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Image 9 of The Advocate Messenger April 6, 2012

Part of The Advocate Messenger

FRIDAY, APRIL 6, 2012 A9 OPINION Scientists cross another ethical line SCOTT C. SCHURZ JR., President, Editor and Publisher JOHN A. NELSON, Executive Editor S omething happens to ethics when it becomes a specialty. It becomes professionalized, certified, rarefied. It becomes something besides ethics. It becomes expertise, not thought or depth so Paul Greenberg much as focus. SpeSyndicated cialization sharpens Columnist the mind by narrowing it. As in medical ethics or legal ethics or business ethics. Or, to use a phrase cynics consider an oxymoron, the ethics of journalism. e new science of ethicism shouldn’t be confused with ethics any more than theology is religion. But it’s a common enough misapprehension as professional ethicists take the place of ancient sages who taught ethics, not reduced its scope. You can tell exactly when this transformation takes place: when some qualifying prefix must be added to ethics. As in bioethics. As with any other specialty, bioethicists develop their own jargon, their own code of conduct, their own preferred practices. And their own secrets. ey become professionals. And as George Bernard Shaw noted in “e Doctor’s Dilemma”: “All professions are conspiracies against the laity.” By their prefixes ye shall know them. e prefix bio- lets us know that something besides ethics is being practiced here. e meaning of the word has been changed, its quality altered. Prefixes can serve as a warning. It should have come as no surprise not long ago when the Journal of Medical Ethics published an essay by a couple of bioethicists who made a case for what they dubbed “after-birth abortion.” Only the innocent layman, attached to the plain meaning of words, and accustomed to thinking of ethics rather than bioethics, might think “after-birth abortion” a contradiction in terms. Not so, these experts explained: “What we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.” It’s a perfectly understandable position once you accept that abortion itself is ethically — well, bioethically — permissible for whatever reason. And not just to rid the world of those we call dis- THE ADVOCATE-MESSENGER LETTERS@AMNEWS.COM  |  WWW.AMNEWS.COM abled, or who might not be of the preferred sex. Now we get “after-birth abortion” — a natural enough progression in the history of “abortion rights.” e born, the unborn, why insist on the technical distinction between them? It’s the same organism, isn’t it? Why let the accident of birth determine an ethical question? By now we all know what partial-birth abortion is: destroying a baby only halfway out of the birth canal. Why not post-birth abortion, too? It’s a logical extension of the same principle. At least to these two bioethicists. Only the less advanced, the less expert, who still think in terms of just ethics, might have trouble understanding this new concept. But it’s only the next room of the nightmare. What’s the difference, do you suppose, between “after-birth abortion” and what used to be called infanticide? Is it just another word game, like pro-choice in place of pro-abortion? Since we’ve become conditioned to accepting abortion, as in “abortion rights,” is “post-birth abortion” just a more acceptable way to sell infanticide? Maybe we’re not talking philosophy here at all, but just public relations. When this theory was met with a wave of revulsion from those without their sophistication, its authors explained: “We are really sorry that many people, who do not share the background of the intended audience for this article, felt offended, outraged, or even threatened. ... e article was supposed to be read by other fellow bioethicists who were already familiar with this topic and our arguments.” Oh, I understand well enough: When reason fails our experts, they fall back on condescension. Here’s the really shocking, still really revolutionary idea: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among those is the right to life. at concept is not only a political principle but an ethical imperative. But it is no more a “self-evident” truth than it was in 1776, when it was declared. at idea is certainly not selfevident to our contemporary ethicists. Note this article in a journal of medical “ethics.” To borrow a phrase from George Orwell, it would take an intellectual to believe such stuff; no ordinary man would. A few days after it appeared on the website of the Journal of Medical Ethics, this revealing, all too revealing, article had vanished. Or at least outsiders were no longer allowed access to it. When I tried to call it up again, it was gone. Right down the old Orwellian memory hole. It was now an un-article, closed off to us mere laymen. We might not understand. Its thesis might shock, and so it needed to be discreetly hidden away, to be shared only with select professional colleagues. But just give the rest of us time. As each old ethical line is crossed, as each ou Shalt Not becomes another ou Mayest, each such advance becomes easier to understand, then accept. ere was a time when abortion on demand was considered unacceptable, too, even a crime. We’ve just crossed another ethical line, that’s all. What’s the big deal? ere was a time when we looked down this slippery slope and shuddered. Now we find ourselves looking up. And fewer and fewer of us may shudder. Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer prizewinning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. His email address is pgreenberg@arkansasonline .com. GUEST EDITORIAL Pill bill did not go far enough K entuckians should be pleased to learn that a bill to curb prescription drug abuse in our state will likely become law, but should be disappointed to see a bill that would help the battle on methamphetamine in our state become watered down, limiting its effectiveness. e prescription drug bill is a move in the right direction as our state continues to see needless overdoses and deaths in relation to these drugs. e legislation is intended to control the problem of “pill mills” — pain clinics run by unscrupulous owners who prey on people with pain pill addictions. It is also meant to curb “doctor shopping” by addicts or drug dealers who get prescriptions from more than one doctor and then get them filled at multiple pharmacies. Under the bill, police and prosecutors could use the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting program to monitor doctors who overprescribe painkillers, and it would be monitored through the attorney general’s office. .. it seems particularly cruel to sime legislation, which now reply bypass them and hope no one turns to the House for final paswill get their feelings hurt. sage, also requires pharmacists to But don’t think I’m blaming record prescription information teachers, administrators or and allows that information to be school systems — they have every shared with state and federal law reason to be terrified of offending enforcement authorities, physithe fragile sensibilities of the cians and pharmacists. .. adults in their students’ lives. While it appears this will beough cases of students being come law, it is more than disexposed to truly offensive materi- heartening that some in the als are rare, the headlines these Legislature caved in to an out-ofincidents garner have outsized state group, which spent big impact on people’s perception of bucks to weaken a meth bill that what can go wrong in classrooms. has proved effective elsewhere. School staff can hardly be blamed Early in the session, a bill was for trying to head off any risky sit- introduced that we supported uations. that would have required a preI imagine that school leaders scription for medicines containare merely laboring under the un- ing pseudoephedrine, the main derstanding that our society now ingredient used in making employs only two modes of com- methamphetamine. Under the munication: “in your face about bill, people would still be able to my beliefs and taking no prisonbuy cold medicines with pseuers with those who might disdoephedrine in a gel capsule. agree,” and “if you don’t talk at bill was withdrawn and about something then we can all the one that appears ready for pretend it doesn’t exist, but if it passage simply doesn’t go far does come up, consider me enough. deeply insulted and looking for e current proposal would redress.” I’d wager that “helilimit any one person’s purchases copter parents” fit in either cateto no more than 7.2 grams in a gory. month or 24 grams in a year. Pity the children who live in a at’s the equivalent of two boxes world where the grown-ups in a month or 10 boxes a year. Peotheir lives try to shield them from ple who need more than that confronting the concepts of Halwould have to get a prescription. loween, rap music or nuclear e Consumer Healthcare weapons (also on the off-limits Products Association of Washinglist) on a written exam but do litton, D.C., even fought this meastle to prepare them for dealing ure saying it would hurt Kentucky with those everyday facts in their families who need the medicine. real lives. Don’t be surprised .. when they turn out as illHopefully, in the next year’s equipped to mature and behave session more legislators will like thoughtful adults, as are their stand up to this group and make protectors. it clear that we are going to look after Kentuckians. .. Esther Cepeda’s email address is esThe Daily News Bowling Green, March 30 Closing young Americans’ minds C HICAGO — Let me apologize for the language I’m about to employ in this column. It’s not every day that I feel so strongly about something that I have to use so many controversial Esther Cepeda words with the poSyndicated tential to offend. Columnist Here goes: dinosaurs, pepperoni and, steel yourself — birthday! Confused? Well thank goodness, then. is means our de facto national religion — political correctness — hasn’t yet made you as ultra-sensitive as New York City public school officials have become. According to the New York Post, the Big Apple’s schools included a list of off-limits topics in a request for proposals from companies bidding to update the English, math, science and social studies exams used to measure students’ academic progress. e subjects “do not belong in a cityor state-wide assessment,” the guidelines warned, noting that if these terms were included, it would “probably cause a selec- Mallard Fillmore tion to be deemed unacceptable” because of their potential to “evoke unpleasant emotions in the students.” e topics included the aforementioned dinosaurs, pepperoni and birthdays (because each of these concepts are not observed in certain religions) plus such others as computers in the home (though computers in a school or public library setting were OK, presumably because they do not evoke emotions over the “digital divide”) and dancing (another reference to an item that could collide with a religious belief, though mention of ballet is acceptable). Hunting, movies, junk food, homes with swimming pools, evolution, rock ‘n’ roll music and television also made the list. ey sit alongside the kind of items that really make you shake your head because their inclusion in formal proposal guidelines implies a belief that assessment development professionals don’t have the sense to avoid topics such as pornography, alcohol and drugs, cigarettes or the occult. Lists like these exist because no one can take any chances that age-appropriate common sense will win the day in any setting, much less an educational one. Who can blame education administrators for erring on the side of extreme caution when, in the last year alone, there have been a smattering of reports that students were subjected to insulting assignments? Among them: math problems using inappropriate references to slave beatings, and a question about how the U.S. deals with illegal immigrants that included the inappropriate choices “puts them to death” and “shoots them into outer space.” Frankly, I’m surprised that race and immigration didn’t make it onto New York City’s off-limits list, which includes other important but difficult to talk about topics such as cancer, crime, death, divorce, homelessness, unemployment, poverty, slavery, terrorism and violence. ose are all tough issues to address even in their proper context, and their exclusion from a standardized test implies they are off-limits during regular teaching time as well. Given that a great many students deal intimately with at least a few of those topics,

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