Friday, May 19, 2006

World: Two questions on ethics – one on life, one on death

A couple of adjacent news articles from May 6th made me uneasy at first. But looking back on them later, I find the ethical issues somewhat more murky.

Woman defends giving birth at the age of 63
A 63 year old psychiatrist is due to become Britain’s oldest mother. She underwent fertility treatment somewhere is the former Soviet Union, with a “maverick” Italian doctor, who I believe caused controversy in the past, with similar treatment for an over-sixty Rumanian woman.
After the death of her husband, this British woman married again in 2003, to a man who is now 60. She already has two adult children. Although they approved, she was criticised by sociologists, an IVF group, and her cousin, who said she was the same age “and when I look after my grandchildren I’m tired after 10 minutes”. On similar lines, another comment is that “he or she is going to be without a mother or father at the most crucial moment of adolescence or when that child is growing to maturity”.
So the factors include:
- ability to look after children late in life (including whether the mother is still alive!);
- There are definitely increased physical risks that can jeopardise the baby, including abnormal pregnancy situations, and arthritis, heart disease and cancer.
- On the other hand, there are plenty of instances of fathers – rich and poor – who have children naturally when they’re past sixty, including Clint Eastwood, Rupert Murdoch and, I seem to recall from a few years ago, a claim about someone who was around ninety. Of course, it is rare but possible for men to be fertile in this age group;
On the whole, I would accede to the uniform judgment of Western medical systems, who have refused treatment for people this old, presumably on ethical grounds.

Director leaps to defense of bridge suicide film
People seem to make films about anything these days. Plenty have caused moral outrage, and a subset of those encapsulate ethical issues.
This furore is over a film about suicide at a popular venue, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Camera crews were set up to monitor activity during all daylight hours of 2004, and recorded 23 suicides, six of which were shown in the film. They zoomed in on people showing erratic behaviour. The director said the crews notified officials whenever someone climbed over the railing, and said this saved lives. I’d note here that suicide is typically planned with little certainty, and a failed attempt doesn’t necessarily result in a later successful attempt.
- is this a snuff movie?
- Would it encourage more copycat suicides?
- Would it encourage officials to post cameras themselves?
I guess the two main issues around this exercise is whether it would lead to more or less suicides, and whether the suicides should be shown on a film. The director’s stated intent was to “save lives by raising awareness”, but intentions and outcomes are often at odds.

On the whole, I’d be inclined to think the first situation is not ethically sound, while the second one is not ethically unsound. But I’m not yet thoroughly convinced either way. Thoughts, comments?

No comments: