The Ethics of Teaching and Scientific Research

By Sidney Hook; Paul Kurtz et al. | Go to book overview
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The Scientific Versus the Adversary
Approach in Bio-Medical Research

Bernard Davis

The biomedical sciences seem to be as threatened as any by arguments over what is ethical or unethical in research. I would like to review briefly the ethical problems and the dangers of overreaction in two areas: fetal research, and experimentation on human subjects in general.

Vigorous objection to fetal research has arisen in recent years and has resulted in a national moratorium that is preventing most kinds of fetal research today, except those that involve tissues from an already dead fetus. In Massachusetts, recent legal actions are causing hospitals and doctors to be even more careful than the law actually requires, because nobody knows what interpretations are going to be attached to any action involving a fetus. The issue is highly charged because it is so closely linked to the problem of abortion and, hence, to very strong moral convictions on the part of many people who object to abortion, even though it is now legal. The issues are under extensive discussion and are gradually being sorted out.

There is widespread agreement that research on tissues from an already dead fetus are no different from research that may be permitted on adult cadavers. What will be permitted beyond this in Massachusetts is not clear. There has been extensive discussion between supporters of fetal research and some legislators, and the results seem to have been educational. I mention this because it offers hope for the possibility of getting people with diametrically opposed positions on


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