by Chris Audino
Every time I am about to stand in front of a fresh batch of students in my undergrad Bioethics class, I am moved to ask myself the question: what’s the point in Bioethics? The reason I ask this question is because it is an important question.
It is important because the asking encourages the essential exercise of me remembering “the why.” Why am I doing this? Why do we reflect on the moral permissibility of certain behaviors (culturally accepted or not)? Why do we allow certain things to happen and not others as individuals and a culture? Who should be allowed to decide what is right and what is wrong?
This “why” speaks to the very heart of bioethics – to the point of bioethics, which, I humbly submit, is to think about health and medical issues, and their moral permissibility, with the goal of supporting human flourishing and dignity. Bioethics is the exercise of asking these questions before it becomes a hindsight question. You know, when we ask: what else could I have done, it seemed like the only choice?
The further we drift from asking these questions the less it seems like there is a choice. Because, the day to day is where these decisions happen. The tech in the lab creating a family (am I playing God?). The nurse sitting by the bedside watching a man agonizing through his last breaths (he shouldn’t have to suffer through this, what can I do?). The engineer who is trying to solve this simple problem (I don’t think this could be used to hurt someone, could it?). The mother who is watching her 6-year-old slowly die of cancer (wouldn’t it be easier if I could help him die?). The expecting mom who has been abandoned by her boyfriend to go it alone (what choice do I have?). The biological boy who identifies as a female and is sorting through pronouns to find the right fit for the moment (why do I have to go through this?).
Bioethics is important because it asks the question before the moment. In the moment, the decision seems like it has already been made.