Friday, April 26, 2013

ETHICS AND SCIENCE:STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

ETHICS AND SCIENCE:STRANGE BEDFELLOWS 
By Micki Peluso





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This essay is about fifteen years old, but still applies to today. As far as ethics and science are concerned, we are still treading a fine and dangerous line. 
 
 
 


Morality is always at odds with something, which is its sole purpose for being. Morality is in constant turmoil with law, a distant relative and with medical technology, no relation at all. Publicized reports of child organ donation and the much debated issue of fetal tissue implants are prime examples of the inability to define the limits of morality. One 19-year-old victim of terminal leukemia, was clearly dying. Bone marrow cells which matched her own could not be found among her immediate family or in nationwide searches. Her frantic parents had opted to conceive a child, specifically to donate the needed transplant, if the infant's marrow proved to be compatible. This entailed a reverse vasectomy for her father and childbirth at the age of 42 for her mother. They were desperate enough and loved their daughter enough to try anything to save her.

Although this was not a novel occurrence, and is quietly being practiced by many families across the nation, this family's decision to publicize their intent and subsequent success, threw ethicists, doctors and the nation at large into a philosophical quandary. Was it right, moral or ethical to bring a child into the world for the purpose of saving her sibling?

Let's consider some of the many reasons for bearing children: a forgotten birth control pill, a misguided attempt to save a marriage, a playmate for an only child who has become a tyrant. Not to mention surrogacy, the desire or necessity of siring an heir to a fortune, and ignorance, especially among teenagers, of effective birth control measures. Whatever the reasons, once born, most babies, although not all, are loved, bonded with and wanted. Will this family's love for the new baby cease if the transplant fails? Of course not.

Years ago, children were most often bred for convenience, particularly in rural areas where many children were needed to help manage farms; and to care for aging parents. In cities during the Industrial Revolution, children were bred to work long hours in sweat factories to supplement their family's meager income. Before modern health care and mandatory vaccinations became prevalent, many babies were conceived because so few lived past infancy. Think of how many children are born today simply because of religious bans on birth control and abortion. So it is a safe assumption that "the principle that individuals should be brought into the world and cherished for their own sake and no other motive," is a relatively new concept. If past history proves that we have not always done well by our children, shouldn't we take precautions to insure that future children are born and raised for the right reasons?

Pediatrician and ethicist, Dr. Norman Fost, believes that " Of all the reasons people have children, I think this is one of the better ones: to save a life." But Dr. Robert Levine, ethicist at Yale University, is disturbed by the idea of people having babies to be donors and then aborting fetuses that were not the right tissue type.

I believe that the ethical question is not whether it is wrong to conceive a child to save another child, but rather, on what grounds does society and parents have the right to donate children's organs? Children who cannot comprehend the possible dangers to themselves, either immediate or in the future.

In the above case, it was not an organ that was donated, but the "simple procedure" of the bone marrow transplant, a painful procedure, that endangered the child's life. Many medical procedures are considered simple, but that does not guarantee the safety of the patient; ex: "The operation was a success but the patient died."

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the parents of twins decided to donate the kidney of one twin to save the life of the other, whose kidneys had failed. The operations were successful and both twins grew to adulthood. Then something happened and the twin who gave up one kidney lost the other, and died waiting for a viable transplant. What gave the parents the right to donate that child's organ and ultimately cause a later death? This is where the dilemma gets sticky. When things go well for all concerned, morality stays in the background. But when things go wrong, as they often will, we are forced to rely on ethics to protect ourselves from an over-zealous scientific community, and even our own desires. Most of us would do anything to save our children, but "anything" sometimes comes with a price tag that we cannot, as a moral society, afford.

One of my cousins donated one of her kidneys to save the life of her older, diabetic sister; a fine, altruistic act done out of pure love, and a mature decision made by a young adult, who was willing to chance living with one kidney so that her sister could live. Underage children do not have the ability to make such decisions and it is questionable whether parents have the right to make the decision for them.

Fetal tissue used for implants in treating diseases such as Parkinson's, is another matter. Regardless of whether one is pro-life, pro-choice, or pro-abortion, a certain number of abortions are going to be done, for various reasons. Wouldn't it somehow ease the pain of the often unnecessary killing of unborn children to know that other lives might be saved? Yet, if the Supreme Court succeeds in labeling the fetus as "citizen" that ethical question will enmesh itself within the tentacles of the law.
The family wanting to have a child to save their other child has worked out fine so far. The bone marrow transplant was a success, the baby is fine, and in a few years her sister will know if she has beaten leukemia. The bond of love between the teenager and her baby sister will remain for the rest of their lives; a fairy tale ending. However, not all such stories may end so beautifully.

