The Ethics of Science

The very deepest human ethics completely split societies, with no clear answers in sight. Here's the human AND science behind these debates.

Human ethics, or moral philosophy as academics like to call it, revolve around key debates that split the line between moral ethicality (a subjective and individualistic point of view) and scientifically based, 'advancement' arguments. One of the main points to realise about human ethics is that there really is no right answer, at all, and with that there is no wrong answer. All answers and viewpoints are worthy of consideration in such morally splitting subjects, and as such, recognising a wide range of differing opinions leads to a better, well-informed argument for your own side - whatever that may be. Scientists have long pushed for the advancement of science over morality and ethicality, however many stringent laws prevent them from doing so.

There are so so many different topics that incite the most severe reactions in terms of human ethics and their relationships with the world of science and technology, from debates on abortion and marriage to the more surreal arguments of cloning, artificial intelligence and assisted suicide . In this article, I'll explore some of these, give a brief description of them, and share your views - for, against or simply in the middle. I'll also share some of the key sciences behind them, which have fortunately improved drastically over the past few decades.

Cloning

Over the past decade in particular, the idea of cloning has fast risen to many scientists priority, with a desire to not only clone animals in order to gain the best meat or other products, but also humans in an effort to eradicate major illnesses or to simply provide a helpful working boost. Closely tied with artificial intelligence, cloning started as a deeply sci-fi subject, sparking the wildest of young imaginations of dystopian futures over-run by clones of ourselves, not knowing who is the 'real' one. Nowadays, the reality is fast approaching, with successfully cloned animals and plants being produced. Here's what one reader told me:

"To me, the idea of cloning is really cool, more on a practical level than anything else. Maybe they wouldn't be subject to 'human laws', perhaps because they don't have feelings or anything like that. They could work on our behalf with no worries or dispute, so we can focus on more important things. We'd be able to maximise productivity and completely reduce the amount of time taken for necessary and boring routines. I think a world with clones is a really cool place to be - hopefully we'll get there before my clock runs out!" Mark, 34.

The science of cloning has been fast developing throughout the past few decades, with the successful cloning on animals such as "Dolly the Sheep", fish (much of the tuna market can be cloned to yield larger tuna quantities) and the tiptoeing into the human spectrum - mainly surrounding the utilisation of stem cells from embryos, and even bone marrow from deceased humans. Top scientists believe that, should the ethics of cloning be passed through law, cloning could become a reality for humans within the next 30 years.

Assisted Suicide

One of the most controversial and contemporary situations is assisted suicide, made largely popular through the prolific cases going to Dignitas in Switzerland. Dignitas is a place where one can go to receive 'professional' assisted suicide, a process that takes about an hour, where for a small fee an individual can end their own life "with dignity". Most of these patients have terminal illnesses.

Despite its seemingly moral success amongst those saying it prevents prolonged suffering, it remains illegal in many countries such as the UK, and can even fine those who help individuals travel to places like Dignitas for aiding their death. 

Sarah, 45, says: "I really hate the idea of assisted suicide because we're all put here for a reason. Whether you think that's for a religious reason or not, I don't care - we're alive today for some reason, and that's good enough of a reason to continue. Think of how much we could potentially miss - weddings, children, grandchildren, social innovations - so much the world has to offer. I don't know, to me it's quite selfish and pretty immoral. I'd hate to be in some of these terrible situations [terminal illness] but I just couldn't see myself ending it on my own terms like that."

The science behind assisted suicide can be rather quite simple, stemming from the careful balance of medication specific to the patient to cause a peaceful and controlled death. Dignitas, the largest provider of assisted suicide in the world, uses an oral dose of an antiemetic drug, which is followed shortly after by a lethal overdosage of 15 grams of powdered, ground pentobarbital dissolved with a glass of water. The pentobarbital powder depresses the central nervous system of the patient, resulting in a coma after 30-40 minutes, then death. Dignitas has, in four cases, used helium gas instead, however key scientists argued that this could result in pan through suffocation, and the practice was ceased.

