Human Exceptionalism

Do You Have a Moral Obligation To Be Experimented On?

This article has me queasy. Yes, the writers concede that the moral obligation they seek to establish should not be legally enforceable. Yes, they reject more radical proposals that would require all individuals to sacrifice their individual interests to promote the “greater good.”  But still…

Three bioethicists–G. Owen Schaefer, Ezekiel J. Emanuel (Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuael’s brother), and Alan Wertheimer, argue in the JAMA (“The Obligation to Participate in Biomedical Research,”July 1, 2009—Vol 302, No. 1) that we all have a moral “obligation” to “participate in biomedical research.” From the article (no link):

The obligation to participate in biomedical research makes reasonable demands on all individuals in a society. Participating in research is much less burdensome than contributing to many other public goods; joining the army is more risky and time-consuming than any clinical trial that has been approved by a well-functioning institutional review board. Indeed, paying taxes may be much more burdensome than participating in many research trials…

The standard view of research participation must be changed from one in which participation is supererogatory to one in which individuals need to give a good reason not to participate. The shift should be from participation in biomedical research being, like charity, above the call of duty, to such participation being a moral obligation for everyone to do his or her part.

But joining the military is not considered a universal obligation, which is one reason why our current military is so admired. Moreover, paying taxes does not risk your life and health.  And somehow I doubt this moral obligation would fall on the elites.

Those points aside, as I said, the article gave me the willies. First, it is totally in keeping with the meme that eliminating suffering is the overriding purpose of society, which, as I have written and stated in speeches, can lead to many dark places.  Moreover, it seems part of the growing utilitarianism in bioethics that is creating a duty to die through Futile Care Theory and health care rationing, and which seems to be leaving its primary emphasis on autonomy and moving toward what could become a dangerous collectivism.

Let me reemphasize: I am not accusing these writers of wanting totalitarianism. But I have read too much bioethical literature–calls for using PVS patients in xenotransplant experiments, advocating fetal farming and paying women to abort, promoting infanticide, etc.–not to worry where this “obligation” could lead.  Remember “negative eugenics”–under which many states passed laws allowing the “unfit” to be involuntarily sterilization–was preceded by the seemingly more benign “positive eugenics,” the argument that the eugenically correct had a moral obligation to mate and procreate bounteously. In other words, once the moral obligation to improve the human gene pool became accepted among the elites, voluntariness for the great unwashed soon was lost in the shuffle.