor’s egg (for cytoplasm and mitochondria) and exchanging the donor egg’s nucleus for the nucleus from one of Mrs. Y’s oocytes. This is a process called spindle nuclear transfer. Then the father’s sperm is used to fertilize the hybrid egg. This way the child would have both the mother and father’s DNA, but the mitochondrial DNA comes from a third source, the egg donor.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because in February, the United Kingdom announced ethical and legal approval for creating three-person embryos.

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.

Bioethics News

Bioethical debates. Contributions of religion in the field of research and biomedical practice

As a general rule, bioethical debates deal with the questions raised by scientific-technical breakthroughs in the field of research and biomedical practice. The swiftness with which these advances take place calls into question whether moral philosophy —and in particular theological ethics— can provide answers to the new questions raised, or whether it should capitulate to strategic ethics.

In the last few months, the Journal of Medical Ethics has reignited the debate about the place of religion in medical ethics. Nigel Biggar, Professor of Moral Theology at Oxford University [1], has criticised the moral ambiguity of secular ethics, which often obliges us “to settle for a somewhat messy compromise” [1]. Biggar denies that religious logic is irrational, and admonishes intellectuals to overcome their “scientistic” prejudices and recognise that moral theology is a repository of genuinely convincing and illuminating principles. Biggar’s theory is contested by Kevin Smith, professor at Abertay University in Dundee [2]; Brian Earp, researcher at Oxford University [3]; and Xavier Symons of Sydney Catholic University [4].

Smith’s criticism of Biggar’s arguments centres on the following: firstly, the principles of theological ethics are not universal, since they appeal to divine authority instead of rational discourse; furthermore, they were formulated when the possibilities of contemporary technology for detecting prenatal disease early on, creating and maintaining embryonic life outside the maternal womb, or eliminating intrauterine life using techniques that are safe for the pregnant woman were still unknown. Only “secular” ethics, he adds, guarantee discussion based on ethical principles open to rational analysis. He concludes that only utilitarianism has the potential to attract a universal consensus, because happiness and suffering are, respectively, highly valued and deprecated by all agents who participate in the debate.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Expanding The Moral Community: Why is it so hard?


Much of American history can be described as the struggle to
expand the moral community in which an increasing number of human beings are
seen as having basic rights under the constitution. We forget sometimes that
though the inclusion of all people was perhaps implied in our early documents,
as in “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created
equal…” from the Declaration of Independence, it has taken historical time and
struggle to come closer to realizing that ideal. This struggle has been the
quest for recognition of more and more individuals not assumed initially to have
the right to vote and exercise control over their lives, which included African
Americans, women, minorities, and more recently the LGBT community. The growing
recognition of more and more individuals as being full fledged citizens has
been a slow, often painful, birthing process of freedom, in the sense of
unleashing human potential and possibilities, within the democratic process.


 


The recent uproar over the
Anti-LGBT law
passed in North Carolina is a reminder of how difficult it is
for many states and communities to accept and accommodate historically
marginalized people into the mainstream of society. This law was a quick
reaction by the right wing North Carolina legislature and governor to an
ordinance passed in Charlotte, similar to what other cities around the country
are doing, allowing transgender people to use restrooms according to their
gender identity. Perhaps this law also should be seen as a reaction to the
Supreme Court ruling in 2015 legalizing same-sex marriage, which has been
propelling society toward greater openness and acceptance of LGBT life styles,
integrating them into the mainstream.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Tanya Cassidy’s and Abdullahi El Tom’s “Ethnographies of Breastfeeding: Cultural Contexts and Confrontations” by Ben Kasstan

Ethnographies of Breastfeeding: Cultural Contexts and Confrontations

Tanya Cassidy and Abdullahi El Tom (editors)

Bloomsbury, 2015, 255 pages

 

Ethnographies of Breastfeeding offers a timely insight into how milk feeding is confronted in multiple socio-cultural and political contexts. The edited volume comprises twelve chapters which together explore the boundaries and contentions that milk flows across. By aggregating the historical and ethnographic chapters, the reader can devise how ‘traditional’ or past practices (such as wet-nursing) are now taking on more emergent forms of distribution (such as milk banks and sharing). Offering much more than a study of conceptual shifts over time, the various takes on the ‘product’ and ‘process’ of milk feeding as a reproductive and socio-political conduct make the book a fascinating read.

