Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Are we an ethical society?

This is a difficult question. The answer will I guess be a hesitant qualified yes.

I mean, we do have all the instruments in place to be ethical. On paper we would be fully compliant with international best practices. Our institutions, hospitals and universities have duly constituted ethical review boards who sit and approve all our research and clinical practices. And we certainly know the jargon.

But don't you get this niggling feeling that we are not that ethical a society? We have the form, but don't you often get the feeling that despite the form, we are really not a very ethically concerned society?

You see, we don't really discuss ethical issues. Any discussions go on behind closed doors and we don't get to hear of the discussion points. In the end there is a very palatable consensus document which doesn't really tell us what the contrarian views might be, if there are any. The ethicists in our midst tend not to want to let us know what they think.

The ethics committees tend to be rather politically correct, and in the absence of any real public discussions by our ethicists you can't help wondering if the final consensus documents have been massaged to fit the intended outcome. It's all very discomforting.

Plus, as a society, we tend to be pragmatic to a fault. This pragmatism works in our favour sometimes, and allows us often to be able to cut the Gordian Knot when problems appear insoluble. But with ethical issues this overly pragmatic approach often leads us to consider that the ends can be used to justify the means. Which makes for a rather uncomfortable kind of ethics.

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