Review: John Gluck’s Voracious Science and Vulnerable Animals

The entire medical research enterprise is built on a foundation of intense and immense animal suffering. Most of the effective treatments we have now were previously tested on non-human animals before they were ever used on humans. On the other hand, most non-human animal research does not lead to an effective treatment or even publishable results.

In Voracious Science and Vulnerable Animals: A Primate Scientist’s Ethical Journey, John Gluck describes his glacially slow transition from primate researcher to animal welfare advocate. Early in his career, Gluck worked on the infamous monkey social-isolation experiments that provided the earth-shattering news that separating infants from their mothers and rearing them in isolation harms their emotional and intellectual development. Thanks to img_0327this ground-breaking research, mothers have learned not to raise their babies in small wire cages and occasionally perform painful surgeries on them.

In approximately the same amount of time it took for humans to evolve from other species, Gluck began to realize the great harm he was causing to his beloved monkeys. Gluck apprehended the harm he was doing after personally observing the excruciating suffering of the animals he was studying, seeing the shock in the eyes of non-scientists when he described his work and realizing that he could only describe his work to fellow scientists, having a student present him with Peter Singer’s accurate description of his work, having his lab broken into by animal rights activist, and, finally, talking with philosophers about the rights of animals.

The brilliance of his account is that he illustrates why it was so difficult for him to acknowledge the pain he was causing and why it is next to impossible to engage animal researchers in a debate over the welfare of research animals. Typically, animal researchers say they turn to non-human animals when it would be unethical to test on humans. When pressed, they will agree that animals should be used only when their use benefits the pursuit of scientific knowledge, should be given clean living quarters, should be fed appropriately, and should be given medical treatment when needed. Unless, of course, the scientist is studying the effects of food deprivation, lack of medical treatment, and so on.

The research is further justified by the fact that non-human animals have similar biological and neurological structures that ensure that results in non-human animals can be replicated in human animals. The human who doubts the similarity is scoffed at for being scientifically illiterate. Paradoxically, suggesting that non-human animals, similar to humans in other ways, are also similar to humans in terms of suffering or moral importance is accused of anthropomorphism. The argument is either that animals are not capable of suffering in any meaningful way or that their suffering is of no moral significance.

Gluck describes these arguments and explains that he himself held such seemingly contradictory views because they are taught and repeated ad nauseam until they become ingrained beginning with undergraduate study. Anyone who questions these basic beliefs is either met with laughter or denied entry and participation in research programs. People within the system become so closed off from contrary opinions that they are often surprised when descriptions of their work shocks and offends outsiders. The only explanation for the outrage many scientists will consider is that outsiders cannot understand the importance of their work.

One of the more fascinating events that led to Gluck’s change of heart concerned a human patient who was thought to be severely cognitively impaired. Staff in the patient’s room talked about the woman as if she were an object. Gluck was trying to solve a particular problem. At times, staff could feed the woman from a spoon but at other times she could not swallow. It turned out that she could swallow but was refusing to because she did not appreciate the way certain staff treated her. It was the only form of protest she had at her disposal. When Gluck realized how robust the conscious life of this patient was despite the appearance of minimal cognitive activity, he realized also that he could not say with certainty what thoughts, beliefs, or emotions non-human animals might experience.

Gluck eventually decided to get out of animal research and began teaching courses on research ethics that covered a variety of topics but included discussions of animal welfare. (If you care about the suffering of the animals in his lab, you will be disappointed by what happened to them.) Gluck’s educational programs on research ethics were successful in the sense that they attracted students from a myriad of disciplines and engaged both students and faculty in interesting and enlightening debate on the use of both human and non-human animals in research. Looking back, he is proud of his accomplishment to begin these discussions but admits that animal researchers were the one group that never engaged in the discussions.

