‘Getting ethics’: voices in harmony in bioethics
It has become normal to describe the process of submitting research for ethical review and approval as ‘getting ethics’. I want to suggest, however, that in another sense it is becoming increasingly common that people fail to ‘get ’ ethics in the sense of appreciating what is involved – not in ethical review of research per se , but more widely, and in bioethics in particular. This is the case in society at large, where in the past few years we have witnessed a number of scandals, in the United Kingdom at least, affecting many of our institutions, including Parliament, the financial sector, the Church, the BBC and the press. What has been interesting, if dispiriting, about these scandals has been the ways in which the participants involved apparently did not get, or overlooked, the ethical aspects involved in, for example, phone hacking and expense fiddling, and yet they seemed obvious to outraged members of the electorate. Some Members of Parliament who were involved in the expenses scandal said they were ‘obeying the rules’ as if that was the end of the ethical discussion. In bioethics, however, we have seen a different phenomenon. There may be very widespread appreciation of the fact that issues such as euthanasia, genetic manipulation, stem cell research and others regarded as ‘matters of life and death’ have ethical dimensions. What has been controversial is the nature and value of the academic field, which has come under criticism from a number of different directions .