Re: medical ethics

Paul Arveson (
Wed, 15 May 96 10:36:19 EDT

In message <> Don Munro (American
Scientific Affiliation) writes:

> Thanks for your note about the two-hour discussion on medical ethics. I
> hope that you can give me or others some word on that.

The discussion focused primarily on the questions of life vs. medical cost,
for cancer patients, premature infants, and organ replacement recipients.
Personal stories were shown, and four people discussed the problems. There was
a moderator, a German economist, a cost specialist, and an ethicist/doctor from
Georgetown U., Joanne. A point made by most was that in the US we give people
maximum freedom about their lifestyle, including abject poverty, no gun control,
etc. until they end up in the hospital, then we take heroic and expensive
measures to save them. This practice is irresponsible and expensive. Most
European countries provide universal care and this means that lifelong health
maintenance is built into the system. We would probably consider that too
socialistic and paternalistic here. But Joanne points out that this lifelong
neglect, followed by intensive care and its cost, is what is tempting people to
talk seriously about euthanasia. Joanne seemed to hold the moral high ground
here. I taped the show; there was an 800 number given for feedback. I need to
rewind the tape to get the number for you.

> There is a conference coming up [in July] with Francis Collins and John
> Kilner at
> Trinity International Univ. in Deerfield, IL on genetic engineering. I am
> also on the program.

I hope that some of the information about this can be distributed widely.
(See the ASA Newsletter for more details).

> Right now is the time for evangelicals to participate
> while they are still calling for people of faith to get into the fray. That
> is one of the things that I talk about in my presentations. I believe that
> is why Francis Collins got into his position - people were so overwhelmed
> with the problems that they thought people of faith might help. It is just
> like Carl Sagan calling on people of faith to help with environmental
> problems - which he did, recognizing that they brought something special to
> the table.
> In my last letter from Francis Collins he said that "people of faith have a
> lot of contribute to these debates, especially if they are well informed."
> The latter portion of the sentence is the key and why I am not so sure that
> a survey of ASA members on the subject would bring light to the matter.
> Perhaps better would be to work through Jim Peterson who is chair of the
> bioethics commission. I will try to remember to give that suggestion to
> him. A survey of the members of that commission might prove more
> enlightening. Take care!

There is nothing better for the world than *informed* people of faith! The
problem is that they are so rare. (But I believe there are many in ASA!) I
would like to see ASA publish results of surveys on many questions. Perhaps if
this one is focused to people in bioethics, it would be most informative. Of
course, there tend to be professional biases in such a selected sample. (That
is why the 1980 survey on nuclear power appeared so optimistic, I think.) But
on the other hand, you get people who have given the issues a lot of thought.
Whichever approach is taken, I think surveys of many people are a
well-established way of dealing with fuzzy and difficult questions, and they
represent a more "humble approach".

Paul Arveson, Research Physicist
(301) 227-3831 (W) (301) 227-1914 (FAX) (301) 816-9459 (H)
Code 724, NSWC, Bethesda, MD 20084
"Practice thoughtful kindness, and helpful acts of beauty."