Ethicists can attempt to change practices from inside or outside of institutions. Outsider ethicists have more freedom to make bold declarations of misconduct, express outrage, and threaten established practices. Insider ethicists have greater access and opportunity to speak directly with the people who have the power to change practices. Both kinds of ethicists are needed. Gluck is an insider whose thoughts and arguments were enhanced and supported by outsider ethicists. He says he was unable to effect a great deal of change inside research labs, but he was able to speak to researchers as an equal to engage in an ethical discussion. Sadly, insider ethicists who raise ethical alarms are often forced outside. It takes a great deal of courage to risk losing a privileged position inside the castle, and it also takes a great deal of courage to storm the castle gates.

If you are looking for a book with a detailed and comprehensive review of philosophical theory related to animals, you will be disappointed in Voracious Science and Vulnerable Animals; however, if you are looking for an insider’s perspective on the views and outlook of animal researchers, you will find Gluck’s insights and introspection fascinating, even if depressing. The book shows that it possible for researchers to be moved and gain compassion and understanding of the harm they are doing, but it also shows that such progress is slow and infrequent.





My Actual Dream About Peter Singer

The following is an actual dream (nightmare) I had. As far as I know, it doesn’t mean anything. I have no idea why Peter Singer was in it, but I only wish him good health and safe travels.

I am crossing riotous waters on a suspended steel walking bridge composed of steel cables with metal planks bolted to them on either side. As I walk, a storm moves in quickly and pelts me with blinding rain that makes footing unsure. As my feet slip on the metal planks, the planks begin to come undone and slide off the cables. I am forced to cling to the cables and pull myself up onto the loading dock on the far side of the bridge.

As I take cover under an overhang on the dock, I see Peter Singer in a white cargo van on an elevated roadway or ramp of some kind. To my horror, he drives off the ramp and crashes nose first onto the concrete dock below. The van is badly mangled and I fear he is dead. I think to call 911 but realize my phone is in the van. Just then, he pops through the broken glassbroken glass of the van like a jack-in-the-box and says, “Well, that was lucky!” in a comic fashion to the sound of laugh track laughter. Before I can feel any relief, he collapses and appears dead.

I walk to the nearest person (the dock seems crowded with rubberneckers now) and ask, “Did you call 911?” She says, “Well, HE won’t call!” [More laugh track.] Finally, I am overwhelmed and start to walk away. I hear a voice call after me, “I’m sorry. Did you know him?” [More laugh track.] I say, “No, but I’ve been reading his books for decades.” [Laugh track.]

The voice replies, “I know what you mean. It takes me a long time to get through a book, too.”


What scientism means to me

I’ve been reading many posts on scientism lately. Some have been from well-known academics and some have been from less known equally astute members of my social-networking circle. Some seem to equate scientism with atheism, some equate it with a reasoned approach to the world, and some equate it with pure evil, apparently.

I don’t know what definition is correct, but I view scientism as the belief that science is not only the best way to gain information about the world but also the best way to make meaning in the world. As a humanist, I reject scientism because I believe we can and should turn to philosophy, literature, religion, art, music and other forms of human introspection and expression to make meaning in our lives. This does not mean I reject the idea that science is the best way to learn facts (disputable as they may be) about the world.

In other words, I think climate scientists are the best qualified individuals to give information about whether the climate is changing and what is causing it. I don’t think I should challenge scientists because I don’t “feel” like they are correct. Opinions are not all equal. Informed opinions are of greater value than uninformed opinions any day.

Similarly, believing that religions can help us find our make meaning in our lives does not mean that scientific information regarding evolution is invalid. Science as an endeavor does not encroach upon religion. It is only when religious dogma makes scientific claims that conflict arises between the two discrete domains of knowledge. Some people in science may occasionally make a religious claim, citing their authority as a scientist, that runs in to conflict with religion and creates controversy as well, but I really think that most scientists simply do their best to report the best information they can glean from available evidence with the hope of improving life for all of humanity.

I’m not sure, but I suspect this has all come to head because of recent controversies over evolution and climate change. Folks on the left have accused those on the right of being “anti-science” because they reject the findings of scientists in these two areas. Many on the right took this as an attack on religion for some reason that I don’t understand, but there you have it. What would we call the view that religion is the only way to find information about the world? Religionism?