In her bold foreword, Penny Van Estrik immediately challenges the reader to reconfigure their views and positionality of breastfeeding by referring to it as ‘human milk’ rather than the status quo of ‘breastmilk’. After all, she asks, ‘we don’t call cows’ milk udder milk – why stress the container over the species?’ Perhaps this simple change in how milk feeding is regarded will be a first step in pushing into the shadows the primary status of the breast in the ‘West’ as hyper-sexualized. This opportunity, however, is lost by Van Estrik’s term of reference remaining largely in the foreword and not being used exclusively in the volume’s successive chapters. It seems curious that there is no common stance, especially when ‘confronting’ practices of (breast)milk feeding is an obvious objective of the book and etched in the title.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

A Few Thoughts On Abortion and Valuing Human Life


Who could be against life? Ancient natural law theory in the
Catholic tradition tells us that human beings desire to live, and that life is
good, therefore humans have an obligation to live and not kill other human
beings. This ancient wisdom has been instilled into western ways of moral
thinking. So, who could not be prolife in terms of how we place value on all
individual human life?


 


Who could be against human freedom? Individual human beings
should be free to live peacefully in accordance with their own values and life
goals. This is a basic tenet of democracy that has shaped moral and political
thinking in the West for the past four centuries. So, who could not be against
the exercise of free choice, especially about something so basic as having
control over our bodies?


 


The two value perspectives contained in the prior two
paragraphs, all things equal, are eminently reasonable and most ethically unproblematic.
These two value positions represent two fundamental principles of ethics—the
intrinsic value of all individual human lives and the right of free individuals
to govern their own lives and bodies—that guide us in living an ethical life
and making ethical decisions. It is when these fundamental principles come into
direct conflict that a serious, a near irresolvable, ethical conflict arises.
There is no greater direct conflict of these two ethical principles than right
of women to have an abortion. It is commonly assumed that one is either on one
side of this moral abyss or the other and the twain shall never meet.

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.

Bioethics News

Bioethics and natural law: an interview with John Keown

Bioethics discourse is often divided into two broad categories: utilitarian perspectives and so-called deontological or Kantian approaches to ethics. An alternative viewpoint that receives far less attention is a natural law perspective on ethics and medicine. The natural law approach emphasizes interests or ends common to all members of humanity, and offers a teleological account of morality and human flourishing.

Professor John Keown of Georgetown University’s Kennedy Institute for Ethics recently co-authored a book on natural law with the late Georgetown Professor Alfonso Gómez-Lobo. The book is entitled Bioethics and the Human Goods: An Introduction to Natural Law Bioethics. The Deputy Editor of BioEdge, Xavier Symons, interviewed Professor Keown about his latest work. 

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Xavier SymonsWhat led you to write Bioethics and the Human Goods: An Introduction to Natural Law Bioethics?

John Keown: The book was largely written by my distinguished colleague and friend, the late Professor Alfonso Gómez-Lobo, who held the Ryan Chair in Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy at Georgetown. Before his untimely death at the end of 2011, he had submitted a manuscript to Georgetown University Press. With the kind permission of his widow, and with the approval of the Press, I completed the project, incorporating amendments that he had indicated, in his comments on the referees’ reports, that he wanted to make, and some amendments that I thought appropriate. About a third of the book is material I added to his original manuscript. I thought it important, given the regrettable dearth of introductory books on bioethics from a natural law perspective, that his manuscript should be enlarged, updated and completed

What contribution do you think natural law can make to the field of bioethics?

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.