Friday, 12 September 2014

optional ethics

Over the summer various ethical issues hit the headlines and became matters of public debate. One subject that particularly caught my attention was surrogacy following the case of baby Gammy, the child with Down's Syndrome born to a Thai surrogate mother and apparently rejected by his commissioning parents. I've been interested in surrogacy since I first researched it for a dissertation while studying in Oxford. My work was actually about The Warnock Report on Human Fertilization and Embryology and I used the topic of surrogacy to explore the underlying ethical assumptions behind the report.

What struck me about the recent discussions on surrogacy in the media, both mainstream and social, was the lack of ethical considerations in so much of the argument. For several days I heard and read interviews with those involved in surrogacy including: surrogates, clients, facilitators, doctors and lawyers. The practical, financial, legal and physiological aspects of surrogacy were explored in some depth. What I didn't hear was anything more than a cursory acknowledgement of the ethical questions raised by these matters. In the case of baby Gammy the issues were sharpened by the apparent rejection of the child by his potential parents because of his condition, though the full facts of that case are still to be clarified.

I listened in vain to BBC Radio 4 Today over several days while on holiday for one person to address the question of whether surrogacy was right or wrong; whether surrogacy was something we should be engaged in at all. I heard powerful emotional and unchallenged testimonies from surrogate parents and those who had become parents through surrogacy but the obvious questions were never addressed. Does surrogacy treat children as a commodity? What happens when the child acquired through surrogacy doesn't turn out the way the client parents hoped? What is the psychological impact on a surrogate child? Do we as a society view children as a gift or a right?...

My daughter took her GCSEs this summer and had to consider her A Level options. Her stronger subjects were in science along with philosophy and ethics and she had hoped to study philosophy as well as the sciences in the sixth form. However, due to timetabling issues it was impossible for her to study philosophy and physics together, much to her and our dismay. It seems crazy to me that a school would not consider philosophy an appropriate subject to study in combination with the sciences. If you want to know what happens when you separate scientific endeavour from considered philosophical and ethical reflection then you need look no further than Richard Dawkins twitter timeline.

Have we as a society lost the ability to reflect ethically on the issues confronting us today or are we simply reluctant to do so? Do we take seriously the challenge of educating our children not only to develop their knowledge and understanding of the world, but also to develop a moral framework within which that knowledge and understanding might be considered and used?

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