Anyway, in response to the left’s accusations of an anti-science bias on the right, some on the right have accused the left of being anti-science because they don’t like genetically-modified foods or vaccinations or something. Never mind that many who oppose GMOs and vaccinations are either conservatives or libertarians, it is true that some people on the left do not approach the world with scientific rigor.

And somehow this has all resulted in people tossing the word “scientism” around like a new hacky-sack. If someone says you are anti-science, you can just say that they are guilty of “scientism.” And, once someone throws that label at you, it is hard to shake it off. So, you either accept the label, ignore the situation completely, or fire back a volley of counter-attacks.

In Steven Pinker‘s response to such an attack, he embraced scientism in a positive sense by simply recounting all the successes of scientific reasoning. Of course, in response to an accusation of scientism, he basically says humanists should embrace scientism and accept that only scientists can save the humanities from extinction. He said, “A consilience with science offers the humanities countless possibilities for innovation in understanding.” He then inadvertently points out the risk of doing so, saying, “In some disciplines, this consilience is a fait accompli. Archeology has grown from a branch of art history to a high-tech science.” In other words, we should all accept how the infusion of science can improve our disciplines by destroying them.

Pinker mentions that philosophy has benefited from collaborations with cognitive scientists, and interesting and productive work has certainly been done in philosophy around cognitive science, but western philosophers have been involved in scientific theory and method from the beginning. Early on, philosophers and scientists were essentially the same people, but even later philosophers sought both to influence scientific method and apply apply scientific method to philosophy. In the twentieth century, the drive to conduct philosophy with the rigor of science led it to a level of obscurity that almost destroyed any hope of philosophers reaching any kind of popular audience.

In the twenty-first century, this movement continues but without a somewhat different focus under the banner of “experimental philosophy.” In this scientific approach to philosophy, philosophers actually gather data to analyze and test their philosophical assumptions. Kwame Anthony Appiah summarizes the problem with this approach quite succinctly: “You can conduct more research to try to clarify matters, but you’re left having to interpret the findings; they don’t interpret themselves. There always comes a point where the clipboards and questionnaires and M.R.I. scans have to be put aside.” When all is said and done, data must be interpreted, and interpretation has always been the forte of philosophers, so, as Appiah suggests, we must return to the armchair for the hard work of hard thinking.

But how do philosophers reach beyond their small circle of professional philosophers to a more popular audience? Philosophers achieve this when they write on matters that intersect with the daily lives of non-philosophers. Appiah is an excellent example of someone who is able to engage the public on matters of moral concern to anyone who happens to be alive on this planet. As a public intellectual, he comments on how we think, how we converse, and how we interact with one another. This ability has taken him out of obscurity and into the public domain.

But the least obscure living philosopher in the world must be Peter Singer. Singer writes on issues that affect our daily lives (what we eat, what we do with our money, how we preserve life), and he creates great controversy in the process. Whether you think he is skilled as a philosopher or not, you cannot deny the scope of his reach. He is helping, as is Appiah, us to interpret and determine exactly what value we place on life and exactly what we consider a good life to be.

Neither Appiah nor Singer is anti-science, but both know that a philosopher’s skill lies in helping us examine what is meaningful and valuable to our personal lives. They seem also to realize that science is unable to interpret and analyze human values. No, it is the humanities that enable us to envision a meaningful and rewarding existence. Scientific advances make a constant re-examination and re-evaluation necessary, and the humanities help guide us down that path. The idea that the humanities have nothing to add to this journey toward meaning and value is what I call “scientism.” Scientists and humanists can both be guilty of scientism.

And scientists and humanists can both engage in a search for meaning that reaches beyond data.

What is Bioethics? Environmental and Economic Justice

Like many people, Peter Singer was the first bioethicist to occupy any space in my consciousness. He first got my attention with his concern for animal welfare and calls for vegetarianism. I suppose he is best known for saying we should not eat animals but that it is sometimes acceptable to kill our babies, which many people find upside down, especially if they haven’t actually read all his arguments, and few of his critics seem to have read his arguments.