Scientists believe that, should assisted suicide become largely legalised throughout the Western world, major advancements can be made in the delivery methods used, resulting i a completely painless, trauma-less conduction for the befit of the patient and any family or loved ones in attendance.

Abortion

Abortion remains one of the most emotionally driven human ethical debate point, usually driven by personal experience or intense belief. It was only recently that countries like the UK and USA legalised medical abortions conducted by professionals; in the not-so-distant past, they had to be conducted by 'black market' doctors that often resulted in infections of injury, or self-abortion with home made efforts like coat hangers or knives that sadly lead to thousands of maternal deaths.

Whilst there's no debate that medical abortions are a much better alternative that the methods of the past, many still argue that they shouldn't be freely available on the NHS in England (NHS being the National Health Service for the UK, which offers completely free professional health care) or that they should be avoided in all but the most extreme cases, like incest or danger to the carrying mother's life.

Instead of asking someone else for their opinion, I wanted to platform my own voice for this one: I completely support professional medical abortions, and in the UK, I advocate and support these to be continued to be delivered free of charge 'on the NHS'. Why? Well, the obvious ones such as rape, incest and potential harm to the mother are all combatted through legalised, professional abortions. But also, it acts as a lifeline to young mothers whose lives may have been torn apart by the prospect of motherhood; career prospects, relationships, financial situations, all of which could have been shattered under being a young parent. As such, i am beyond an advocate for 'pro-choice', and that everyone deserves the right to choose their own pathway and options.

Current abortion surgeries carry a 95% success rate, a massive advancement compared to the do-it-yourself decades prior. However, the 5% figure raises concerns for many practicing doctors as many women of all ages go though an abortion, leading the percentage to actually represent many thousands of individuals who have gone through a traumatic and potentially dangerous experience. Future advancements work to reduce these figures, including the continual usage and development of keyhole surgery, as well as drugs that can hold an effect longer into the gestation period, and also specialist medical equipment for the safe removal from a females womb without internal damages.

Capital Punishment

No true list on human ethics can be complete without at least considering the debates surrounding capital punishment, and whether or not they can be morally justified. Whilst the argument is now far-fetched in the UK, for the US it is a wholly different story, where some States such as Washington and Utah still have the option for 'State Execution' of prisoners - killing a prisoner under legal order, under a bunch of different methods.

Specific methods include hanging, perhaps the oldest of them all, but also firing squad, lethal injection, electric chair and gas chambers. Each has varying levels of effectiveness, and some are more painful to experience than others. Alas, as pain is often present to some level, many argue that they are unethical and therefore should be scrapped.

Michael, 22, has quite a conservative view on the matter: "Fcuk it - I'll speak my mind, why not. yeah, I like capital punishment. Ask me the same thing if I was behind bars and I'll tell you something different, but I'm not, so here. I like it because it scares us, I guess. We hate the concept of death and I really hope that's enough to deter at least some people from crime. Statistics suggest that they don't act as a deterrent, but I disagree. If even one person is put off, surely that is a success? I just think the worst of the worst crimes needs to be met with equal severity, and sometimes death is the only call at that door."

Capital punishment holds a unique place in the world of science, as the death penalties themselves are often highly specialised to reduce pain and create a quick pathway to death. For example, the lethal injection holds a combination of barbiturates, paralytics and potassium solutions - all to have a different effect on the individual; the first renders them unconscious, the next halts their breathing then finally stops their heart. Hanging uses carefully measured 'drop heights' with the aim of breaking the individuals neck on the fall, causing instantaneous and somewhat painless death- without it, suffocation could cause large levels of pain and discomfort physically apparent to any onlookers. The electric chair has even developed scientifically over the ages, now utilising wet contacts to make conduction more seamless and successful, as well as specific voltages to stop the heart instantly - usually around 2000 volts at direct contact.

What are your ethical views on the points above? Are you a socially liberal or conservative person, or do you just remain indifferent about everything? Let me know your opinions on my Twitter: @goldennike11