In the last twenty years, there has been exponential change in society as a result of huge technological advances. It’s hard to believe that it’s been only 13 years since the iphone appeared on the market in 2007; yet, in that short amount of time, its invention has completely revolutionized our interactions with each other, and with the world. The i-phone is but one invention. Consider the uses of AI – artificial intelligence – in almost every area of everyday life! We have driverless cars, bluetooth surveillance, CRISPR technology, wars fought by drones, doctor visits via teleconferencing, neural implants, just to name a few.
What is it like to live in this “Brave New World?” What are the ethical questions that we need to consider as we navigate a whole new way of “being?” Have we altered what it means to be “human?” Can we manipulate our lives in such a way that we can alleviate pain, erase memories, or even eliminate disability?
The 2019-2020 Bioethics Project focused on these very relevant issues – relevant for anyone who is living in this 21st century. Join us as we delve into the ethics of living in a modern society where AI can replace humans in the most fundamental areas of life, your online identity may outlive you, and Big Data may be used to force behavioral changes in us all! It’s a “Brave New World!
What comes to mind when you think of intersections between the people and the planet? Maybe you imagine hikes with your family, farming, and sustainable products. Or, perhaps, you picture global warming, extinction, and nuclear power. Regardless of what comes to mind, our footprint in terms of the environment is largely impactful and, in many cases, irreversible.
To some, Bioethics may be interpreted as the connection between medicine and ethics. But, this year’s theme opened our eyes to new connections between ethics and the environment. “Environment” is a very broad term, and over the course of the class, we worked to interpret what the environment means to us and what groups it entails. For some that meant the connection between human and animal, while others focused on the human to planet connection.
As a community, it is our job to bring these questions to light and address the concerns regarding this topic in order to minimize our negative footprint in the environment. In studying this topic of the ethics of people and planet, we asked many questions:
Should we even continue research in life extension technologies if the costs outweigh the benefits?
Is it possible to limit the amount of water consumed on a global scale
Are there other less invasive ways of population control?
Why would we not do everything in our power to save our planet
Who owns space?
Do humans have a duty to protect animals?
Are we overstepping our role as humans by “playing god” in these situations?
Where do we draw the line in terms of where our responsibility begins and ends?
The term “innovation” is often evoked as an imperative to drive growth, health, and happiness in the medical field. Medical innovation has contributed enormously to the improvement of the health of the American people, especially to the increase in life expectancy over the past 50 years. The biomedical field is ambitious in the pursuit of new medicine, therapies, medical devices, technologies, and diagnostic tools that will be used to treat and cure a myriad of illnesses. We have progressed in the medical field by exponential proportions from the first successful organ transplant in 1954 to currently facing the nearing possibility of a head transplant.
As biomedical innovations increase, so do the ethical considerations. Technology follows a pattern, going from novel, to ordinary, to expected. Because of this we find that the nature of medical innovation is multifaceted, having multiple dimensions and seen through multiple perspectives, an unexpected attribute to the fields of science and technology. With each development we face ethical implications that beg the question of whether or not our “tools of care” will outweigh our “tools of caring.”
In studying the innovative field of bioethics, we asked many questions. What does it mean to be a good doctor? What are the potential effects of medical innovation on religion? How do medical innovations shape a person’s identity? How do medical innovations complicate or improve the end of life decision-making process? What rights do artificial life deserve? What is the difference between enhancement and therapy? When do medical innovations cross the line between harmful and helpful? Finally, how do these technologies put us to the test when deciding between ideals? We as a community must begin to address these questions since these medical innovations will soon become a part of our daily lives.
As technology continues to evolve, genetic modifications and treatments will become more prevalent in our everyday life. With these changes, many questions will arise. For instance, just because we can, should we? Ethics is all about making personal, cultural, and societal choices. A group of people could have different opinions on an ethical dilemma because of their different backgrounds and values. One must begin to consider different perspectives and decisions that will impact society as well as close loved ones and future generations.
Our theme of Genetically Modified Life refers to many different aspects of the field of genetics. What is natural? What does it mean to be human? What is a “normal” family dynamic? How do new technologies allow us to break those stereotypes? One must weigh the benefits and the potential harms that could come up through the development of these new technologies.
Everyday we make hundreds and even thousands of decisions. What to eat for breakfast, when to leave for work, and when to stop working and go to sleep. These decisions are usually quick and are lower stakes. However, sometimes we are required to make decisions that are not as easy and could have significant consequences. Questions about life and death are not simple and sometimes there is not correct answer. This is what defines an ethical decision. It is important to discuss our values and our wishes so that they can be clearly communicate them when the time comes. This is a topic that applies to all of us and one that we should all familiarize ourselves with. Ethical conundrums can sometimes seem far fetched and disconnected from real life. Medical decision making in the human lifespan is significant to all of our lives.
How much of a say do you really have in making medical decisions? How do autonomy, fairness, and justice inform/affect these decisions?
The topic of Medical Decision Making and the Human Lifespan covers many topics. It involves the beginning of life, end of life treatments and palliative care, issues surrounding competence and informed consent, and other related ethical considerations. These ethical considerations are significant in allowing us to make informed medical decisions, and ensure that legal systems we have in place are fair for all involved.
Whether it’s the manipulation of embryos, being able to own your DNA, or bringing species back from extinction, the genetic self plays a role before, during, and after life. The genetic self presents the medical world with complex ethical issues and dilemmas that have been explored by 6 bioethics scholars over the past 8 months with the Hastings Center. Emerging technologies such as gene patenting and whole genome sequencing allow for opportunities for growth and innovation, but to what extent should humans explore and manipulates the genetic self?
Throughout the course of a four-week summer internship and two academic trimesters, nine students from Kent Place School, in conjunction with The Hastings Center, added their voice to that conversation. Students uncovered the themes of safety, quality of life, fairness, and more while delving into individual topics such as xenotransplantation, snowflake embryo adoption, and the commodification of kidneys.
From cosmetic surgery to sports doping to memory enhancement, medicine is pushing the boundaries of human capabilities. In this inaugural year of The Bioethics Project, students from Kent Place School, in conjunction with scholars from The Hastings Center, researched the ethical issues raised by the use of medicine to modify human bodies. Topics included prolonging life, memory enhancement, cosmetic surgery, preimplantation genetic diagnosis, infants as intersex patients and more.
The Ethics Institute at Kent Place School is a first-of-its-kind institute at the primary and secondary school level. We believe that promoting the process and practice of ethical thinking and decision-making prepares people of all ages to be effective leaders and compassionate citizens.