Mini Courses of GS IV: Bioethics, Environmental Ethics, Media Ethics

Mini Courses of Ethics, Integrity, Attitude, Aptitude and case studies for IAS Mains Examination



Since the 1970s, the field of bioethics has grown considerably. While it is true that bioethics today includes medical ethics issues, its originality lies in the fact that it goes much further than the various professional codes of ethics concerned. It entails reflection on societal changes and even on global balances brought about by scientific and technological developments. To the already difficult question posed by life sciences - How far can we go? - other queries must be added concerning the relationship between ethics, science and freedom.


While the emergence of medical knowledge and technology was essential for the development of bioethics, it does not by itself explain the emergence of the field. To understand other elements that contributed to the field’s emergence, it is important to recall that traditional medical ethics had relied on two sources of moral guidance. One was the tradition of professional physician’s ethics, the other was the teachings of the theological ethics. Furthermore, there have been extensive theological reflections on ethics and medicine in many religious traditions. In the past there has been no shortage of ethical reflectioas regarding medicine. This being the case, one might ask why there was a need to develop and moral values involved in their specification. If medicine is a social construction, then bioethics should be thought of as a form of social philosophy.


Respect for persons means not treating someone as a means to an end or goal. For example, even if one person’s organs could help five people live, it would be an ethical violation of respect for persons to kill that one person and distribute the organs to save the five who need them. Respect for persons is also often a matter of not interfering with a person’s ability to make and carry out decisions. In some cases, it is also a matter of enabling a person to make choices or supporting them in the choices they make. Respect means more than just listening to another person; it means hearing and attempting to understand what other people are trying to say. It also means not belittling or making fun of thoughts or feelings or perspectives that other people hold.


Talking about bioethics in today’s world seems an illusion... a fairy tale or at least, a matter that is drawn up from the imaginaries of the different disciplines or knowledge. A theoretical and practical reality imposed every day that should be nurtured as a discipline or set of knowledge related to life and health but at the same time, as a series of rules and ethical commitments of citizens which lead to the control and supervision of human behavior. From them, personal autonomy and human rights such as life are not injured by anyone who inhabits this planet.



Adjusting the relationship between humans and nature is one of the most fundamental issues we face and must deal with today. With the increasing deterioration of ecological systems on which human beings rely and the aggravation of the environmental crisis, human beings have realized that we cannot rely on economic and judicial methods alone to solve the problems of environmental pollution and ecological imbalances; we must also appeal to human beings’ limitless internal ethical resources. Only after we have adopted an appropriate attitude towards nature and have established a new ethical relationship between human beings and nature will we be able to love and respect nature automatically as well as conscientiously; and only with the guidance of such love and respect can we successfully deal with the issues of environmental pollution and ecological imbalances.


We are cutting down forests for making our homes. We are continuing with an excessive consumption of natural resources. Their excessive use is resulting in their depletion, risking the life of our future generations. Is this ethical? This is the issue that environmental ethics takes up. Scientists like Rachel Carson and the environmentalists who led philosophers to consider the philosophical aspect of environmental problems, pioneered in the development of environmental ethics as a branch of environmental philosophy


Although there is disagreement over the meaning of sustainable development, most countries have accepted sustainable development as their basic policy. The overlapping areas of consensus between sustainable development and environmental ethics are obvious: the need for environmental justice among the present generation (especially to eliminate absolute poverty), the need to care for future generations and the need to live harmoniously with nature. Only once human society gets on track with regard to achieving sustainable development can we deal successfully with the challenges of global warming, diminishing biodiversity and world hunger.


Aldo Leopold, a forester-ecologist, wildlife manager, professor, conservationist, author, and prophet of environmental ethics, claimed, famously: A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.’ ‘That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics’. In a holistic ethic, this eco-systemic level in which all organisms are embedded also counts morally-in some respects more than any of the component organisms, because the systemic processes have generated, continue to support, and integrate tens of thousands of member organisms. The appropriate unit for moral concern is the fundamental unit of development and survival. That, we were just saying, is species lines. But a species is what it is where it is, encircled by an ecology.

A land ethics might seem a naturalistic ethics, but people are living on this land, and so nature and culture soon mix. Trying to map the human environments, we are valuing three main territories: the urban, the rural and the wild - all three of which are necessary if we are to be three-dimensional persons. Nature is much present in the hybrid habitats of rural landscapes; we need an ethic for agro-ecosystems. Wildlife can extensively remain on landscapes put to multiple use; and so we need an ethic of wildlife management. We need an ethic for forests and farmlands, for the countryside. Nature is present in, and a support of, our cities as well.


Why? Because we can’t sit this one out. “Not to decide” about issues of environmental ethics is “to decide” — in fevor of the status quo, and in favor of “business as usual.” But our poor, battered, plundered and polluted planet can not long endure a continuation of “business as usual.” We have, in the past couple of centuries, achieved a cleverness that has far overshot our wisdom. The explosive growth of scientific knowledge, followed shortly by a parallel growth in technical ingenuity, has created an “explosive growth” in moral problems — some unprecedented in human history.

