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FIRST...DO NO HARM!

Updated on January 24, 2013

The ethics of Moral responsibility

Over the past several decades, certain patterns of human behaviour became widely dissemnated in the cultural landscape, resulting in the disruption of the communal fabric. The concept of personal moral responsibility was lost in some quarters and compromised in others. An idea one hoped was not irreversibly deconstructed is the verity of man's innate worth and dignity. Marcus Aurelius, ever the stoic, found dignity and worth in man's attempts to cope with the most trying of life's vicissitudes. An ethical counterpoint was Epicurus' idea that should one decide to actively avoid these inequities, it should be tempered by tranquility, prudence, and justice. Stoicism and Epicureanism as ethical guideposts, all but vanished from a landscape populated by people whose moral compass could not divert them from a life of the fruitless pursuit of instant but ephemeral gratification.

From a purely personal point of view, the doctor's oath to "first,.... do no harm" (in dealing with his patients), is an ethical guidepost that could and should be applied to other areas of human interaction. From an entirely philosophic point of view, Immanuel Kant's sense of ethical aesthetics was based on two seemingly unrelated ideas:(1) doing one's duty is far more important than  being happy, and (2) even if people can predict what one is going to do in a particular situation, their prediction must not conflict with the use of their 'free will'.

The above ethical directions can be aptly applied to the case (as reported by the news media) of the college freshman who took his own life when he found out that his roomate and the roomate's girlfriend recorded his intimate homosexual encounter in his dorm room, then broadcasted it via You Tube. An important question that was not asked by the media was :If he was involved in a heterosexual encounter, would the college student have killed himself?

The truth is, there is still such a cultural bias against homosexuality that the boy consequently thought it better to end his life rather than face the torment of societal animosity to an act that is and should have remained private. Knowing or perhaps anticipating the extreme unhappiness that he would feel because of his prediction of a rabidly negative response of society at large to the live broadcast of his homosexual encounter, did he evade doing his duty to do no harm to himself, by committing suicide? Even if he correctly predicted that society would be severe in its reaction to his encounter, did that conflict with the use of his free will to do his duty to not harm himself? Was the invasion of his privacy by his roomate and roomate's girlfriend counterbalanced by their need to be happy. Was their sense of moral responsibility overwhelmed by their need for instantaneous kick and gratification. Even if they could predict what their peer would do in a situation they caged him in, did the exercise of their free will conflict with what they ultimately decided to do.?

Going back to the doctor's ethical viewpoint.... the truth is, medical research is delving deeper and deeper into the physio-pathology of intra-uterine fetal growth and development, and it is entirely possible that a rational/medical intrauterine basis for homosexuality would be discovered. Should that rational basis be found to be amenable to medical intervention intra-uterinely, would the medical community find it ethical to propose to sociey at large the use of such treament, so as to banish the "scourge" of homosexuality, thus homophobia, from the cultural landscape?

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