Ethical Canary

Ethical Canary: Science, Society, and the Human Spirit

Margaret Somerville
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Ethical Canary
    Book Description:

    Every day we hear news about medical or scientific breakthroughs and the complex ethical issues they raise. Feats that were never before possible, including cloning, genetically modifying food, mapping human chromosomes, and using animal organs for human transplants, have opened up a Pandora's box of ethical questions. Technology is advancing at such rate that the issue is not so much what we can do but rather whether we will do it. Margaret Somerville, a leading international authority on medicine, ethics, and the law, demonstrates that society must set ethically acceptable limits on scientific advances. In this controversial, and timely book Somerville sheds light on the urgent ethical and legal questions that vie for our attention. Along the way, she calls upon us to recognize the mysteries that lie at the heart of our lives and the metaphysical reality that gives meaning to life. The Ethical Canary is a major contribution to the debate about the hottest issues in ethics today, from one of the world's leading authorities.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7220-1
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface to the Paperback Edition
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Margaret Somerville
  4. Prologue
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    The scene was a magnificent guildhall in Lūbeck, one of the powerful Hanseatic League cities in northern Germany. In the past, this hall had been the meeting place of the ships’ captains and seamen who brought great wealth to the region through their trade. I was there to give the opening speech for a conference called “Health Care Systems at the Crossroads: Balancing Individual Needs with Financial Limitations” and organized by the Drager Foundation, a German charitable foundation. There were around 250 people present, and we had already begun the evening with cocktails.

    After my hosts introduced me in the...

  5. 1. Searching for Ethics in a Secular Society
    (pp. 1-21)

    Recently, the search for ethics seems to have been everywhere. One has only to pick up the daily newspapers to see the perceived relevance of “ethics talk” to much of what goes on in our lives as individuals and communities. We are now exploring the ethics of politics and politicians; the ethics of public policy, governmental bureaucracy and public accountability; ethics in academia, business, industry and health care; the ethics of our treatment of animals; environmental ethics; ethics in the media; ethics in sport; the ethics of armed conflict; and the ethics of scientific and medical research and the new...

  6. 2. Making and Un-Making Babies The Ethics of Human Reproduction
    (pp. 22-54)

    A young professional couple had telephoned to make an appointment. When they arrived in my office, they looked cense and distressed. The woman had had five pregnancies in a short time. Four had resulted in very late-term stillbirths. A baby was born at the end of the fifth pregnancy. At first all had seemed well, and the parents were overjoyed. After about eight weeks, however, the baby’s health began to deteriorate and, six months later, he died of a serious genetic disease.

    The couple then underwent extensive genetic testing and were told that they were genetically incompatible (this is called...

  7. 3. Immortalizing Our Genetic Selves The Ethics of Human Cloning
    (pp. 55-88)

    The ethics of human cloning has been on the public agenda since the birth of Dolly, the cloned sheep. Cloning techniques make possible both the creation of genetically identical human beings and of tissues, organs or cell lines (a homogeneous group of cells derived from a single sample of cells from a tissue or organ) that are genetically the same as the donor. We can clone higher animals and, therefore, humans. Human cloning can be undertaken for two reasons: to produce children who are genetically identical to the cell donor (human reproductive cloning), or to produce embryos for research or...

  8. 4. Crossing the Animal-Human Divide The Ethics of Xenotransplantation
    (pp. 89-116)

    Modern medical and scientific ethics—bioethics—is often regarded as having been born on the day in 1967 in Cape Town, South Africa, when Dr. Christiaan Barnard carried out the first human heart transplant. When we had dealt with the major ethical, legal and social—and some of the religious and cultural—issues that this event raised, we thought we had solved the problems—at least the serious ones—that organ transplantation would create. But new issues have constantly arisen, and transplantation has remained at the forefront of both our science and ethics.

    Xenotransplantation (the transplantation of organs between different...

  9. 5. Dealing with Death The Ethics of Euthanasia
    (pp. 117-151)

    As I was starting to write this chapter, my assistant, Eileen Parle, knocked and entered my office. She said there was a woman on the telephone who was asking to speak to someone at the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law who could tell her how she could gain access to euthanasia. She was enquiring, in particular, whether if she went to Holland she could obtain euthanasia. I took the call.

