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The Challenge of Nonconfrontational Ethics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 March 2011


Matti Häyry’s new book is deliberately challenging; it tells six contemporary bioethicists, and all who share their methodologies or even their general approach, that they have got it badly wrong. From the striking photograph of Häyry himself on the front cover to the very last line, the genetic challenge is issued and elaborated. Häyry has divided his protagonists into three pairs, of which I find myself a member, and this makes responding a duty as well as a pleasure. Although I cannot speak for my partner in crime, Jonathan Glover, I am at least in the very best of all possible company.

Special Section: Methodology in Philosophical Bioethics
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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1. Coggon, J.Confrontations in “genethics”: Rationalities, challenges, and methodological responses. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2011;20(1):46–55.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

2. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary Third Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1968.Google Scholar

3. The word safe, of course, can only mean safe enough, the degree of risk being relative to the quantum of benefit.

4. Häyry, M.Rationality and the Genetic Challenge: Making People Better? Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2010:41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5. See note 4, Häyry 2010:40.

6. See note 4, Häyry 2010:238.

7. See note 4, Häyry 2010:31. Here Häyry attributes a view to Jonathan Glover and me (which I believe neither of us holds). He then says complainingly, “This, I would like to argue, is not consequentialism in its purest form” as if (a) we are committed to consequentialism in that form and (b) we are committed to the view he ascribes to us!

8. See, for example, Häyry’s attribution to me, without any evidence or citation, of a range of things I have never said. See note 4, Häyry 2010:31, para 2 (discussed in more detail below).

9. See note 4, Häyry 2010:31, note 36.

10. See note 8.

11. See note 4, Häyry 2010:29–39.

12. Harris, J.Wonderwoman and Superman. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1992.Google Scholar

13. See Harris, J.Enhancing Evolution. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press; 2007:168ffGoogle Scholar, and Harris, J.The Value of Life. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; 1985:10–27Google Scholar, 134, and 162.

14. Cook, P.Tragically I Was an Only Twin. Cook, W, ed. London: Arrow Books; 1993:101.Google Scholar

15. See note 4, Häyry 2010:30.

16. See also Harris, J.The concept of the Person and the value of life. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 1999;9(4):293–308.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

17. Because when infants acquire personhood is essentially an empirical and hence objective matter on my theory, there will be some uncertainty in individual cases.

18. See note 16, Harris 1999.

19. Harris, J.It’s not NICE to discriminate. Journal of Medical Ethics 2005;31(7):373–5CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed. See also Harris, J. Resource allocation, victims of circumstance. In: Singer, P, Kuhse, H, eds. A Companion to Bioethics, 2nd ed., Oxford: Basil Blackwell; 2009:374.Google Scholar

20. Indeed, Häyry himself knows that there is no reason for any such presumption because he states on page 214 of his book that “for Harris the point of our existence—its ‘meaning’—is to lead worthwhile lives; and anything that interrupts this against our own wishes is bad.”

21. See note 13, Harris 2007, note 13, Harris 1985, and note 16, Harris 1999.

22. Locke, J.An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. London: Oxford University Press; 1964:bk II, p. 188.Google Scholar

23. See note 13, Harris 2007, and note 13, Harris 1985.

24. See note 4, Häyry 2010:31.

25. I do not suppose that this brief summary of my position on the moral status of embryos or fetuses is set out in sufficient detail to be convincing. For that, please see my The Value of Life (see note 13). I merely summarize the argument here to show that, valid or not, it is not what Häyry thinks it is.

26. Although I do, like almost every other theorist, use consequentialist arguments, and in my own case, admittedly somewhat frequently.

27. See note 4, Häyry 2010:40.

28. “Was this ambition?” See Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar for the irony of this note and this quote!

29. See note 4, Häyry 2010:225.

30. See my espousal of Marx’s famous remark from Theses on Fuerbach, No XI, in Feuer, LS, ed. Marx and Engels. London: Collins Fontana; 1972Google Scholar, cited in my Wonderwoman and Superman, note 12, p. 162.