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Bioethics with Dr. Daniel Callahan

Presenter: Dr. Daniel Callahan
Host: Jon Fiorella
Discussion: SciTalk 5: Bioethics
Related Activity: Survey of Bioethical Issues


Background Information and Update.

Jon Fiorella--I have found bioethics to be the most important subject that I have taught in all my years in education. It has never failed to enthrall the students. The program has been pure enjoyment for me and I have shared what I have learned over the years with my teaching colleagues at a number of regional and national NSTA and NABT conferences. We are quite lucky to get someone of Daniel Callahan's stature to share his expertise with us. Please read his comments below and post any questions you might have by clicking here or on the "discussion" link you find at the top of the SciTalk pages.

Daniel Callahan--I am pleased to be with you. I began my work in bioethics some 30 years ago, foresaking work as an academic philosopher to pursue the then-new field of bioethics. Most remarkable to me now is that, even by the early 1970s we were discussing many of the same issues now being discussed: genetic engineering, including cloning; the care of the dying; artificial means of procreation; informed consent; and problems in health care delivery. The field, however, has developed rapidly, in part because many issues that once seem theoretical only are now with us, and because they are now out into the general public, not just fare for academics. My own greatest concern over the years has been the way in which medicine has changed the way we live. It has given us longer lives, different modes of reproduction, now problems in dealing with ancient questions, and has opened the possibility of engineering important human traits. While the standard theories of morality can be helpful here in dealing with ethical dilemmas created by medicine, we need to find ways to think more carefully about which technological developments we want in the first place; otherwise ethics becomes reactive only, not proactive. Ethics should deal not only with our actual moral dilemmas but with the way we in general live our lives and manage our science--so that we can have some choice about the kinds of dilemmas we get in the first place. One of the most important moral problems of our times is that science seems to create problems for us without giving us much choice about what kinds of problems we get. The only antidote to this is, I think, a greater dialogue with the public, and our own moral traditions, to set appropriate goals for science. Otherwise ethics ends by simply cleaning up problems created by others, often thoughtlessly.

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