The darker side of the human psyche might try to breed unwanted babies for organ donation only, and seek to profit by it. We are well into the actuality of cloning whole body organs from human cells, pushing ethics to the end of its tolerance. Science, in the excitement of discovery, often mistakes what is possible for what is acceptable under the standard of societal ethics. Should morality adapt to fit the future, or remain the only regulation which might insure that we have a future?

Morality is the only counterbalance for law and medical technological advances, the only avenue in preventing the human race from rushing headlong into science fiction. Perhaps science and medical technology have already jumped far ahead of applicable ethics. Morality has not expanded to fit an ever-growing technology--and maybe never will. This can be our saving grace or our downfall.

Web Site: A Writer's Journey
www.mallie1025.blogspot.com/

37 comments:

  1. My gratitude to Micki Peluso for sharing this thought-provoking article on the Blogroll.
    Enjoy!

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    1. Thanks, Marta for giving me the honor of being on your blogroll.

      Micki

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  2. An excellent article that doesn't shy away from the complexities of the ethical dilemmas described. Thanks to Micki, and Marta, for sharing it.

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  3. This was VERY WELL WRITTEN and VERY INTERESTING. I have had my share struggles with morality, but to me there are two different codes of morality, the religious one and the societal one, which at times conflict with one another. I guess we can't impose morality on people we can only be good examples of what we feel is the right thing to do and hope it's contagious.:)

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    1. Lori, you are right about not imposing morality upon people--which government is wont to do-yet we owe the young and the helpless safety--there lies the rub.

      Micki

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  4. What a well written and engaging article. It really made me think about something I had never spared a moment for.

    Thank you for sharing Micki.

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    1. Clayton, thank you for your comment. Enjoy your visit to my blog tomorrow with your post up.

      www.mallie1025.blogspot.com/

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  5. Thank you Marta and Micki. This has certainly given us insight to what is truth-sharing for the good or sharing for self gain.It seems that much controversy lies in the path of what may otherwise be innocent thought and behavior.
    A well written and thought out article.
    Thank you both again,
    Mamie

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  6. Thanks for the thought provoking essay Micki and to Marta for hosting it. I think we do anything we can for our children when they are suffering. Whether it's right or wrong, and it depends on your world view the end result is you want your child to live.
    Laurie.

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  7. True, Laurie, many things should be left to the morality of the persons involved, yet as a human community can we allow a child to die, with no one to speak for him? No easy answers.

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  8. This is truly the sort of moral dilemma technological advances have brought us. If you haven't read Jodi Picoult's novel "My Sisters Keeper," I recommend it. She tackles precisely this issue--conceiving a child to save an older sibling-- and it is told from the point of view of the younger child. Picoult is a compelling writer, and while I think she fell short of resolving the moral dilemma satisfactorly--and no wonder--the struggle is worth the read. And the struggle is what it's about, for me.

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    1. Thanks, Judy. I read "My Sister's Keeper' too--love all Picoult's works. I think the reason she could not satisfactorily resolve the moral/ethical issue is because its so complicated. There isn't always a clear right or wrong.

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  9. Hi,

    It is my opinion that morality and ethics that are not based on biblical truths is murderous for any society and bring about such discussions that try to legalize and uphold one position as being better than the other, as is yet being done by Dr. Norman Frost and Dr. Robert Levine.

    As I look at the rise and fall of civilizations there are several threads that bond the civilizations then with all the civilizations up until now together. Whether they were Babylonian, Greek, Roman or whatever, the fall has been their arrogance in thinking that they can decide what is moral and ethical without including God in the issue, and thereby those acts that are really unmoral or unethical go untouched.

    It is my personal opinion that the parents had the right to use any means possible to save their child, with the exception of destroying another person's life. No one knows how long they will live and therefore cannot guarantee that a donor will live a long life if he or she doesn't donate an organ. There are no guarantees in this world and to assume that a child who donated an organ will live to be 50, 60, 70 or however long is facetious.

    There are situations in life that we human beings have no control over and no we will not, in my opinion, ever be able to attain an all knowing, all seeing view of mankind and what life entails. For that I am extremely happy because if we were able to view and know what lies ahead we would become even more destructive than we are and annihilate one another.

    Great article, Micki. Thank you. It gave me an opportunity to share a small dot of what I think about the present issue.

    Shalom,

    Patti

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    1. Dear Pat, Great, as always to hear your wise words on any subject and this one in particular. I make no judgements for just the reasons you gave, although I lean towards stronger opinions regarding the rights of the unborn and the newborn. Thanks for writng.

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  10. Micki, you've written here a powerful essay, food for much thought! As a fellow writer I love the excellent way your ideas flow so effortlessly!

