Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bioethics Part 2: Turn halls into war rooms.

Bioethics Part 2: Turn halls into war rooms.
Dr Abe V Rotor

Happy faces. Participants in an ecology seminar, Faculty of
Pharmacy, University of Santo Tomas
with author, 2010.

Author’s Note: In the first part of this series, I described our society in the like of a global village where cultures, races, creeds, and the like, are converging, the East and West in a continuing interaction since Columbus time. Then I raised some scientific findings that are revolutionizing man’s thinking today. Lastly I asked, “Can man lead a life in which he can see and realize the true beauty of life?

In this second part I put forward, Halls are seldom made into war rooms. It is important I believe, to raise warning so that we may not fall victims to the syndrome of The Fiddler on the Roof. In the novel of the same title, a Jewish community which was finely built by tradition, perished holding onto it in the face of a fast changing world, and cruel one at that.

As I listened to a lecture Science as Critique of Society, these scenarios, which are happening outside of the hall, came rushing into my mind. I am sure the audience invariably shared with me in the imagery of these current events.

o The whole world holds its breath at the current crisis in North Africa and the Middle East, the stubborness of North Korea and Iran on nuclear disarmament, the US extended presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many countries are already suffering of the psychological effects and possible consequences, which many leaders predict to be worst than the US financial meltdown and its consequences on global economy. Perople's revolution sweeping the Arab would may lead to a more serious consequence. Some believe it could spread into a global conflict, if not a third world war.

o Terrorism is today's enemy of the world, its tentacles already grown widespread even before the 911 attacks on the World Trade Center, NY. As a boundless, invisible organization built on hate, it undermines the present world order, particularly capitalism. We have our own share of terrorism in the Philippines and it is a serious one.

o More than conventional weapons, terrorism is employing biological and chemical warfare – and not remote, nuclear weapons - the very tools used by the superpowers themselves against their “enemies.” These weapons are around us and may be right in our backyard. It is not remote that the Philippines is in the target list.

o Polarization is not limited to politics; it extends as well to religion, reminiscent of the Dark Ages, when people were pitted against each other by their faiths. Mindanao is not remote in becoming an arena of religious conflict.

The hall was attentively silent. I did not quite understand why these issues were generally left out. The lecture nonetheless provided the ambiance of these scenarios.

o Oil prices continue to spiral with four increases in price in a row, triggering increase in prime communities and basic services, exacerbating our already weak economy. Global energ crisis looms the current conflict in the Middle East and North Africa, the world's main suplliers of oil,

o Mass evacuation of Overseas Workers who are in the war zone has nightmare stories to tell. Two things our country loses everyday: tremendous cost of evacuation and slowdown of dollar flow from the remittances of the OFWs.

o To worsen our fear the world has plunged into another climatic episode, this time La Niña, a climatic phenomenon characterized by extreme rainfall and flood in one part or the other on the globe. Spontaneous forest and brush fires are occurring in Australia, US and Indonesia. The Philippines is experiencing poor harvest in rice and corn and this is expected to continue until next year.

o Food security as key to maintain our economy is difficult to attain, what with 10 percent production shortfall in rice, 30 to 40 percent in corn? We also fall short in the production of meat, poultry, fruits and vegetables. Yet we have IRRI and UPLB, the alma mater of scientists of foreign countries that now export agricultural products to us in exchange for the knowledge they earned.

o For a rich agricultural country such as ours, the need for a huge buffer stock is ultimate recourse since it is feasible to build one from local harvest. But this is not the case. For this year, we have imported rice in the tune of one million MT (more than one-half of our present buffer stock) from Thailand and Vietnam, and a part from China, Pakistan and India.

o On the side of space science and technology, the bold plan of the US to send man into space has been dwarfed since NASA’s space shuttle Columbia exploded on impact with the earth’s atmosphere as it was returning from a successful mission. All 7 astronauts were killed. Definitely this accident has set back man’s conquest in space. It is a requiem for mankind, following John Donne’s “A little bit of each of us dies.” (On the Death of Strangers)

o It is a paradox that in this modern age of medicine, one of the leading causes of death in US hospitals is doctor’s error, chiefly wrong diagnosis. Yet we are going to embark into a new field of medicine, gene therapy. Are doctors really prepared for it?

o Now this is interesting. Among the ten major causes of death in industrialized countries are those associated with the good life such as heart attack, severe depression, accidents, diabetes, and the like. What is good life then?

o On the other hand millions of people die every year from the ancient scourge of mankind – tuberculosis, respiratory diseases, infections, childbirth, and many other diseases associated with poverty and malnutrition.

o The lack of doctors and healthcare exacerbates the suffering of millions more, especially the children, who are victims of malnutrition and poverty. We witness the growth of slums, and a runaway population, and we stand there unable to alleviate their plight.

According to Susan George in her book, How the Other Half Dies, people either have too much or too little. As this is traced to his nature and the institutions he made. Because it is a question of governance, man holds much faith in his ability to solve the problems of his society. But the UN has not lived up to the expectations of the world. The EEC is too regionalistic, so with ASEAN. But the holding of summits and conferences attests to man’s immanent goodness, and in spite of our limitations we have gone a long way towards progress.

Indeed science has definitely contributed to man’s success to this point. But to where does science ultimately lead us?

Science should challenge the intellect, touch the heart, show the path the citizen should take, and enlighten the man on the street.

Let us consider these issues.

o Sixty percent of us Filipinos live below the poverty line.
o Exodus to cities and abroad seems unstoppable.
o There is breakdown in peace and order.
o Loss of species is rampant, but loss of entire ecosystems is more damaging.
o Liberalization is trade and commerce exacerbates the gaps between rich and poor nations.
o Values seem to be taken for granted.
o Conditions in the slums are virtually sub-human.
o Forty percent of our youth do not practice their religion.
o Ignorance and illiteracy is prevalent – and increasing.
o Government service is generally poor and riddled with graft and corruption.
o Diseases can develop into epidemic proportion as in the case of bird flu and SARS.

It is an open-ended list of issues science should address itself. But we can not wait too long.

While the conflict in North Africa and the Middle East rages, global warming is stirring the cauldron of global climate and local weather, more and more natural and man-induced calamities at increasing intensity such as the eathquakes in Haiti, Per, and the latest - Japan with a new record of 8.8 on the Reicher Scale. Hope dims and faith may not hold on for long. As the world prays, the hall is silent.

Meantime North Korea’s nuclear program has emerged as a new threat to the region and to the world. But South Korea, which is expected to reunify with the North soon, is apparently undisturbed - seemingly so with certain countries. Will US apply stricter sanctions on North Korea? Will Japan now consider re-armament? What is our stand with these developments? Is this the beginning of a third force? As the world waits, the hall is silent.

Where is peace and quiet for man and his society?

Meantime in a junior science quiz, a contestant writes “baby frog” for a tadpole. And the audience laughs. ~


The third part is entitled, The Riddle of the Sphinx – Are we in our sunset as a species? It is a lengthy discourse showing how vulnerable is the human species toward extinction – a vulnerability of his own making.

The fourth part is Bioethics – Expression of Values. It is a first hand account based on the author’s own experience in making a crucial decision in bioethics. Bioethics has expanded into various disciplines from its former confines in medicine and healthcare. It challenges a critic a deep responsibility - that ethics and virtue must go together. (Please use Search in the blog to access this article.)


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