But Singer has also spent a great deal of effort offering suggestions on relieving the problems of globalization, wealth inequality, and further destruction of the planet. One can offer reasoned objections to his suggestions, of course, but his choice of topics and concerns helped define what bioethics was for me.

Singer’s concerns fit nicely with the term “bioethics” as originally conceived by Van Rensselaer Potter in 1970. Potter said bioethics should be “a new discipline that combines biological knowledge of human value systems.” Potter saw bioethics as a systematic attempt to ensure the survival of the planet and all the people on it. One of Potter’s goals was to eliminate “needless suffering among humankind as a whole.”

Van Rensselaer Potter

Unfortunately, by the middle of the 1970s, the term “bioethics” had already been co-opted by the medical establishment and applied primarily to medical ethics. Concerns for ensuring the well-being of humankind were replaced by concerns for patients and doctors, with a strong emphasis on patient autonomy. Today’s bioethicists tend to ignore problems that have nothing to do with healthcare or medical research, but millions of people in the world have no access to healthcare and so escape any attention from bioethicists at all, which is itself an injustice.

To be sure, bioethicists are still in the world working for justice and, in some notable cases, the survival of the planet, but those working on themes outside of healthcare or medical research are outsiders at best. (For a couple of examples, see Martha Nussbaum and Thomas Pogge.)

I will continue to argue that this is the wrong approach to bioethics. Potter’s and Singer’s concern for promoting the health of the earth and all its inhabitants is the only reasonable way to think of bioethics, and those who disagree are the ones who should defend their positions.

What are some of the issues we need to address? Just to get us started, we can look at environmental justice, war, climate change, worker’s rights, wealth inequality, access to water, human rights abuses, women’s equality, and children’s welfare. Too broad? The problems that threaten life and health are vast. Medical practice requires an enormous cadre of professional ethicists to develop policy and practice guidelines, of course, but bioethicists following the vision of Potter should be welcome at the table as well.

Can we talk?

In recent months (perhaps years, now), it seems the religious and irreligious are divided more severely than ever. In response to demands that intelligent design be taught in schools or that evolution not be taught, writers such as Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Dawkins have taken religious thinkers and writers to task, attacking religious thought with unbridled enthusiasm. Their writings serve more as a rallying cry than as discourse and, as such, probably exaggerate the true gap between believers and non-believers in our society. Some of the religious seem equally enamored of raising arms against the other side. The Terri Schaivo “debate” quickly devolved into nothing more than grandstanding, posturing, and provocation for combat. With no background knowledge of our society, one would think pluralism had only happened moments ago and that any kind of discourse between the two sides (indeed, there are far more than two sides, but such nuance is invisible at the moment) is impossible. A little reflection, however, will remind us that the United States, while not quite the rich and diverse mosaic some dream it has been, is a country that has managed discussion between divergent groups in the past. The founders of our country were both religious and secular. Although a fair amount of strife resulted, discussion and compromise were always seen as real possibilities. It is possible that a way forward still exists.

