February 24, 2024

Bioethics and The Dark Knight massacre

Hi there,

I was just about to send out this week’s newsletter when news trickled in that a 24-year-old dressed in combat gear had opened fire in a crowded movie theatre in Colorado and killed at least 12 people and wounded about 60 others. It was the midnight premiere of the latest Batman sequel, The Dark Knight

This is a depressingly familiar story. The killer had no police record, was a well-educated white male and seemed like a harmless loner. He was equipped with protective armour and an arsenal of lethal weapons. 

If I were living in the US, I would be an enthusiastic supporter of tougher restrictions on guns, especially on automatic weapons. But gun control is only one answer; it is not the solution. Guns are much harder to obtain here in Australia than in the US, but I have lived in two cities where madmen opened fire and killed people (Strathfield 8; Port Arthur 35). 

Over the coming weeks, the media will trawl through the life of James Holmes for clues. They will dissect the dark message of the movie, his family background, his computer games, his inability to get a job in California, a national crisis in masculinity, his political views, his religious views, and even his engagement with neuroscience (he had just dropped out of a PhD program). No doubt each of these will shed a chink of light into the dark pit of his soul. 

But in the end, we will never know why. A massacre like this places us before a blank wall, the age-old problem of the existence of evil. 

Can contemporary bioethics help us to cope? After all, its bread and butter is life, death and suffering. However, I am sure that its leading lights will fall silent before this tragedy. The Ethikos in bio-ethics — all the protocols, statistics and problem-solving logic — has become hypertrophied at the expense of the Bios — what life is and what it means.  Most bioethicists focus on how to avoid suffering rather than on how to find meaning in it. But shouldn’t bioethics be able to direct us toward some existential relief? What do you think? 


Michael Cook
Bioethics falls silent when faced with an eruption of evil like the one which happened in Aurora, Colorado, on the opening night of The Dark Knight.