Sunday, September 2, 2012

Moltmann on medical ethics

In the theology reading group we recently read and discussed the chapters on medical ethics in Jurgen Moltmann's new book, Ethics of Hope. 
I think we were all a little disappointed. On a wide range of topics from abortion to euthanasia, he simply presented his opinions, without giving much rationale for them. In particular, it was disappointing that it wasn't clear why his specific views were correlated with or followed from the framework of eschatological ethics he advocates. In the introductory chapters he argued (almost contentiously and pedantically) that this framework was the only appropriate ethical framework. Yet, it wasn't clear that the views he holds on medical ethics were really any different from what might be argued from the general principles "always value life and be compassionate and non-judgemental."

There are also two relevant social justice issues that he did not mention and I think deserve more study and debate.

First, in the Western world incredibly large sums of money are spent on briefly extending the life span of terminally ill patients. Yet this money could be spent on actually saving the lives of numerous people in the developing world dying from preventable diseases.

Second, in the Western world very large sums of money get spend on medical research to  try and find cures or treatments for increasingly obscure and rare diseases that afflict small numbers of people. Sometimes these receive considerable attention and funding because they are suffered by a celebrity or one of their family members. Meanwhile, in the non-Western world research is needed into finding low-cost treatments for much less "glamorous" and more common diseases.
This disparity of resources is a major ethical issue.

If I know I am going to die of cancer in say 6 months am I a good steward to spend $100,000s of someone's money (mine, my family's, the government, or an insurance company?) just to undergo an expensive treatment or surgery that may prolong my life for an extra month or so?

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