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    1. Thanks you Sal--I take that as a high compliment from one as talented as you.

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  11. Micki as always you never cease to amaze me with your talent. Your essay not only sends a powerful message to us, it allows us to ponder our own thoughts deeply. I only hope that one day my writing will flow as beautiful as yours.

    Tracy Leigh Ball

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    1. Thanks, Trace, You are already an accomplished young writer and will only grow even better as you experience life.

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  12. Micki, Wow, what an Essay. The writing is brilliant, the topic is excellent. I love how you weave your opinions and make such great sense of them. Morality and ethics are such a sensitive subject and very difficult to write. You nailed it.

    Blessings,
    Pat

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    1. Thanks, Pat, whatever small talent I have I gained as a commentary writer for and award winning newspapr with a great editor and mentor.

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  13. A thought-provoking question, for sure, Micki and I'm glad Marta has reposted it as it's still current 15 years later. I read a book about this very thing--parents having a child to save another child. Can't remember the name but I thought the question was well handled.

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  14. Thanks, Elaine. I really should have done some new research on what's happening today,but as always was buried in writing work. I may do a follow up when I get the time. I appreciate your thoughts on this.

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  15. Very nice essay, Micki. It is still quite timely (and will be, I think, for decades). There was an episode of some tv show (Law and Order, I think) that explored the "having a baby to provide a transplant" issue. Their slant was the psychological and physical impact on the younger child. It is a complex issue and I'm not sure there is a "right" answer.

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  16. Thank you Marta and Micki! This is such a thought-provoking and enlightening article. Micki, your knowledge and words never cease to amaze me! Hugs :-)

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  17. Totally agree, Micky. Normally, ethical dilemmas are solved easily by mass media.

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  18. Marta, this is an interesting article. But the author doesn't define what he means by either morality or ethics; thus we are left to try to guess how he came to many of his notions on what might or might not be ethical.
    Concerning the idea of conceiving a child for practical purposes, such as providing a stem-cell donor for a sibling, this is not addressed in any of the major religious doctrines. My notions of morality (and ethics, or codes of behavior) are simply that they are contrived by cultures and promulgated by religions in order to enhance the well-being of those in the community. So, in my mind, anything that enhances the well-being of others (while not harming another subset) has a positive moral value.
    I enlarge on this view in Chapter 5 of my book, "The God that Says I AM: A scientist's Meditations on the Nature of Spiritual Experience." A link to the book is:
    http://www.amazon.com/God-that-Says-Scientists-Meditations/dp/1450549047/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1286802360&sr=1-2

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  19. Thank you for your valuable contribution, dear Joanne. I'm sure Micki will address the issues you pose in her answer.

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  20. Thank you, Marta, for the invitation to read this essay. I believe that Micki has presented good examples of the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by families and physicians in the medical arena that are still prevalent and relevant today. What I find interesting is the fact that these issues exist only because we have the technology to improve the quality of life and to save the lives of those who are faced with life-and-death decisions; so as our technology improves, so do our moral and ethical questions become more complex.

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  21. Thanks, Betsy for your thoughts on this--I respect your opinions.

    Micki

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  22. Thanks Sharla for your comments--I value them as I do you.

    Micki

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  23. Hi Ana,
    I partly agree in that they shape public opinion, which is not always a good idea and in the recent years media has become too intertwined with politics. But that's another story. Thanks for commenting, I appreciate it.

    Micki

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  24. Thanks Joanne,for your wise comment.I believe religion or spiituality sets the guidelines for ethics and morality. By the way, I am a woman. This was a well-researched article published in a newspaper fifteen years ago. I had to at that time and even today, be careful not to get into a religious debate. Had I had the freedom to do that it would have read quite differently. As an editorial commentary, my own opinions needed to be subtley interjected but not imposed upon my readers. I used morality as a substitute for religion. I hate to use the word religion because there are so many and to me there is one God, called by many names, worshiped in many ways with the same road leading to whatever higher realms we are hopefully going to achieve one day at death. Personally, I am one with my own version of our creator. Thanks again for your comment--I hope I explained it well enough to answer your questions. Your book sounds like one I'd like to read as I am part of the great I AM.

    Micki

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  25. Thanks, Shari,
    I agree that as man, through technological advances becomes more "godlike' and tampers with things like cloning, genetically modified foods, taking DNA and trying to bring back extinct animals like the dinosauers, we are gong to get into moral, ethical issues and probably in a lot of trouble with God. He gives us the technology , but free choice also given by Him, is where we get into mischief--which we may or may not live to regret.

    Micki

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  26. Thank you, Micki, for your invaluable post, and all my gratitude to those who took the time to comment.

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  27. Thank you, Marta for having me as a guest blogger on your wonderful site.

    Micki

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