Ethics is a very ancient human preoccupation (older, perhaps, than philosophy itself). And yet, environmental ethics is very new. In view of the recent dramatic growth in knowledge and technology, it is not difficult to see why this is so. Ethics deals with the realm of imaginable human conduct that falls between the impossible and the inevitable — that is, within the area of human capacity and choice. And now, even within our own lifetime (and ever more so with each year), we have acquired capabilities and thus face choices that have never been faced before in the course of human history — indeed, we now face many capabilities and choices never contemplated or even imagined before. These include choices of birth, life, and death for our species and others; choices that are rapidly changing the living landscape forever.



The opinions, attitude, and conduct of persons depend upon the information available to them and upon the images and feeling tones impressed upon them. Most of our knowledge of contemporary events comes to us from the newspaper, the radio, television and movies. Our emotions and attitudes also are formed to large extend by the media. Those who control our means of mass communication not only report current events and history of the world help to make history. We cannot think correctly and clearly about either domestic or world affairs unless we obtain accurate information. If the sources and the channels of information are tainted or distorted, all people are in a serious danger of being led astray. The democratic way of life depends upon the existence of free agencies of mass media, as the public is kept informed and alert.


The daily print media is the basic means for the day-by-day dissemination of the news. It is the gate way of elaborate information of the world and its events. It has greater influence on the society. It furnishes news or information regarding the events of the contemporary world, with an interpretation and comments upon these events. Newspapers can ‘head-line’ some items of news or opinions and make them seem very important, and they can suppress items or omit them entirely. They advertise for business and other establishments, acting as a sales medium. They furnish entertainment of various types, from comic strips to puzzles. They provide miscellaneous information which it is difficult to classify under any of the above headings. The ethical training of the correspondents, reporters and the editors tells upon the type of presentation in a particular media. The vision, viewpoint and ideology - be it social, economic and political - of a specific media guides their way of presentation. They are the inarticulate major premises that necessarily colour the reports they make. Much news is gathered and dispatched by great news-gathering agencies, or press associations.


Broadcasting is comparatively a recent phenomenon in the modern world. The development of radio and television has been rapid and has gained tremendous power. Listening and seeing are the important aspects of society. Certain ethical issues are raised in broadcasting. The power of owing number of stations and the authority to give them licences to do so remain with the state. This limit and control of broadcasting sometimes become a coercive and manipulative by certain group of people who are favored with the privilege of using the available air waves or channels. The regulative code is that it has with the responsibility for the common good of all. News reporting also is ethically expected to be factual and objective. Programs relating to controversial public issues are needed to give fair representation to both sides of issues beyond certain bias and particular standpoint. Children’s programs are to be educative rather than mere entertaining. The pedagogical input reflects basic human values like respect for parents, law and order, clean living, high morals, fair play and ethically right behavior.


Many journalists believe, as witnessed particularly in India during the last couple of years, that the public’s right to know and the need to expose vice and corruption are superior to all other concerns. Most of the time it turns out to be focusing more on privacy of people which is turned out to be ‘newsworthy’ item in their media career. People in public life are vulnerable when their private lives become a spotlight for the media. The growth in mass media size, profile and influence together with technological change or otherwise called ‘information revolution,’ made the privacy of people so fragile. Privacy is one of the fundamental freedoms of people and it is essential to liberty and human dignity. Media justifies such interference in privacy of people arguing that it is in the public interest. Privacy is not just a concern over personal information and the dangers of’surveillance society.’ It is more than the mere maintenance of one’s ‘data protection, or confidentiality of any information.


The maladies in mass media are problematic as they affect entire society directly and indirectly. For example, certain advertisements on tobacco-related materials are undoubtedly detrimental to the healthy life of people, particularly younger generation who are future pillars of the nation. The avoidance of this type of advertisement in Radio, Television and Newspaper is recommended. In smoking it is wrongly projected that freshness comes after having that smoke. When such ideology is inflicted on the minds of people, they are made to believe. Avoiding such advertisement would enable us to take care of people in any society. The mass media has an obligation to the society to show right things, right thought, right guidelines, and right behaviour.


Habermas’ theories of communicative action and discourse ethics have indirect impact in media ethics. Ethics in the public space is discussed here. Habermas reminds us of the urgent need to protect and insulate the public discourse and its dialectics. Discourse is always collaborative or collective and bears an impact upon the receiving of a piece of communication. The author of any discourse is made responsible for its impact. Habermas’discourse ethics in Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action provide a convenient framework for making this point: he borrows the universalisation principle from Kant’s moral theory, extending the notion of categorical imperative to include all those affected by a norm as its participants (Hoenisch, 2000). Any communication involves both the listener and the speaker. The journalist who is communicating is intrinsically linked to his listeners. The fundamental principle of media’s obligation to fulfill public interest is this relationship.

This is Part of Online Coaching & Study Kit of IAS Mains General Studies - IV

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