When asked who would be an authority on matters of morality, most members of the public, in the United States at least, would first mention members of the clergy. More sophisticated individuals might know to mention theologians specifically. Few people would think to mention philosophers, especially not secular or, worse, atheistic philosophers. In The Elements of Moral Philosophy, James Rachels says:
“It is not unusual for priests and ministers to be treated as moral experts. Most hospitals, for example, have ethics committees, and these committees usually include three types of members: healthcare professionals to advise about technical matters, lawyers to handle legal issues, and religious representatives to address moral questions.”
So, most people in the U.S. believe morality and religion are inseparable. Rachels refers to Plato’s Euthyphro to question whether God’s morality is arbitrary or rational. If actions or values are good only because God commanded them, then morality is arbitrary, or so the argument goes. If God commanded actions and values because they are good, then God’s morality is rational. Rachels quotes Gottfried Leibniz saying that the latter must be true. He says, “For why praise him for what he has done if he would be equally praiseworthy in doing exactly the contrary.” If God’s actions are rational and not arbitrary, then any rational person should have an equal ability to examine moral questions on the basis of reasoned argument. Rachels’ argument is that atheists and secularists should be included in moral discourse.
It is surprising, then, to find that the theologians Rachels felt have an undeserved place of privilege in moral discourse should complain that they have been left out of moral discussions, particularly with regard to bioethics. Courtney Campbell writes, “One unfortunate aspect of civic bioethics . . . is its incivility, including incivility toward religiously grounded opinions.” He also warns that religious bioethicists cannot retreat to the academy as, “the academy exhibits its own forms of intolerance toward religious expression.” Rachels and Campbell appear to be living in two different worlds, one hostile toward the secular and one hostile toward the religious. Authors on both sides declare that they must fight to be included in the discussion and be heard over the tyrannical forces of the opposing side.
Certainly, each side is correct in at least a surface view of discourse in the United States. Most people in the United States are religious, and their religious values are reflected in the public sphere. Some religious groups have shown clear forms of intolerance for opposing views. On the other hand, many professional philosophers are secular or atheistic, and a condescending attitude toward religion is perceptible to even beginning students in philosophy. Philosophers are a small minority, indeed, but their voices are disproportionately loud in the debates over bioethics, at least in part because they have made some provocative claims. How is a religious person to speak to a philosopher who claims it is permissible to kill babies and disabled adults but not animals? The fact that such a question is even asked must be enough to make some religious writers feel dialogue is hopeless.
James Gustafson describes three styles of religious discussion in medical ethics. The first is based on autonomy of religious views; most people would generally associate this view with an assertion of religious authority. When asserting authority, one is likely only to sway those of the same faith who feel compelled to follow the authority of its leaders. This is, of course, an important part of the moral work of many theologians, but it does not engage the wider community. The second style stresses continuity with the wider community. This style seeks to make religious positions intelligible both to those within and beyond a specific religious community. For example, a Catholic theologian may publish and article or give a speech intending to make the Catholic position on social welfare or just war comprehensible to non-Catholics. In doing so, some non-Catholics may come to agree and join with Catholics in support of or opposition to public policies. The final style is interaction, which is the only style in which the religious interlocutor is open to revising his or her original position. The interactive style is not for every writer or every occasion, but Gustafson notes that it is possible and can provide a space where the religious and the secular can converse about matters of medical morality.
J. Bryan Hehir discusses the role of the “public church.” In examining the proper role of Catholic bioethics, he notes that the Catholic Church “defines civil society as both an audience for its teaching and an object of its pastoral care.” From this prospective, theologians and others are obligated to engage the wider, pluralistic public on important matters of morality. He says that religious writers must be prepared to contend with a pluralistic society, a secular state, and a liberal philosophy of law. He notes the success of Martin Luther King in addressing the public on moral matters using rational argument that was not free from religious significance. However, biomedical issues seem especially intractable, particularly with regard to issues related to sanctity of life (e.g., abortion, suicide, euthanasia).
Given the steadfast opinions of individuals on both sides of the abortion debate, many have advised Catholic writers to focus attention on the ecclesial community. Hehir finds this dissatisfying as he advocates a public church, not a church that restricts its reach to its own enclave. He says, with some apparent pride, “The strategy may ultimately fail, but the failure will be that of a public church, rather than a decision by a once-public church to retreat within a purely ecclesial definition of its role.” The question is not whether the church succeeds or fails but whether it fulfills its duty to society as an object of pastoral care.
