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Medical Ethics

Duration:
30 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 16 December 1999

Melvyn Bragg examines the technological advances and ethics of modern medicine. On an average working day about three quarters of a million of us go to the doctor’s. About a hundred thousand are visited by nurses and other health professionals. Then there are the three hundred thousand that go to the dentist. Health is a central preoccupation. It is also big business, saving life, lengthening life and even promising a stab at eternal life. Yet while some technology is Space Age, the morality is often not far away from the Stone Age. Who decides who lives or dies? Insurance firms, for instance, want genetic information - should they have it? Stem cell research - hailed by many as an extraordinary advance - now runs into conflict with those who do not want the human embryo to be, as they see it, abused. In the 16th century Francis Bacon told us in his Advancement of Learning “Medicine is a science which hath been more professed than laboured, and yet more laboured than advanced: the labour having been, in my judgement, rather in a circle than in a progression”. Well, after a century that has brought us penicillin, the discovery of DNA, heart transplants and key-hole surgery, have we finally escaped the loop? Or does our ethical application of what we can technologically achieve mean we are marching in Bacon’s circle still? With Barry Jackson, consultant surgeon and President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England; Professor Sheila McLean, Director of the Institute of Law and Ethics in Medicine, Glasgow University.

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