Modern ethical dilemmas

August 26th, 2008
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The complexity of modern life leaves many of at a loss when confronting some social situations. It was heartening therefore when CBC Radio One recently devoted an afternoon call-in show to one of these problems.


The weighty problem they chose was … wait for it … the “complicated ethics of plastics”. Yeah, plastics.
Some readers may recall the unforgettable line from The Graduate (1967) suggesting the keen young man should seek a career in the “sure thing” of the future – p l a s t i c s. Even further back in cinematic history (It’s a Wonderful Life) the protagonist, Jimmy Stewart, is tempted to join his childhood friend in the big city to work in the emerging industry – you guessed it.
So despite its ubiquity, plastic has a certain cachet. It may still be a surprise o some of us that they pose some kind of ethical dilemma that each of us should be agonizing over. But apparently there is; so just get with it.
The dilemma is of course about recycling, and the matter at hand is getting educated about it. Which of our containers are recyclable, what do the plastic numbers (e.g. 1 to 6) mean, etc.?
This is serious, and a necessary subject for debate. Good thing there are no other, pressing ethical matters to divert our attention.
Too bad I was perusing a recent copy of First Things, which unfortunately muddied the waters. FT reported on legislation passed in Britain last May. It seems that the landmark “Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill” had some innocuous features hardly worth discussing. For example, it legalizes the “genetic screening of embryos to select ‘saviour siblings … as well as the creation of animal-human hybrids”. The former appears intent on enabling the growing of genetically compatible spare parts for people, while the latter – with a tip of the hat to the Island of Dr. Moreau – is intended to assist medical research. No problem there.
An extra throw-in of the Bill was to remove any requirement to acknowledge the role of the father in artificial insemination. This is certainly a relief to many who wish to avail them selves of those services.
Readers will be gratified to know that, besides a Raymond de Souza article in the National Post (which I missed), and the aforementioned article in FT, there’s been not so much as a ripple about this legislation in our popular media. So, despite our federal Liberals keenness to talk about the “A-word” as a prospective election approaches, all other moral and ethical questions have been settled – at least in the minds of Radio One.
So we can all reflect on our good fortune and the wisdom of our forebears, who dispatched all the minor ethical irritants from public debate. Now we can focus on the big ticket items, like the ethics of plastics, bottled water and artificial sweeteners. Whoa, get yourself ready!
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