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As medical technology advances, the “should we” questions take on even more complexity. This episode takes a fascinating look at the principles of bioethics through numerous illustrative bioethics examples with noted bioethicist Margaret Somerville.

Listen and learn

  • What the four levels of decision making regarding bioethics in medicine are, 
  • What will be the hardest ethics questions in the immediate future and what are her thoughts on these issues, and
  • How she’s faced controversy for her opinions and why she continues to speak honestly about her ethical stances. 

Margaret Somerville is a professor of bioethics in the School of Medicine in Sydney. She received her doctorate in the field in the ’70s just as major advancements in genomics and genetics heightened the complexity for bioethics in medical technology. She lends listeners the language and schemata for how people in her profession consider the most difficult medical questions. She lists the four levels of decision making, from the micro or individual level up to the global level.

She and Richard then discuss specific examples, including the response to COVID-19. While Richard feels they’ve been too restrictive and caused other kinds of suffering, she points out that the hard lockdown Australia implemented, briefer but even stricter than the U.S., led to much less infections and deaths. She feels that if Fauci’s recommendations had been uniformly followed immediately, the U.S. may have found itself in a better position now. 

She points out that there is harm caused even while implementing policies for good. Bioethicists help decisions makers consider what to do when there is conflict between the four decision-making levels, and calls it the “world of competing sorrows.” She says that sometimes in bioethics in medicine, the decision is “who will you harm?” She adds, “Often, there is harm in the good that we do—we need to be aware of that,” and justify the decisions made by facing this. She also talks about up-and-coming issues including alteration of the human germ line, ectogenesism, and creating artificial sperm or ovum. She discusses how she has handled controversy regarding her own opinions and her overall world view. 

For more about her, see examples of her work at mercatornet.com/author/margaret-somerville.

Available on Apple Podcasts: apple.co/2Os0myK

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