Practical insights for compliance and ethics professionals and commentary on the intersection of compliance and culture.

Selected TED/TEDx talks on bioethics

The study of bioethics is rich and varied, always growing in diversity as emerging technologies advance. Bioethical issues have their root in decision-making about research methodology, where academics struggled to define propriety in humans’ exploitation of the natural world – plants and animals – to further science for their own benefits. Bioethics maintains this same ethos today, centered on the link between human interests in and relationship to the sciences, notably including biology and medicine. The inquiries of bioethics extend to a huge swath of topics in within health and human sciences, reflecting the deep reach technological innovations have into everyone’s lives.

First, a word on the relationship between science and morality. In Science can answer moral questions, Sam Harris suggests that the values humans rely upon to define their ethical obligations and moral choices can be seen as facts, which are the foundation of science:

 

 

Harris is a neuroscientist and philosopher who seeks to define the way that ideas about human life are shaped by the physical world in which people live.   People often presume that science cannot answer the existential questions humans consider most compelling, like – what is the meaning or purpose of life? This modern world is continually impacted by technological change, but does science just provoke moral issues, or can it indeed be a force for addressing or solving them? Science is fact-driven and so too can be people’s practical assessments about right and wrong in real life. Therefore science can and should be an authority in the domain of objective fact rather, than only basing these considerations solely on non-concrete intuitions or opinions.

Building upon this presumption that science and ethics do indeed have a powerful mutual dependency, bioethics asks many moral and existential questions germane to this relationship. Animal rights, gene therapy, patient care, bio-engineering, and research methodology are just a few examples of areas where bioethical issues and debates commonly arise. The below TED/TEDx talks are a sampling of how scientists, technologists, and academics confront these challenges in their work and expect that the relationship that science and technology have with law and philosophy will continue to impact human life and society.

  • It’s time to re-evaluate our relationship with animals (Lesli Bisgould) – Human relationships with animals are more morally and legally complicated than many people might realize. Living with companion animals is very common and most people would say that they have compassion for animals and feel they should be treated with respect and dignity. However, humans draw unconscious lines between animals they feel are household pets, such as cats or dogs; captive animals they may think exist for educational or entertainment purposes, like whales and dolphins; livestock animals that are part of the industrial food manufacturing supply chain, like cows and chickens; and wild animals that are hunted or poached, like elephants and lions. Why do we make these distinctions and do they have some objective basis in a moral universe? What is the responsibility and response of the law?

 

 

  • Gene Therapy – The time is now (Nick Leschly) – Gene therapy could enable the repair of diseased or damaged cells. With applications from this technology, doctors could cure illnesses and fix injuries for good instead of requiring a lifetime of preventive and prescriptive treatment. This is an advancement that could change medicine forever. However, major funding has historically been hard to attract for research and development in gene therapy because of ethical and religious uncertainties, not to mention the resistance of some individuals and institutions within the traditional medicine establishment. Moral fear, some concrete and others more esoteric, about the dark side of where this technology could take society, even if scientists enter with the best intentions to control against that, have been a financial and ideological barrier to progress.

 

 

  • Transparency, Compassion, and Truth in Medical Errors (Leilani Schweitzer) – The Alexander Pope proverb goes “To err is human, to forgive, divine” – but what about when the human error results in the death of a loved one? How does one forgive when the mistake is that of a professional – such as a doctor? The legal tort system and medical malpractice insurance certainly do not inspire a reaction of kindness from the survivors. However, perhaps truth is the essential element in handling a tragic event such as a medical mistake that leads to catastrophic injury or death. Truth in medicine is important when the mistake occurs, in the form of transparency, accountability, and honest communication. Truth is also important in recovery by the survivors after the mistakes – remedial care, openness, and radical candor that can lead to emotional healing and inspire advocacy. Admitting and facing mistakes is a powerful act of integrity that can never be supplanted by the legal and administrative system in defining patient care responsibilities.

