Bioethics is the study of controversial questions that arrive due to the options given to us through ever advancing biology and medicine. Just because we can do something, should we do it?
There are always issues in the news where something like traffic pollution is costing lives more than ever (so should we just cut oil refining completely to save lives?), or that shale gas isn’t as innocent as its harvesting companies would like you to think it is (so should be avoid using companies that harvest gas this way?).
These issues have arisen purely because we have developed the ability to make them an option. There are clear arguments for these things but there are equally valid arguments against them too.
But what are the biggest issues in bioethics?
Induced abortion is one of the most controversial topics and debates in bioethics. Pro-life groups say that abortion is never ok. Pro-choice groups say that women should always have the choice. The safe option seems to be to side with the pro-choice groups but it is far more complicated; for example, when does a sensible choice to terminate a pregnancy cross the line into something like sex-selective abortion. Equally, if you support pro-life groups, you may find it hard to argue that a rape victim should be forced by law to have the baby.
With food shortages around the world, being able to genetically modify food in order to stem world hunger may seem like a great idea. Some argue that artificially increased yields will solve the food crisis, while others say there is plenty of food to go around and that the problem lies in politics and distribution issues. Add into this the fact that there have been many adverse health effects rightly or wrongly attributed to GM foods along the way and you have a terribly hot topic.
Suicide is illegal in most countries. Voluntary euthanasia is legal in some countries. Involuntary euthanasia is basically murder everywhere. The euthanasia debate is really tricky as on one hand you have people’s right to be in control of their own life, and on the other side you have people who feel that making euthanasia legal can result in deaths that could have been avoided with proper treatment and pain relief.
Moral Status of Animals
Do you think animals should have the same rights as us in regards to their right to life? Should their lives and environment be protected no matter what? Some say animals have no concept of their own life worth, others disagree. A lot of the world’s food comes from animals, meaning that their moral status is an extremely important debate.
Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Injecting stem cells into animals (or just in test tubes) has been proven to help regenerate or at least encourage cells to grow, even into entire organs. Obviously this would offer incredible opportunities for research, but the counter argument revolves around the alarming fact that to get embryonic stem cells you need to first create an embryo and then destroy it.
What is the most important bioethical debate for you?
Ian Brew works with laboratory supplies at a UK university biology department. He specialises in micro lab equipment and computing.