Ethics in Medicine and Scientific Research
Bioethics is an interdisciplinary endeavor focusing on ethical, legal and policy issues that arise in the context of human-subjects research, the bio-sciences, and health care delivery, policy, and research. Recent decades have witnessed an upsurge in the popularity of Bioethics as the public has become aware of the many palpable ways in which advances in science and information technology confront us with choices that may challenge "for better or for worse" important social values. For example, now that it is technically possible to clone a human being, under what circumstances, if any, would be it permissible to do so? Now that it is possible to gather and to share large databases of health related information about people, what standards ought to govern the use of this information?
Research in bioethics at Carnegie Mellon is emblematic of the University's interdisciplinary orientation and enlivened by the distinctively rich set of resources available to our community. For example, Alex London's recent work in bioethics focuses mainly on foundational issues concerning the ethics of human subjects research and methodological questions concerning the relationship between theoretical and applied ethics. As new drugs, devices, or procedures are developed for use in medical settings, fundamental questions arise about how to reconcile the need for rigorous scientific evaluation of these innovations with the need to ensure that the interests of present persons are not knowingly sacrificed for the welfare of future patients. Understanding the ethical foundations of responsible research therefore involves integrating the ethical values that must inform the design of individual clinical trials with statistical and methodological constraints on scientifically viable research. This provides fertile ground for collaboration between ethicists like London and those who work on foundational issues in statistics like Seidenfeld (Philosophy) and Kadane (Statistics). It also provides a point of contact between the department's strengths in ethics and the University's initiatives in developing innovative medical devices and for biotechnology research more generally.
Bioethical issues also provide some of the substantive content for department's research in New Media for Applied Ethics. Here, topics such as the moral status of abortion or the right to die are combined with an exploration of the possibilities for dynamic moral deliberation made possible by interactive multi-media.