Radically new techniques are opening up exciting possibilities for those working in health care – for psychiatrists, doctors, surgeons: the option to clone human beings, to give just one example. Who should determine what is allowed and what prohibited? And what sort of consent should doctors have to have from patients before treatment. Is the trend towards consent forms helpful? Or should we trust doctors to make good decisions for us. For many years now, philosopher Onora O’Neill, formerly principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, has been thinking about the issue of ‘trust’: trust is vital in most areas of human interaction – but nowhere more so than in health and medicine.
PETER SINGER - Life and Death (MP3)
If a patient decides she doesn’t want to live any longer, should she be allowed to die? Should she be allowed to kill herself? If a patient is no person to decide – perhaps she’s in a coma – then should somebody else be able to decide to kill her? Who? Is there a moral difference between killing and allowing someone to die? And is the role of the doctor always to prolong life? Peter Singer, of Princeton University, is one of the world’s leading bio-ethicists, and has been reflecting on life and death issues for four decades.
JEFF McMAHAN - Moral Status (MP3)
A stone on the beach, we assume, has no moral status. We can kick or hammer the stone, and we have done the stone no harm. Typical adult human beings do have moral status. We shouldn’t, without a very good reason, kick a man or woman. Often, contentious moral issues, such as embryo research, or abortion, or whether to turn off a life-support machine, turn on disagreement about moral status. So the key questions are, who or what has moral status, and why? Jeff McMahan, of Rutgers University, has spent years trying to unravel the answers.
JULIAN SAVULESCU - Designer Babies (MP3)
The term ‘designer baby’ is usually used in a pejorative sense – to conjure up some dystopian Brave New World. There are already ways to affect what kind of children you have – most obviously by choosing the partner to have them with. But there are others too: a pregnant mother can improve her baby’s prospects by not smoking, for instance. With advances in genetics, however, there will soon be radical new methods to select or influence the characteristics of your progeny: not just physical characteristics, like height or eye colour, but intellectual capacities, and capacities linked to morality – such as how empathetic the child will be. The big question is how much freedom parents should have to make such selections. Julian Savulescu of Oxford’s Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, believes that if we can genetically alter the next generation, not only should we be free to do so, it may even turn out that in some circumstances we have an obligation to go ahead and do it.