In the United States, technology is deeply integrated into nearly every aspect of maintaining and treating health. What influence do these technologies have on how we diagnose, treat, and view disease? How does technology shape the way we approach and treat health overall?
It is undeniable that medical technologies have saved countless lives and contributed to great advances in medicine. But famed integrative medicine doctor Andrew Weil takes the view that medical technologies have drawbacks that are not often acknowledged. He says:
“Technology has a shadow side. It accounts for real progress in medicine, but has also hurt it in many ways, making it more impersonal, expensive and dangerous. The false belief that a safety net of sophisticated drugs and machines stretches below us, permitting risky or lazy lifestyle choices, has undermined our spirit of self-reliance.”
Is Dr. Weil correct that technologies have “undermined our spirit of self-reliance”? In general, in what ways has technology aided the practice of medicine, and in what ways has it inhibited it?
In addition, what are some of the ethical issues that arise from biotechnology? For example, how will genetic testing and genetic manipulation shape the future of health and our society, and what moral questions are raised? At what point, if any, should we say, “this far, but no further” when it comes to technological interventions to treat and cure diseases?
In her article, “A Framework for Thinking Ethically About Biotechnology” Dr. Margaret McLean, director of Biotechnology and Health Care Ethics at The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics explores an important theme in the ethics of technology: considering the moral questions that arise from a technology before it becomes integrated into society.
“When considering ethical reasons for our actions,” she says, “it is prudent to avoid “the Dolly effect,” that is, attempting to slam the ethical door well after the sheep has scurried away. The unanticipated arrival of new biotechnologies—from cloning to xenotransplantation—leaves the public, and the scientific community, without a framework for considering the attendant ethical issues. As we quickly learned after Dolly’s birth announcement was published in the New York Times, paying close attention to the direction biotechnology is headed is infinitely better than potentially overreacting once it gets there. To avoid the Dolly effect, the biotech community must initiate ethical discussions within itself and with the wider public.”
She continues with a framework for the important questions we must consider:
“Ethics is about questions: about who asks, what they ask for, and how we as individuals and communities respond. In reference to biotechnology, what questions should be posed? What aspects should be considered?
Along with the “golly wow” response to biotech innovation, we must ask, What are the personal and social impacts of biotechnology? What are its potential impacts on our values, our virtues, and our relationships? Does a particular application of biotechnology protect or endanger human or individual rights? Are the benefits and burdens distributed fairly? Does biotechnology advance or impede the common good? What are the risks, burdens, and benefits? On whom do they fall? How are they distributed? What is an acceptable way to achieve a given benefit? May we do anything, as long as the outcome is good on balance? Or are there limits on what we do, even in the name of human health? And, what—or whom—have we not thought about?”
Check back to the blog for discussions on these topics.
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