Wednesday, April 8, 2009

More questions than answers

The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know; the world opens up in more directions, and I see how much more there is to think about. It's a little bit mind-blowing; and some days I can really appreciate the saying, "ignorance is bliss."

I attended a lecture at Sacramento State yesterday by Wesley J. Smith, a lawyer and writer about bioethics and related topics. His presentation was titled "Bioethics: Creating a Disposable Caste of People?" and he discussed his opinions in regards to personhood theory, bioethics, euthanasia, assisted suicide, stem-cell research, and more. Interesting lecture, passionate speaker. I haven't dabbled much in this area of study, but the organization that sponsored this presentation brings really interesting speakers and topics to the campus. For free!

So. You can read about Smith's ideas on his blog or in his books. Here are some of my (rhetorical) questions based on his talk.

  • In a world where some lives are more valued than others, who gets to decide which lives are valuable and which are not? What are the standards? Some would suggest cognition, or an ability to communicate, or an ability to care for oneself, or quality of life, or ability to feel pain.
  • What is the difference between personhood (a being who is self-aware and values its own life) and humanity (the biological state of being a living human)? Is the state of being alive, and a human, a moral value in itself? How do we define the moral value of life?
  • What is the purpose of human rights? Do they exist to protect the weak, or to protect the priveleges of the strong?
  • Is killing wrong in itself, or is it wrong because it takes away something of value from the victim? Is killing an acceptable response to human suffering? [In these questions, "killing" refers to ending life. So, is the use of the word "killing" even appropriate?]
  • Is there such a thing as a "duty to die?" If someone is too old or too young, too infirm, too disabled, too expensive to support, does that person have a duty to die?
  • Is the purpose of society to support people in living virtuous lives, or to help people avoid suffering?
  • Where is the balance, the "dynamic tension," between personal autonomy and a collective sense of morality? What is our obligation to each other as individuals with the right to make personal choices, and our obligation to each other as people in community?

I don't have the answers, nor do I expect you (my lovely readers!) to have them. But I believe there is value in thinking about these questions.

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