The Hastings Center’s Help with Hard Questions series is designed to help you think through bioethical problems raised by advances in medicine and technology in a way that leads you to solutions that are consistent with your values.
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About the Series
Life throws you curves. Beloved parents with Alzheimer’s disease who no longer recognize you. Beloved children who can’t focus and are failing in school. Infertility. New genetic tests that give you information you don’t know what to do with. Advanced cancer and questions about coping with it.
There are facts to gather when confronted with such challenges, and it is important to do so. We have a mantra at The Hastings Center: Good ethics begin with good facts.
But sometimes—often—facts can only take you so far. Facts about the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder do not pro- vide an answer about how to treat your child. Facts about the course of Alzheimer’s disease do not help you with the difficult decision of whether to put a parent with the condition who needs constant care in a nursing home. Facts about infertility do not tell you what to do with leftover frozen embryos.
That’s because the “facts of life” do not tell you how to live—or how to die. What they provide is information that you must then filter through your personal value system to determine a course of action that makes sense for you and for your family. This is where bioethics comes in. It can provide moral guidance on common medical dilemmas that individuals face in the beginning of life, at the end of life, and in between. People tend to think that ethics imposes an answer on you—thou shalt not steal. Well, there are some ethical rules, it’s true. But ethical solutions often are not absolute. They involve carefully examining your values and balancing competing in- terests and demands, in particular situations, in light of the most reliable facts.
The Hastings Center’s Help with Hard Questions series is designed to help you think through bioethical problems raised by advances in medicine and technology in a way that leads you to solutions that are consistent with your values. These solutions will, of course, be informed by the facts, and also weighted by the experiences of others and the expectations of society at large. Understanding these variables is critical if you are to find ways to live with difficult and sometimes fluid situations that maintain your integrity and dignity, as well as the integrity and dignity of those you love