Hehir moves to another issue that may seem to be less of a problem for discussion between the church and the secular public: public access to health care. While religious language may be used to discuss health care, the general public can certainly understand the positions of the church, and the issues are not nearly so intractable as discussions of abortion, for example. On the surface, it seems that the church would be obligated to support efforts at providing heath care to all, but Hehir sees a problem. Many proposals for public access to health care include provisions for publicly funded abortions. He suggests that multiple strategies could be adopted but not in his short essay. Fortunately, Andrew Lustig expands on the discussion of health care rationing and reform, but the problem remains frustrating. Lustig recalls Christian teaching that demands universalizing love and care for one another, which would seem to require support for public access to health care, perhaps even globally. Nonetheless, he notes that U.S. bishops oppose any health care package that includes abortion. He calls for religious writers and others to invite their religious values to drive arguments expressed in non-parochial, or public, terms. He sees a possibility that religious values will “work their leaven upon the world” indirectly. How is a secularist to respond?
Two secular philosophers, Peter Singer and Peter Unger, have devoted much of their attention to the ethical use of the world’s resources. Both are motivated by a value shared by all Christian writer’s I am aware of: a value of preserving the lives of those who wish to live. Admittedly, some Christian writers would want to preserve lives in cases where someone might want to die, but it is possible to bracket that concern while discussing our individual obligation to others who do want to live. Singer and Unger both argue that taking care of the world’s most vulnerable people is an individual responsibility for everyone. While they both eschew religious language, others have pointed out that only Jesus seemed to have an ethic as demanding as Utilitarianism, requiring all in affluence to give to any who need assistance. Singer and Unger are both Utilitarians (a frequent straw man for non-Utilitarian ethicists) and argue that the interests of all must be considered equally (for Singer, the interest of animals must also be part of the calculus).
On the point of health care in particular, Singer questions the claim of Christians to value all lives equally. He challenges the notion, saying that to value all lives equally would mean spending as much money to save the lives of the world’s desperately poor as we spend saving premature infants and those in the last stages of life. Many of Singer’s positions are anathema to Christian thought and tradition, but on this point common ground seems possible. While not responding specifically to Singer and Unger, Edward Langerak gives an example of a kind of language that is distinctively religious yet still capable of engaging secular philosophers. He notes that religious covenant requires individuals to love their neighbors. He acknowledges that “the problem has usually been that people’s sense of obligation is too minimal for covenantal flourishing.” He quickly adds, “But some special covenants seem especially prone to encourage a ‘savior’ mentality in which persons lose themselves in a bottomless pit of others’ needs.” His language is decidedly religious, but it echoes secular arguments against the Utilitarian calculus. Both the Utilitarian and covenantal ethicist can “bury the self in the bottomless needs of others.”
James B. Tubbs grapples with the question of obligation to strangers. Tubbs exclaims, “Yet Jesus goes beyond the claim that needy strangers should be regarded in the manner in which God regards them. He suggests, in fact, that the needy stranger be regarded as the Son of Man himself!” Tubbs emphasizes this point further by admonishing that the encounter with the stranger should be seen as an encounter with the divine. He then moves to an examination of what it means to be a neighbor. He declares that our moral life is dependent on relationships with others, but he leaves off the discussion of what this relationship demands of us. It would not be difficult for the Utilitarian to agree that strangers shape our moral lives, but it seems more difficult for Utilitarians to turn away from what our relationships demand of us. In any case, it is not religious language or hostility to religious thought that prevents Utilitarians and religious writers from becoming interlocutors. One has no difficulty imagining a discourse on our obligations to strangers between the secular and the sectarian. A certain degree of consistency is of value in any moral tradition.
I have focused so far on obligations to strangers as it seems to me to be the most pressing medical issue for everyone. More than four million people die each year from starvation. Millions more die from treatable or preventable diseases. While academic bioethicists grapple with deep quandaries regarding patients and the role of the doctor at the bedside, most of the world would be improved greatly by having the luxury of becoming a patient rather than another statistic. War and its always-attendant famine kills far more people than withdrawal of treatment from impaired newborns or cessation of treatment for the cognitively impaired. This is not to dismiss the importance of discussions over transplantation and other hard questions, but the easy questions may be a good place for secular and sectarian interlocutors to begin a discussion. An infinitesimally small number of people discussing bioethics and