Human Exceptionalism

Utilitarian Bioethics: We’re All Just Natural Resources Now

I have detected a new bioethical thrust being trotted out among the would-be medical ruling class–that each of us have a duty to be experimented upon.  First it was President Obama’s bioethicist-in-chief Ezekien Emanuel.  Now a medical professor named Anthony Mathur in the UK tells the BBC that willingness to be experimented upon should be a condition precedent to receiving medical treatment.  From the column:

Without doubt the future of medicine is dependent on clinical research that, in turn, relies on the willingness of patients to be exposed to new therapies. There exists an unwritten contract between society and medicine which acknowledges the interdependence of the two – the only way that important advances in medicine can be made is with the help of patients volunteering to participate in clinical trials. However, our experience at a major teaching hospital in London is that as the nature of new treatments becomes more complex, the willingness of our patients to participate in these trials has decreased…

But we’re supposed to believe in patient autonomy–certainly where experimental procedures are concerned!  Right?  Not necessarily:

Maybe a new contract is needed between medicine and society that assumes a default position that says that everyone attending hospital should be involved in medical research, unless they specifically opt out of the process at the time of consent? This approach has already been used in some European countries for organ donation and has led to a quadrupling in consent rates. Whatever the solution, the clinical trials await patiently those willing to put their faith in the system and hope for medical breakthroughs, if not for them, then for the benefit of others.

Forget the “maybe” hedge, typical of bioethical opinion thrusts of this genre.  This writer wants the power to deny treatment to people who do not agree to be researched upon.  Goodbye patient autonomy and informed consent, hello medical utilitarianism.

What’s the bigger picture here?  This kind of coercive thinking is a consequence of deciding that ending suffering as the overriding purpose of society, an issue we have addressed here before. Eventually, accepting this view leads to a loss of individual freedom–as in non or involuntary euthanasia–and apparently, also forced “altruism,” which is just another way of saying that we are all natural resources now.

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