Scientism and the loss of Ethics

arroganceThe moral worldview of any scientifically literate person, one who is not blinkered by fundamentalism, requires a radical break from religious concepts of meaning and value….The worldview that guides the moral and spiritual values of an educated person today is the worldview given to us by science.” Steven Pinker

Professor of Psychology at Harvard, Steven Pinker believes in scientism, the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints. A self-proclaimed atheist since the age of thirteen, what Pinker doesn’t believe in is ethics.

In an article, The Moral Imperative for Bioethics, he penned for the Boston Globe, Pinker argued against ethical restraint in medical research involving human subjects. “A truly ethical bioethics should not bog down research in red tape, moratoria, or threats of prosecution based on nebulous but sweeping principles such as dignity, or sacredness, or social justice. Nor should it thwart research that has likely benefits now or in the near future by sowing panic about speculative harms in the distant future. …”

Pinker blames bioethics, of all fields, for slowing down medical progress because of its insistence that human being be treated with “dignity,” which he says is fungible and harmful. Unfortunately bioethicist can be just as arrogant and inhumane as any other profession.  

Take for example Bioethicist Robert Veatch of Georgetown University who published a paper in the Journal of Clinical Ethics, proposing, of all things, that unconscious patients be used as “living cadavers” to test the safety of pig-to-human organ xenotransplantation. According to Veatch, and a few of his colleagues, it is okay to use “vegetative, breathing cadavers,” who could even be buried were it not “simply unaesthetic to bury someone while still breathing,” as organ farms.

A 1996 article in the British medical journal said that if “the legal definition of death” could include “patients with irreversible loss of higher brain” it would be possible to use “lethal injection” to stop their heart and “remove the organs needed for transplantation.” And, more recently, the notion that the bodies of persistent vegetative patients should be exploitable has been extended to the realm of cutting-edge medical research, perhaps for the purpose of using them in place of primates or other animals.

Heather Draper, a bioethicists from England says that while she believes people in a vegetative state are still alive, it should not preclude using them as organ farms.  A Belgian professor An Ravelingien wrote in 2004 that “experimenting on vegetative patients is legitimate under the same conditions as experiments on cadavers,” asserting that “living cadavers” in persistent vegetative state should not be called “patients” because that wrongly humanizes them and “impedes the discussion.”

Pinker is wrong. We need safeguards and limitation in place, without which we get Tuskegee and experimentation on living babies which was being done in the US in the late 1960s until Senator Ted Kennedy led a drive to put an end to it.

The Tuskegee syphilis experiment was an infamous clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the U.S. Public Health Service on black men to study the natural progression of untreated syphilis . According to the Centers for Disease Control, the men were told they were being treated for “bad blood.”

A 1968 study called the “Artificial Placenta,” used a twenty-six week old baby, weighing more than one pound, obtained supposedly from a teenager by therapeutic abortion. Along with 14 other live babies, it was immersed in a liquid containing oxygen and kept alive for a full five hours. According to the notes of the experiment, “irregular gasping movements twice a minute occurred in the middle of the experiment but there was not property respiration. Once the pumping in or oxygenated blood was stopped, the gasping respiratory efforts increased to 8 to 10 per minute. After stopping the circuit, the heart slowed and eventually stopped and the baby died 21 minutes after leaving the circuit. Rather than locking these Doctor Mengeles away, their study won the Foundation Prize Award from the American Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Our current laws governing research are founded because of an awful history of abuse and are aimed at fulfilling the essential task of protecting and preserving the fundamental dignity of human life as elucidated in the Nuremberg Code and international accords put in place since WWII.  Unfortunately, ObamaCare could well change that!

“To understand the source of moral values, we don’t have to look to religion. Psychologists have identified universal moral sentiments such as love, compassion, generosity, guilt, shame, and righteous indignation. A belief in spirits and angels need have anything to do with it. And moral philosophers such as Peter Singer (one of tomorrow’s honorees) who scrutinize the concept of morality have shown that it is logically rooted in the interchangeability of one’s own interests and others…A retributive, human-like deity meting out justice doesn’t have a role in our best explanations of theologic of morality.”  Pinker


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