Contemporary Ethical Issues
1. Welfare and charity. Welfare is organized charity, funneled through the collective, the government. But it raises many issues. How should we help others who are less fortunate? Can we differentiate between the "deserving poor" and the "undeserving" poor? Here are some associated questions.
A. How responsible can people be? To what extent can we require that people "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps." If a college student is raised in a neighborhood where study is not fashionable, and they didn't study, to what extent are we obligated to provide "remedial" training in college?
B. What if some folks are disabled, to what extent are we obligated–or
would we choose to be obligated if we were fully enlightened–to help these
people. The "how much" issue is tricky, because new technologies make increasing levels of aid exponentially more expensive.
C. What if a teenager has been raised in an area that is judged to be significantly culturally, economically, or technically "behind"–to what degree
should we choose to compassionately support these people? Again, the themes would be remedial education.
D. What about those whose disabilities make them mentally unable to do more than fairly simple and routine tasks? In our culture, merit is associated with intelligence. What levels of subsidy should be given? What about the in-between categories, which represents an expanding sector of the population: Folks not that smart, not smart enough to get "good" jobs, but smart enough to live independently and have full and dramatic lives.
E. What about people who say they can't work? They're too burdened with kids–how much should this role of mothering be challenged? (This of course is a lively socio-political issue in the legal system right now.)
F. Regarding the broader topic of welfare: General issues of responsibility are raised. When is helping someone really helping them, and when is it rescuing them and enabling their own self-defeating behavioral patterns. Can beggars be choosers? Are any "rights" implicitly forefeited by someone who receives charity? (This varies in different cultures!)
For example, if offered work, is the person who is given welfare obligated to accept that job, even if they don't like that work? What if the decision as to a job being not acceptable is viewed as trivial or unworthy by others?
G. What then are people entitled to as a basic support of society? Can these entitlements be negotiated?
H. Do we have special obligations to veterans, the elderly, children, women, any minorities, any types of disability or "differently-abled" people?
I. When does support for certain occupational groups, tariffs for workers in certain industries, subsidies for certain farmers, – when are these matters of
social -ethical policy and when are they merely matters of community economic self-interest.
(1) Do we owe people jobs? To what extent do we collectively need to extend ourselves to sustain lines of work that are economically uncompetitive?
(2) As tobacco is becoming viewed as less of a socially beneficial substance, what obligations do we have to tobacco farmers?
J. What about our obligations to help people in other countries? There's
national and international charity, but is Government aid an ethical obligation?
(1) What about "strings attached"? Can we demand political, human rights, ethical governmental policy, enforcement of human rights, etc. before we give aid?
(2). What rights do we have on criticizing the ethics and priorities of peoples in other cultures?
K. Should those who have been "dis-advantaged" because of past injustices, colonialist policies, slavery, etc., be given reparations?--or their descendents given reparations? What kinds?
2. Addictive Substances–Alcohol, drugs, tobacco...
A. Should we consider addiction a "disease"? What does that mean in terms of the role of the alcoholic or other drug abuser?
(1) Should we collectively pay for drug treatment?
(2) If they enter rehab and relapse, should they be taken back? How many times?
(3) How much should addiction be considered a mitigating circumstance from some associated misbehavior or crime?
3. Abortion: Should abortion be allowed? Is this a religious or a legal issue?
A. What about if the life of the mother is endangered?
B. What if the fetus is found to be anencephalic –no functioning brain–
Or if it has some other either catastrophic congenital defect?
Is Down's Syndrome–moderate retardation–grounds for an
C. How late can an abortion be performed? 3 months? 5 months? 7 months?
D. How early can an abortion be performed?
Is the "morning-after pill?" an abortion? (I.e. before the embryo has implanted into the uterus)
E. Should the community regulate contraception or is this for the individual to decide?
4. Suicide: How should the community relate to the problem of suicide? Should there be any legal constraints at all?
A. Might it be allowed only to stop the suffering of the terminally ill?
B. What about people whose illnesses deprive life of its meaning–not
terminal, but severely handicapped, or dying over years, but not immediately terminal. Should they be allowed to kill themselves?
C. What about those who can't do it themselves? Should assisted suicide be allowed?
D. What about those who can't even decide? Should euthanasia be allowed in any circumstances?
(1) What about those who have failed to leave an advanced directive: If they are left in a vegetative state after an accident, stroke, etc., when is it okay to "pull the plug?"
(2). Should a consideration of the legal device of advanced directives be made a compulsory unit–you don't have to sign it, but you do have to discuss why you won't–for people at age 80? 60? 30? In college?
