Rights and freedoms

Ethics in the context of disability

Ethics in the context of disability

Professor in the Faculty of Medicine
Founding Director of the Faculty of Law's Centre for Medicine,
Ethics and Law at McGill University

What is ethics?

In everyday language ethics can be described as trying not to do the wrong thing in the sense of harming people, first do no harm, and, then, wherever possible, doing the right thing in the sense of benefiting people. 

Ethics is about values, especially shared values, in particular those we adopt as our basic societal values - they are sometimes called norms.  The nature of a value is not easy to define.   The Oxford English Dictionary defines it within the context of ethics as: "That which is worthy of esteem for its own sake; that which has intrinsic worth".  Another way to describe values might be as "ethical organising principles" - they are principles that we can use to guide us in deciding what is ethical and what is not.  For instance, a belief that it is wrong to discriminate against people on the basis of physical or menta...

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Life Sciences or Death Sciences

Professor in the Faculty of Medicine
Founding Director of the Faculty of Law's Centre for Medicine,
Ethics and Law at McGill University

Tipping the Balance towards Life with Ethics, Codes, and Laws

The search for ethics to govern the life sciences and the threats to public health their misuse could entail, both nationally and internationally, is part of a complex ongoing process which is forcing us to confront diverse and sometimes strongly conflicting viewpoints.

To successfully reduce the threat of bioterrorism and biowarfare, and to protect public health, especially on a global level, we all will need to engage across boundaries that have separated us in the past. Only by doing so can we seek to ensure that the promise of our unparalleled discoveries of new knowledge in the life sciences is fulfilled and it's potential for unprecedented harm averted.
Certainly, no one measure will be sufficient to ensure that science is not misused, or public health put at risk, or people's...

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Thinking ethics: doing ethics

Professor in the Faculty of Medicine
Founding Director of the Faculty of Law's Centre for Medicine,
Ethics and Law at McGill University

Contemporary debates around the ethics of the new technoscience are the crucible in which some of our most important shared values as a society will be forged. We have always formed those values around the two great events in each human life, birth and death. The new science has the potential to radically change both those events. Whether it will and to what extent depends on our decisions about the ethics that should govern it.   

That we would disagree on at least some of the answers to the ethics issues posed by the new science is to be expected. But rather than bemoan our disagreements, we should welcome them, because they signal that we are engaging in "ethics talk". That talk requires a broadly based, public conversation on the ethics that should govern scientific and technological innovation and the unprecedented powers over life it has gi...

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Ethics: a weapon to counter bioterrorism

Professor in the Faculty of Medicine
Founding Director of the Faculty of Law's Centre for Medicine,
Ethics and Law at McGill University

Advances in the life sciences, especially in molecular biology and informatics, and the potential for misuse of scientific research (the "dual-use" dilemma) raise the possibility that an act of terrorism could involve biological agents. International consensus is crucial on the steps needed to reduce this grave threat to humanity. One such step is to ensure that all people and institutions involved in science are aware of their ethical obligations.

An important way to promote the necessary international consensus and to raise the necessary awareness is through adoption of a code of ethics to govern research in the life sciences. It is with this thought that we set out to capture the critical elements that a code of ethics for the life sciences should include--one that we believe can help prevent the life sciences from becoming the death...

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Medicine Without Limits: Limiting Medicine Ethically

Professor in the Faculty of Medicine
Founding Director of the Faculty of Law's Centre for Medicine,
Ethics and Law at McGill University

Which principles, concepts, approaches and ideas might help us to act ethically when we face tough decisions as institutions or governments as to what health care will and will not be provided? In exploring the ethics of limiting health care, as in many areas of ethics, we often focus on dramatic individual cases.

Canada is typical in this regard. Front-page stories involving the lack of access to health care are reported in the Canadian press every day. In one story, a forty-five-year-old man with end-stage cystic fibrosis was called into hospital for a lung transplant, but no intensive care unit (ICU) bed could be found for him. The surgeon could not proceed because the patient could not be cared for post-operatively. The lungs available for transplantation to this desperately ill man were wasted. He could well die before other matching organs...

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