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Ethical Filters

Dreamed 1996/7/31 by Chris Wayan

I'm a federal bureaucrat--and unapologetic about it. The medical professions need to be policed. I'm a floating investigator, myself--a shaman inspector. It's part accounting--I go in and check the books of doctors of all kinds, to make sure they're not raising the cost of insurance. But it's part medical ethicist and cross-cultural expert, too.

There's a traditional African recipe, for example, that requires a kitten thrown alive into a boiling pot. Should I disallow that on grounds of cruelty? That particular shaman argues "Western medicine kills millions of animals slowly in drug testing. And then there's your slaughterhouses! You eat meat, don't you!" Well, no, I don't, and I don't casually sanction lab-animal deaths, either.

The REAL questions are, is the illness your recipe cures FATAL? And is the cure PROVEN to be effective? Does NOTHING else work? And is the kitten absolutely ESSENTIAL? If any of these are false, why even consider it? Only if all four are true, do the shaman's cultural arguments become worth even weighing. I might be swayed, if it's clearly a trade of an animal life for a human life--but somehow, when looked at closely, nearly every case fails one or more of my four preliminary filters.

A real death now, for some uncertain future gain, just won't pass my test. My job is to weigh real losses and gains--not of money, that's a cultural artifact, a fantasy--but of life and death. That's always been a shaman's job. It's just that... standards have risen. We have to look beyond tradition.


I do think my dream's Four Principles are viable. Applicable to animal testing, the death penalty, bombing civilians, or indeed most other inflictions of suffering now for nebulous future goods.
  1. Are you saving LIVES? And if it's NOT life or death, by what right do you drag death in?
  2. Is your cure PROVEN? How can we be sure your sacrifices won't be for nothing?
  3. Does NOTHING else work? Show us why your solution is the ONLY one.
  4. Is this sacrifice ABSOLUTELY essential for your method? No work-arounds at all? Why not?

If these four criteria aren't ALL met, why even CONSIDER doing evil now for future good?

And how often can they all be met?

Not very. Not bloody very.

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