5. Parenthood: Is there a "right" to parenthood? Should we support anyone who wants to be a parent in this activity? What if they are thought to be "unfit"? What makes a person "unfit" as a parent? (This is related to the next topic of abuse.) How much attention does a child really need? How nice must the housing be? The neighborhood? What if a parent cannot protect a child from the bullying of other children?
A. Under what circumstances, if a parent has "lost" the right to parent for a while, should that right be re-instated? When should it not be?
B. What about conditions for adopting babies?
(1) Is it okay for gay or lesbian partners to adopt a child?
(2) What about adopting a child of a different race? Or religion?
(3) If the child is in permanent foster care because the parent has lost rights, can that parent nevertheless protest against the parents who would adopt that child on the basis of religion or some other ethnic criterion?
6. Animal Rights What rights should animals have? Our sensitivity to other peoples, minorities, etc. continue to expand. We're less tolerant of rank cruelty. What about intermediate conditions, excessive constraints in raising livestock,
for instance? Animal laboratory testing?
A. Supervision and regulation of animal farms, e.g., dog-raising kennels.
7. Heroic Medicine: How "sacred" is life itself? How heroic are we obligated to be in near-terminal conditions?
A. How much money should be spent to attempt to keep alive a 2 month-premature infant? A 3-month premature infant? The limits of viability gradually are pushed down along with an exponential increase in cost and resources. Just because science can do something, it raises the question whether it should be done.
B. Should we begin to consider rationing health care for the very old, those with senility? Again, a disproportionate amount of money is being spent for near-heroic procedures for those whose prognosis is guarded.
C. What about liver transplants for alcoholics, drug abusers with Hepatitis C, etc?
Expensive AIDS treatment for those whose lives were reckless?
Lung transplants or other heroic treatments for inveterate smokers?
Rehab, surgery, etc. for victims of reckless driving and motorcycling without helmets?
Or should health care attempt to be blind and non-judgmental as to the source of illness (All this is related to item 1-B and 4-C.)
D. Should we differentiate between mild and severe disability in considering the allocation of costs of help? Differences between prognosis–how likely
that help will yield substantial changes in function?
E. Do we need to re-negotiate our standards in times of significant economic constraints, recession, economic depression?
8. Safety Standards: What standards of safety do we wish to set? Is there a "right" to be protected even from our own foolishness?
A. Should government get out of the business of telling people what substances they can or can not put into their bodies? (A strict "libertarian" stance.)
(1) Is there a moral difference between "legalization" and "de-criminalization"?
(2) Are there ethical or philosophical issues in drawing distinctions among the harm potential of alcohol, tobacco (in different forms), cocaine, amphetamines, caffeine, marijuana, LSD, heroin, other opiates (e.g. Oxycontin), sedatives, ecstasy (MDMA), etc.?
(3) What about the whole field of restricting drugs or medicines to "doctor's" prescriptions?
(a) what are the economic advantages of making all drugs
B. How much should we regulate different types of foods and drugs? Should many of the alternative and herbal medicines that slip through the technical net of FDA requirements be brought under that process? Or should we return to a "buyer beware" type of ethos?
C. What about liability for accidents? Are some lawsuits becoming excessively lenient towards people doing dumb things, like getting drunk and laying down on the railroad tracks?
D. How much "purity" can we afford in air pollution, ground pollution, water pollution, or food pollution standards? (There are some carcinogens in foods naturally that are present in far greater concentration than some so-called carcinogens from other "artificial" sources, but these latter must be reduced to almost impossibly low levels.
9. Environmentalism. What obligations do we have to the environment?
A. To what extent must we go to preserve species of animals or plants?
B. How much intervention in foreign affairs is ethical in the service of "saving" forests, whales, various other ecological systems?
10. Governmental Corruption: Should corruption in politics be dealt with
more severely? What kinds of ethical standards are appropriate for those in greater power, in government or business?
11. Rehabilitation of Criminals: What kinds of efforts should we make to
A. Is there an obligation to differentiate between violent and nonviolent crimes?
B. Regarding "cruel and unusual punishments," what rights should prisoners have?
(1) should there be protection against homosexual rape?
(2) to what degree should criminals be supported in the right to appeal?
(What if they are in fact innocent?)
C. Is there a moral justification for capital punishment, also known as institutional murder?
(1) What degrees of defense and protection should there be to make sure the innocent are not executed?
(2) Would some punishments, such as flogging, be less destructive and expensive in the long run and more deterrent?
D. What kinds of moral obligations do we have not to release people on parole who have shown themselves to be fully rehabilitated? Or to release people who have not shown a continuing threat to society?