Tuesday, January 13, 2015

3. Bioethics and Environment - Quest for Quality of Life

In honor of His Holiness Pope Francis on his visit to the Philippines
 Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature - School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM, 8-9 evening class Monday to Friday

1. Man has emboldened the causative agents of human diseases – both old and new - into epidemic and pandemic proportions, which include HIV-AIDS, SARS, Ebola, and today’s threats of pandemic diseases, the Avian flu (caused by a new virus H5N1, a hybrid of the human flu virus and the bird fly virus) and obesity (caused by Ad36 virus) - and the most recent MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus).

2. Through biological specialization or mutation – natural and man-induced – causative agents have crossed natural barriers of transmission across species, such as bird to man (bird flu), civet cat to man (SARS), and primate to man (HIV-AIDS, and Ebola). Man has built bridges between the non-living to the living as well. We have paved the way for the Prion, an infectious protein, the causative agent of Mad Cow Disease or BSE (Bovine Spongiosform Encephalopathy) to cross from cattle to man and cause a similar disease affecting humans, the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD). Viruses have acquired new ability to infect and spread not only among humans but also in animals and plants. Viral diseases of plants have been responsible for the decrease in agricultural production in many parts of the world.

A Corner of Eden mural in acrylic by the author.
3. In the midst of enjoying the good life in a postmodern world more and more people are victims of accidents, heart attacks and strokes, anxiety and depression – and various forms of psychosomatic disorder - that often lead to ruined lives and suicides. Cancer, diabetes, and the deleterious consequences of vices (tobacco and alcohol), are on the rise among other modern diseases. Surprisingly, the number of years a person is healthy in proportion to his life span is not significantly longer than that of his predecessors, and that a person’s life span has not significantly increased at all. It is the average longevity of a population that has increased, not the individual’s. The fact is that modern medicine has increased survival of infants and young people, most of them are now in their past fifties, thus gross longevity appears to have increased, up to 78 years in some countries. On the contrary, more and more young people are getting sick and dying.

4. Modern society and science and technology no longer fit into the Darwinian theory of natural selection. There is a growing burden placed on the shoulders of the able and fit in our society who, without choice, is responsible in taking care of the growing number of dependents – many are the infirmed and the aged.

All these lead us to re-examine our values. It challenges us to look deeper into a paradigm of salvation through our concern for the environment. The prolificacy of the human species sans war and pestilence, plus growing affluence of our society has led to a population explosion which had doubled in less than fifty years. We are now 7.5 billion. Under this paradigm, there is no master and subject. All must join hands to prevent the exploitation of the earth’s finite resources. Today’s economists must also be good housekeepers of Nature, so with those in the other professions. While man’s aim is directed at the Good Life, he has unwittingly reduced the very foundation of that good life – the productivity and beauty of Mother Earth.
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There are few frontiers of production left today. We have virtually pushed back the sea and leveled off the mountain. Prime lands have all been taken, swamps have been drained, and even deserts are being reclaimed. But as we continue to explore the marginal edges of these frontiers the more we are confronted with high cost of production that is levied on the consumer, and more importantly, the danger of destroying the fragile environment. AVR
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Ecological paradigm endorses an ecocentric approach where all forms of life and non-life are important to human life. Spirituality points out to a unitive force: the sacredness of everything. God’s divinity flows in everything. There is integration in the universe. And we are part of that integration, exceedingly small as we are, notwithstanding. Under ecological paradigm of salvation, the one responsible in the destruction of the environment leading to loss of lives and properties should be held accountable for it to God, nature and fellowmen.

The environment and the economy need not be viewed as opposites. It is possible to have a healthy environment and a healthy economy at the same time. More and more businesses have begun adopting this concept as a business philosophy. People behind business organizations are becoming more aware of the ethical decisions they face, and their responsibility for their consequences.

Industrialization and urbanization are akin to each other. Industrial growth spurred the building of cities all over the world. Today there are as many people living in cities as those living the rural places. A mega-city like Tokyo has a population of 15 million people. We are 10 million in Metro Manila. Cities are fragile environments. Cities are more prone to epidemics such as the bubonic plague that killed one-third of the population of Europe in the 13th century. Now we are confronted with HIV-AID, SARs, Meningo cochcimia – and the dreaded Avian flu which hovers as the next human pandemic disease. AVR

There are organizations that have set some rules of governance of the environment, among them, GRI (Global Reporting Initiative), CERES (Coalition of Environmental Responsible Economies), and UNEP (United Nations Environmental Program). In line with these a multi- national corporation came up with the following thrusts:

• Restore and preserve the environment
• Reduce waste and pollution
• Education of the public on environmental conservation
• Work with government for sound and responsible environmental program
• Assess impact of business on the environment and communities.

This approach is gaining respect and more and more businesses are looking at this model with great interest and favor.

The Question of Governance

Dr. Tai cited three themes in order that man can live in harmony with nature. Man is part of the ecosystem, Man is steward of the earth, and Man is finite. Dr. Tai cited models with which man can change his views about the environment and change his style of living. We have also models in the business world, in the church, and in the government, in fact all sectors of society. There are models everywhere in this or that part of the world, whether developed or underdeveloped. There are as many models in less developed countries as in highly industrialized countries. It could be that the less developed are closer to tradition, and still have strong ethnic roots, like the old civilizations mentioned in the paper – the native cultures of America and Africa.

But the world has never been one. It has become more diverse in views and interests though in many respects share the same aspirations towards progress and development. And this is the problem. Man is always in a race. In that race awaits at the end not a prize mankind is proud of and honorable. It is tragedy, which Garett Hardin calls, the tragedy of the commons. It is a greedy competition for a finite resource, each his own, until it is gone. The forests are disappearing today, the lake are dying, the fields are getting marginal, the pastures are overgrazed, the air is loaded with destructive gases, the sea  is over fished. All these point out to the syndrome - tragedy of the commons. And because time is of the essence, many believe that the world needs a new revolution now? Is revolution the only way to solve global problems of the environment today?

Definitely, while we need to reform to save our environment, any means that is contrary to peace and unity, is definitely unacceptable. And we would not adhere to the rule of force or violence just to be able to succeed. It is said, that revolution starts in a small corner. It starts in this congress.

Ethics is the foundation of aesthetics; it is something very difficult to explain that makes beautiful more beautiful, rising to the highest level of philosophy where man find hope, inspiration, and peace. It is a beacon. While ethics sets the direction, aesthetics is its beautiful goal.

In closing I would like to thank Dr. Tai, for his scholarly and incisive paper from which I was not only able to prepare myself as a member of the panel of reactors, but found an opportunity to review and expand my current research works in ecology as well. Lastly, I would like to recite this short prayer I made for this International Congress on Bioethics, and dedicate it through the little child who visited the two workshops in the village and exclaimed. “But there are no neighbors! But there are no trees, birds, fields and mountains!”

Ecology Prayer


When my days are over,

Let me lie down to sleep
on sweet breeze and earth,
in the shade of trees
I planted in my youth;
since I had not done enough,
make, make my kind live
to carry on the torch,
while my dusts fall
to where new life begins –
even only an atom I shall be,
let me be with you,
dear Mother Earth.
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There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings…Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change …Mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens, the cattle and chicken sickened and died …There was a strange stillness… The Few birds seen anywhere were moribund, they trembled violently and could not fly. It is a spring without voices.
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
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