medical humanities would claim that the loss of life is insignificant. Whether the author values life because it is a gift from God or because it is something individuals have developed an interest in maintaining, life is something to be preserved, at least in the cases where the living person values his or her life. Given the almost universal agreement with this statement, it seems that philosophers, theologians, and bioethicists of every stripe could work together not on whether life should be preserved but on how public policy can be shaped to help those who need medical care and cannot procure it. It has perhaps been avoided too often because the task is more daunting than deciding at what moment a dying person becomes a corpse with organs suitable for donation. Nonetheless, if we are to encounter strangers as our neighbors, we must gird ourselves for the struggle and prepare for a significant shift in how we view our fellow sufferers in the world.
If a discussion of helping the world’s neediest individuals seems possible among people of many faiths and philosophical dispositions, Leigh Turner’s example of blood transfusions will have us despair that no discussion is possible in other areas. To be sure, people from many backgrounds would agree that blood transfusions are often required to prolong lives. Many would see providing transfusions to be an obligation of the highest order. Turner points out that none of this rhetoric or consensus of most bioethicists will be of interest to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Turner warns, “Principlist and case-based approaches to moral deliberation typically exaggerate notions of common morality.” The point deserves consideration. It is naïve for any bioethicist to assume that any argument, no matter how well reasoned, will be accepted by all. Turner accuses bioethicists of ignoring the elephant in the room, but this conclusion may be rash. It could be that bioethicists, aware of the elephant in the room, persevere in the hope of lighting one candle rather than cursing the darkness.
It is no question that philosophers and theologians often talk past one another. Many religious concepts cannot be put into a language common enough for the secular and the sectarian. This should not mean, however, that the conversation should not begin. The “public church” should make its beliefs as clear as possible to even an unreceptive audience. The public intellectual should do the same. Resistance should come from all who have the strength of their convictions regardless of whether those convictions come from religious moral traditions or reasoned argument and reflection. Speaking one’s conviction publicly and arguing for it is itself a moral act. Tolerance and respect for diversity do not require us to stifle our voices. They require us to accept that other individuals have the same right and obligation we have to express their deeply held convictions and beliefs.
Public policy, on the other hand, must reflect the greatest respect for individual beliefs and convictions that cause no harm to others. To be sure, it is not easy to decide what beliefs cause harm to others. The case of blood transfusions from the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ point of view is a reminder that sometimes harm seems quite different when seen from different vantages. I personally am concerned about harm done to animals. I realize that most do not consider harm to animals to be harm at all. I join the relatively small group of individuals, mostly but not exclusively secular philosophers, in explaining why much of the harm to animals seems not only cruel but unnecessary. I have learned that the stronger claim that animals should not be harmed or used in research is almost universally rejected, but many people of various faiths and backgrounds accept that cruelty is an evil. Deontologists and virtue ethicists both reject cruelty to animals as a bad habit that could lead to cruelty to humans. Thus, Kant and Aquinas both reject direct obligations to animals but see humane treatment of animals as an indirect obligation to humans. Those with sufficient openness have been able to discuss this subject with respect and results. Globally, a shift toward more humane farming is underway even as factory farming continues to be the most profitable means of producing food.
We can and must engage one another in discourse with respect, tolerance, and courage. The debate will not always produce an answer that is accepted by all, but the lack of debate will always produce frustration and power struggles. Bioethicists are in a position to model such discourse for the larger society. This will require leaving the enclaves of institutions and entering the public sphere in a more visible manner. We must take care to live by the principles we espouse. Peter Singer has been criticized for donating only 20 percent of his salary. He admits he could do more but also points out that it would not be necessary if everyone living in affluence would give only one percent of her or his income. We have achieved nothing near this level of giving, but aid organizations did see a spike in donations after Singer’s essay on world poverty appeared in the New York Times. It is certain that atheist Singer managed to engage the religious with his argument. Discourse can have positive results.
Ronald Carson writes, “In covenant, one receives others as one receives a gift—in trust—and one passes the gift on in response to need, with due regard for the recipient, and without calculation.” Our fellow ethicists are in need of respectful interlocutors just as our fellow humans are in need of medical assistance. As bioethicists, medical humanists, and responsible human beings, we can help provide insight, assistance, and advocacy. We can join and be fully engaged in a moral community. This is the task at hand.