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Global Bio Ethics - A Critical Review of Potter's Book

Updated on January 22, 2012

Global Bioethics is a text that focuses on the relationships between medical and ecological bioethics. The primary emphasis of this text is to introduce the reader to the notion of survival of the human species and how it is dependent on our ability to preserve the health of our natural environment. The purpose of this paper is to discuss Potter’s basic argument in Global Bioethics, and to assess both Potter’s ethical strengths and weaknesses. This will be accomplished by assessing four positions that Potter holds. In each case, specific examples will be given to back up or reinforce my position.

In Global Bioethics Potter believes survival of the human species is at risk and thus he explains several aspects surrounding human existence that must change in order to promote a sustainable livable ecosystem. As Potter states, “Survival Cannot Be Assumed [without] “new knowledge of how to use knowledge” (Potter, 37). Potter holds the position that the concept of survival must be built on the science of biology, and it must also include aspects of the social sciences and humanities with a solid emphasis on philosophy. Both biological knowledge and human values are at the core ecological bioethics. Knowledge of and understanding biology is a prerequisite to understanding our ecosystem and thus preserving our natural environment. Potter argues that we need biologists who can tell us “what we can and must do to survive and what we cannot and must not do if we hope to maintain and improve the quality of life that we are accustomed to” (Potter, 38). Human values are those things that preserve our culture – equally important to human survival. As Potter states, “the fate of the world rests on the integration, preservation, and extension of the knowledge that is possessed by a relatively small number of people” (Potter, 39). With that said, Potter’s basic argument is that we must learn more about how our behavior as a species affects the ecosystem in which we live. Potter believes that dilemmas in medical bioethics need to be addressed and corrected if we are to sustain acceptable survival as a species. We will discuss examples of such cases in the forth coming sections.

In a fundamental sense, ecological bioethics focuses on the long-term view of acceptable survival of the human species. It is in this sense that ecological bioethics and medical bioethics contrast each other. Medical bioethics focuses on the ethics regarding short-term care of individuals. Regarding the bioethical issue of teenage abortion, Potter argues that those who oppose abortion most outwardly cannot agree on how teenagers should be helped to avoid pregnancy and abortion which includes sex education and increased availability of contraceptives. In contrast, Potter favors abortion and sex education and preventative contraceptives, in fact, not only does he favor it but it he tends to assert that abortion and sex education is critical to long-term acceptable survival of the human species. As previously stated, this issue is not necessarily geared towards adult women in which the issue is a matter of informed consent; rather it is geared towards minors who legally are unable to be granted informed consent. Potter suggests a family policy that will insist that responsibility of abortion begins with the individual, then the family. He believes education and information regarding pregnancy prevention should be readily available to minors. Additionally, he also suggests that teenagers be granted the right to choose abortion in a safe and legal manner.

Potters logic and advocacy of abortion is focused on reducing the population of the human species. This method of thinking is based on Leopolds’s land ethic which suggests that the human species is responsible for the preservation of the natural environment and holding the human population within the carrying capacity on the planet earth.

I agree with Potters ethical position on abortion, and sex education. Placing the initial responsibility on the individual grants them the autonomy to make the decisions they feel is in their best interest. This includes teenagers. Building on that and holding the family accountable also makes sense.

Next, I disagree with Potter’s concepts of selective non-treatment especially as it pertains to infants. Potter argues that the development of medical technologies that aid in the ability of prolonging life, especially those lives which are not regarded as “meaningful” should be seriously questioned if the ultimate result is destined to be a “grotesque fragmented, or inordinately expensive existence” (Potter, 114). As Potter states, the end result is frequently concealed and today parents are being pressured to believe that their “defective infant is salvageable by medical science” (Potter, 113). In this case, I believe the greater good or proportionality would argue that parents who choose to do anything possible to save their “defective” infant are behaving ethically by attempting to save a loved one. I believe there is greater risk of not attempting to save the infant than there is to try and save them.

Potter’s concept of person health, that is,” health that is the property of a responsible, cognitive, sentient person who is active in maintaining or improving his or her own mental and physical condition” is an interesting step in attempting to increase individual accountability for one’s own health (Potter, 157). The idea behind the person health concept is that individuals and families should take responsibility for the number of children in a family to a manageable number in order to improve the overall long-term quality of our environment. Potter’s concept of person health is supported by the notion that people can do much to preserve their own health and prevent disease if they are only willing to take the responsibility and be accountable. Again, I agree with this concept because I feel that personal autonomy should not allow individuals to hurt themselves, rather it should be used to promote a healthy lifestyle. I strong believe that individuals need to take responsibility for their families, health, and lifestyle. They need to take responsibility to improve their personal physical and mental health.

Finally, I tend to disagree with Potter’s views on organ transplants involving adults. Potter seems to recommend relaxing the requirements as to when a patient is considered brain-dead, and available as a donor. Additionally, he suggests removing donor age limits, and creating emergency rooms teams especially equipped for such cases. In doing this, he believes we will increase the number of donated organs. I disagree with this approach because I believe this may lead to possibly rushed donations in which people are not given optimal treatment, but rather quickly considered dead so their organs can be harvested.

In closing, I have discussed four of Potter’s positions that pertain to ecological and medical bioethics. Potter’s makes strong cases for each; however, I do believe that focusing on the long-term survival of the human species is flawed and results in less than desired short-term care for individuals. Perhaps a combination of both short-term and long-term survival is in order. Only time will tell.

Click here to read more reviews of Global Bioethics: Building on the Leopold Legacy.

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