New Book Re-examines Medical Ethics

Cloning, egg donation, genetic screening and other new medical technologies conjure up images of mad scientists creating a “perfect race.” But in his new book Recreating Medicine: Ethical Issues at the Frontiers of Medicine, UAB philosopher Greg Pence, Ph.D., tries to the dispel misconceptions often fueled by bioethicists.

June 2, 2000

BIRMINGHAM, AL — Cloning, egg donation, genetic screening and other new medical technologies conjure up images of mad scientists creating a “perfect race.” But in his new book Recreating Medicine: Ethical Issues at the Frontiers of Medicine, UAB philosopher Greg Pence, Ph.D., tries to the dispel misconceptions often fueled by bioethicists.

Bioethicists have conditioned the public to fear cloning, genetic screening, egg donation, surrogate motherhood and other new technologies, says Pence, who argues that “most of bioethics is wrongly nay-saying, anti-technology and fearful of slippery slopes.”

“We must begin rethinking some of those ethical principles we have that may have come from older times when we couldn’t do certain things like conduct therapeutic embryo cloning or keep brain dead bodies alive,” Pence said.

Pence, author of the 1997 book Whose Afraid of Human Cloning? (Rowman and Littlefield) supports payment for sperm, embryos or surrogate motherhood and continuing the ban on federal funding for embryo research to prevent federal regulation of private clinics conducted from research in assisted reproduction. He also believes states should consider paying families of brain dead patients $1,000 to boost organ donation.

"It’s not that it [paying for organs] doesn’t have a downside, but the downside isn’t so terrible that thousands of lives should be sacrificed to avoid it,” Pence said.

In Recreating Medicine, Pence illustrates his call for reviewing today’s bioethics with the life of the controversial 19th century Alabama physician J. Marion Sims, M.D. Sims, who pioneered the field of obstetrics/gynecology, came under fire when he performed the first artificial insemination of sperm that produced a pregnancy.

For his efforts, Sims’ research was condemned and he stopped the practice. Artificial insemination did not become common for another 100 years. The criticism of Sims’ research was the negative effect of misplaced moral criticism, Pence said.

“You can imagine all of the fights and accusations that occurred surrounding this issue when there was actually a way to help people create babies. This example shows that if the ethics are outdated, there are [consequences] for not re-examining them.

“We are afraid of these new medical techniques like cloning and genetic screening, but we tend to forget the dangers of the ordinary mundane things. For instance, we could make a law that pregnant mothers could not smoke or drink. The research shows that this would help a lot of babies. But people would think such a law was nuts because smoking and drinking are familiar dangers. We tend not to talk about the ordinary, familiar dangers and instead focus on the far off science fiction dangers.”

Pence also discuses the new cybermedicine and how the Internet is affecting doctor-patient relationships, confidentiality and the empowerment of patients via listservs and Usenet groups.

For review copies of Re-creating Medicine: Ethical Issues at the Frontiers of Medicine, call 1-800-462-6420.