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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The moral naivete of ethics by numbers

By Susan Dwyer
Aljazeera America
Originally posted August 13, 2015

What do bioethicists do? According to a recent Boston Globe op-ed by the Harvard cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, they needlessly get in the way of saving and improving human lives by throwing up ethical red tape and slowing the speed of research, and in so doing, they undermine their right to call themselves ethicists at all.

In principle, it is correct that if 250,000 people die each year of a disease that is potentially treatable, the cost of every year’s delay in research is 250,000 lives. And it is certainly terrible to lose so many people to unnecessary delays. But Pinker doesn’t cite a single specific example in which bioethical scrutiny has produced such a result. Certainly, the withholding of experimental drugs has cost lives; for example, ZMapp, an experimental drug to treat Ebola, was not readily available to people in several African nations who were dying of the disease. Yet there was little of the drug on hand, in any case. But the problem here was not ethical red tape; it was the underfunding of research to treat “exotic” infectious disease.

The entire article is here.