    The woman sounded calm and lucid—and had a young-sounding voice. She had, she told me, widely metastasized bowel cancer and was in terrible pain; she could not go...

  10. 6. Terminating Life Support without Consent The Ethics of Withdrawing Treatment
    (pp. 152-174)

    One Sunday afternoon in July 1998, CFCF, a television station in Montreal, called to ask whether they could do an interview with me in the next thirty minutes. They had been contacted by the two sons of a man who was in an intensive care unit in one of the large teaching hospitals in Montreal. The physicians wanted to withdraw the respirator that was keeping the father, Herman Krausz, alive, despite his sons’ opposition to their doing this. On the previous Friday, the sons had had a lawyer send a letter to the physicians advising them that both they and...

  11. 7. Pushing Parents to the Sidelines The Ethics of Imposing Treatment on Seriously III Children
    (pp. 175-201)

    The case of Tyrell Dueck opens up some of the most difficult issues we face in the everyday practice of ethics and law in a medical context.

    In late 1998, Tyrell Dueck, a thirteen-year-old Saskatchewan boy, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the same disease that caused the death of Terry Fox. (Fox was a courageous young man who, despite losing his leg to cancer, set out on a run across Canada to raise money to fight the disease and became a national hero in doing so. He died before he could complete his run.) Osteosarcoma has a high mortality rate. Tyrell’s...

  12. 8. Altering Baby Boys’ Bodies The Ethics of Infant Male Circumcision
    (pp. 202-219)

    If someone asked you what our reactions to human cloning could teach us about the ethics of infant male circumcision, you might think it was a trick question. I was working on speeches on both these topics at more or less the same time and, with some surprise, recognized there was at least one important lesson that cloning would provide in relation to circumcision. When they first hear of human cloning, most people’s reaction is “Yuck!” But as familiarity increases, and dread decreases, they move from this rejection and horror to neutrality to acceptance, usually with safeguards, and finally even...

  13. 9. Denying Health Care to Individuals The Ethics of Access
    (pp. 220-246)

    Do we have any recourse against physicians who fail to provide us with health care because resources are limited? Or against those people or bodies who decide whether a healthcare system will provide or pay for certain treatments? What are their ethical and legal obligations? Let us look first at one man’s challenge to the systems-level decision-makers who denied him the treatment he desperately needed.

    Barry Stein, a practising lawyer and father of young children, was forty-one years old in 1995 when he was diagnosed with colon cancer with metastases to his liver. In January 1996, he was operated on...

  14. 10. Structuring Healthcare Systems The Ethics of Allocation
    (pp. 247-278)

    In the previous chapter, we examined how decisions that resulted in a denial of health care could be challenged on ethical or legal grounds. In this chapter, we look at the principles, concepts, approaches and ideas that might help us to act ethically when we face tough decisions as institutions or governments as to what health care will and will not be provided.

    In exploring the ethics of limiting health care, as in many areas of ethics, we often focus on dramatic individual cases. Front-page stories involving the lack of access to health care are reported in the Canadian press...

  15. 11. Creating an Ethics Toolbox What Does “Doing Ethics” Require?
    (pp. 279-300)

    In this final chapter I want to briefly explain what we mean when we say we are “doing ethics” and to introduce some concepts and methodologies that are tools with which we do ethics. Many of these tools have been used throughout this book, but explicitly identifying them can help us to understand the way in which a certain ethical position or conclusion is reached. This, in turn, helps us to see more precisely how we might agree or disagree with a stance regarding a certain matter taken on the basis of ethics. But first I want to introduce an...

  16. Epilogue
    (pp. 301-302)

    As a child my father was an altar boy in a Roman Catholic church in a very small town in the vast Outback of Australia. When I knew him, he was first an atheist, later, an agnostic. And even later still, I am not sure what his beliefs were.

    When he was dying, I asked him if he would like to see a priest. He answered wryly, “No, keep those black crows away from me,” and asked why I thought he would want to do this. I replied he was one of the most religious—although spiritual would have been...

  17. Sources
    (pp. 303-320)
  18. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 321-324)
  19. Index
    (pp. 325-344)