June 25, 2022

Climate change analysis needs bioethicists

The Hastings Center convenes a seminar on “the greatest moral challenge of our time”

With climate change often described as the greatest moral challenge of our time, it is inevitable that bioethics should become involved. Earlier this month The Hastings Center organised a seminar to discuss whether bioethicists can help mitigate climate change.

Convened by Daniel Callahan, one of the first philosophers to call himself a “bioethicist”, the meeting brought together climate change scientists, political scientists, bioethicists, and academics. 

“Both global warming mitigation and health improvements share some similar ethical problems and dilemmas,” said Callahan at the meeting. “While both ways are being pursued, the technological routes are socially attractive,” he continued. “They do not require behavior changes of any magnitude, and even better they are economically attractive. There is good money to be made on solar panels and wind machines. The seduction here is that the greater ease of technological solutions for global warming may minimize difficult cultural change.”

Hastings Center President Mildred Solomon explained the expanding role of bioethics in a radio interview:

it’s been our view that too often our field identifies the “bio” in bioethics too narrowly. We tend to look at ethical issues in patient care as they arise inside of clinics and hospitals. The field tends to look at how best to protect human research participants in clinical research. There are also public health concerns about how to encourage vaccination. All of these are very, very important and they are within the traditional boundaries of the field of bioethics. But too often bioethics has not really taken a deep look at the moral issues related to climate change.

Solomon believes that bioethicists need to break out of their silo to engage environmental scientists and ecologists so that they can deal with the weighty moral questions posed by climate change.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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