Complexity in Bioethics

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Complexity (L-complexitas) is perhaps the most essential characteristic of our present day global networking interdependent society. The traditional scientific method, which is based on analysis, isolation, and the gathering of complete information about a phenomenon, falls short when dealing with such complex interdependencies. Belgian cyberneticist Francis Paul Heylighen use of the emerging science of ‘complexity’ as an alternative methodology capable of tackling such problems. In philosophical context, the science of complexity is based on a new way of thinking standing in contrast to Newtonian science which is primarily based on reductionism, determinism and objective knowledge.

Newton believed his laws provided an inductive scientific methodology and constituted a paradigm shiŃ– from both Aristotelian syllogistic logic and the deductive tendencies of Descartes. Philosopher and epistemologist Carlos Eduardo Maldonado argues for the ‘complexificDtion’ of bioethics and widening the bioethics working spectrum from a limited anthropocentric view to a larger and deeper comprehension. I share his belief that we should consider the ongoing complexity in bioethics as an opportunity to enrich the ethical, political, social and philosophical ‘spectrum of life’. Bioethics undoubtedly represents a complex intellectual multifaceted phenomenon.

 Although an established scholarly academic fieldit still struggles to find a clear methodology and the coherence of an epistemological canon. Because it rests upon the contribution of different disciplines, bioethics can be described as an ‘open system’ whose questions can never be settled on the basis of one perspective alone; interdisciplinary enterprises are, by definition continuous ,Yet the lack of a sense of finality in bioethics can hardly be understood as the result of only methodological instability. Such a position would implicitly entail the idea that ethical reflection operates with theoretical resources of a purely formal nature, whose meaning can be determined independently of contextual variables and historical presuppositions.

A bioethics inspired by the notion of solidarity calls for a genuinely pluralist normative system that recognizes and sustains a mode of thinking equally distant from excessive privatization, on the one hand, and overweening state control on the other. Solidarity thinking pleads for a notion of democracy that entails a vision of tolerance and understanding of the importance of cultural traditions, the realization that the essence of democracy is the freedom which belongs to citizens endowed with a conscience. In the ethical voice of political theorist and philosopher Vaclav Havel: “We must trust the voice of our conscience more than that of all abstract speculations and not invent other responsibilities than the one to which the voice calls us. We must not be ashamed that we are capable of love, friendship, solidarity, sympathy and tolerance, but just the opposite: we must see these fundamental dimensions of our humanity free from their ‘private’ exile and accept them as the only genuine starting point of meaningful human community.” This is the voice of an ethical polity.

Were such voice to prevail, the way in which our ethical dilemmas are adjudicated, including those emerging from bioethics, would be rich and complex enough to enable us to see the public and civic consequences of our private choices, even as it would guard against intrusion into our intimate lives. Ethical dilemmas are inescapably political and political questions are unavoidably ethical. Bioethical dilemmas can never be insulated from politics, nor should they be. But the way in which such complex matters are addressed will very much turn on the social and political framework to which the ethicist, the doctor, the patient, and the wider interested community are indebted.

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Journal of Clinical Research and Bioethics
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