Deliberative Ethics Guidelines
The following deliberative ethics guidelines were elaborated and proposed by members** of the IFOM-IEO Campus. They do not represent the official position of the member Institutions participating in the Campus; rather, they are the views of individuals who freely have decided to adhere to the principles spelled herein.
We do not wish to propose an ethical code. Such codes frequently lack effectiveness, and should not be elaborated by members of a scientific institution in isolation, but in conjunction with representatives of the numerous different viewpoints that are present in the society within which the institution acts. What we propose, instead, are guidelines on how to hold a correct public debate concerning the ethical evaluation of human actions regarding the production and use of biological and biomedical results.
We, therefore, prefer not to start from a preconceived notion of what is morally good; rather, we offer a balanced methodology to structure the deliberative process on what should be permissible on the basis of it being morally sustainable, and on what should not be permissible, on the basis of it being morally unsustainable. We belive that we can justifiable take on this role, as the deliberative method presented herein is simply a generalization of the method that has permitted scientific progress, and is that which we adopt and implement on a daily basis in our scientific activity.
Note that this is not an imposition of the scientific method on ethical practice. Rather, the scientific method represents a specific application of the method of reasoning that has characterized and permitted the development of the western thought since antiquity, and that is exemplified in the following guidelines.
The guidelines are composed of three parts:
We advocate that any ethical discussion in the biomedical field should presuppose the acceptance of the following three premises:
- What we discuss and judge:
The ethical aspects of contextualized human actions in the production and use of biomedical entities and processes.
- What we do not discuss and judge:
The biomedical entities and processes
- What we discriminate:
- The scientific description of the biomedical entities and processes;
- The analysis of the social implications of the actions involving those entities and processes;
- The ethical discussion and judgment of those actions;
- The juridical formulation and application of norms for such actions
Methodological Claim I:
We advocate that any discussion of ethical problems concerning biomedical results be made:
- either by presenting a rationally argued solution,
- or by rationally criticizing an existing solution.
Methodological Claim II:
We advocate that any solution to an ethical problem be presented in two steps:
- Exposition of the ethical problem.
- Rational justification of the proposed solution.
- The exposition of the ethical problem is realized by satisfying the following five requirements:
- Concise enunciation of the problem.
- Disambiguation of the relevant terms by defining them.
- Clarification of the relevance of the problem in terms of practical and theoretical consequences.
- Critical examination of alternative solutions, to show historical awareness of the problem, of the solutions already proposed, and of the reasons why they should not accepted.
- Presentation of the new solution.
- The rational justification of the ethical solution is made by presenting a rationally cogent argument.
Methodological Claim III:
We advocate that any criticism of an ethical solution be made by following one of these avenues:
- Objecting to the exposition of the ethical problem, by arguing that:
- The problem is misposed.
- The terms are ambiguous.
- The problem is irrelevant.
- The alternative solutions are better.
- The new solution is misposed.
Methodological Claim IV:
We advocate the following three main requirements for a productive ethical debate:
- Sufficient knowledge of the scientific entities and processes at hand.
- Sufficient knowledge of the ethical questions in play.
- Sufficient knowledge of how to rationally justify or criticize an ethical solution.
We advocate that any ethical position concerning biomedical results must be argued either through a priori arguments (that is, independently of empirical data or results), or through a posteriori arguments (that is, by considering empirical data and results).
- Concerning a priori arguments, those regarding the right to know, autonomy, dignity, and quality of life of human beings are particularly relevant.
- Concerning a posteriori arguments, those regarding the positive consequences of biomedical research for human health are particularly relevant. On this point, we caution against the use of two commonly adopted consequentialist arguments: 1) the slippery slope argument, and 2) the precautionary principle argument. We consider them to be extremely weak or fallacious