 

 

  • It’s time to question bio-engineering (Paul Root Wolpe) – As this blog often espouses, the best time to address moral or integrity questions and consider implementing a code of ethics that will be sustainable for the future, is universal: as soon as possible. There’s no time too soon to think about the foundations of integrity in any area of society, especially when it comes to science and developing technology. In the field of bio-engineering, technology has already advanced quite far to do things like selective or hybrid breeding of animals, modification of food products, and the creation and manipulation of artificial cells. Regulation has become controversial as an obstacle to advancement. The presumption goes that making rules or laws that cover the scope of people’s work in a scientific area will stifle their innovation. This does not have to be true if a moral code is built into the knowledge acquisition process from the beginning. Progress and ethics are not naturally at odds and do not have to be positioned as antagonistic to each other in pursuit of scientific discovery, but to let either take dominance over the other is short-sighted and dangerous.

 

 

  • Trust in research – the ethics of knowledge production (Garry Gray) – The work of research scientists weighs heavily on consumer and public safety. Most of the goods people use on an everyday basis have been the product of a prolonged research and development process, which laypeople assume has been conducted with accuracy as the principle interest and free of biases. However, this is far from true in practice. Corporate funding and institutional agendas all have great influence on scientific research. People are well aware of the possible danger of these influences, which are nevertheless necessary for work to be done, but the deeper problem is that the researchers themselves may believe they are able to naturally maintain independence as a function of their expertise. In reality, no conflict of interest risk management mechanism can be effective if it only exists within a person’s head. Sensitively and sensibly managing these conflicts and the biases they create is very important work that must be responsively and proactively done to support research scientists in their endeavors.

 

 

Check back in the coming weeks for further posts on bioethics, including a look at current trends in corporate compliance issues arising from bioethical debates in the scientific research and medical fields, further discussion of bioethics as it relates to artificial intelligence, and insights on the larger interrelationship between technology and ethics of knowledge acquisition, engineering, and design.

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Selected TED & TEDx talks on ethical dilemmas

An ethical dilemma is a problem in decision-making between two or more possible choices which involve conflicting interests and challenging possible consequences. Often this can be understood as a scenario in which making one decision has an impact on the interests involved in the other decision(s) not made. Choosing to not make a decision is also, in its own right, a choice which implies these consequential dynamics. The below TED/TEDx talks are a sampling of some different dilemmas encountered and the ways that the speakers have thought about and attempted to resolve them.

  • The ethical dilemma of designer babies (Paul Knoepfler) – Biotechnology which was once the stuff of science fiction is now becoming an everyday reality, or at least a possibility that is easy to imagine for the not-so-distant future. For many years now there have been ethical questions about the use of gene editing technology in human embryos. This could allow scientists to mitigate the risk of certain auto-immune or congenital diseases, which would be a marvel of modern medicine. However, it could also make the way for individuals to use the technology to also alter physical appearance and pre-determine many of a person’s traits, perhaps also eventually personality characteristics. What answers does bioethics have for this dilemma? Is it worth the risks, too dangerous to justify the benefits, or somewhere in between – a technology that should be progressively and thoughtfully developed with both those risks and those benefits in careful balance?

 

  • Can we engineer the end of ageing? (Daisy Robinton) – While the prior talk considers the beginning of life, there are also bioethical considerations to scientific advancements made concerning the end of life also. Just as there can be cellular interventions on the biological makeup of embryos, therapeutic mechanisms of stem cell identity may already be useful in increasing longevity and health, such as by reversing the growth of cancerous cells or addressing other developmental diseases. However, what about the possibly to “edit” one’s DNA not for survival or to cure a sickness, but to improve capabilities or change aesthetic qualities? If some physiological differences are editable at the cellular then is it ethical to do so?

 

  • The Social Dilemma of Driverless Cars (Iyad Rahwan) – Self-driving cars have been in the news a lot recently as leading organizations such as Ford, General Motors, Tesla, and even Samsung are making major investments in developing field. In the US, the federal government has indicated that it prefers to let technological innovation take precedence over anticipatory regulation, perhaps taking lessons learned from the initial failure of the electric car industry in the 1990s and early 2000s. The artificial intelligence of self-driving cars is ethically challenging, in consideration that these driverless vehicles will share the road with pedestrians and conventional vehicles. Will they be safer than cars with human drivers, or do they bring up all kinds of new safety and privacy concerns?

 

  • Machiavelli’s Dilemma (Matt Kohut) – More to the point of typical everyday interactions than the abstractions of the limits of medicine and technology, what about character judgments? The classic question remains – do we want to be loved or feared? Liked or respected? Most people of course would say some combination of both, but in first impressions or in difficult leadership situations, sometimes the choice to be one at the expense of the other is unavoidable.

 

  • The paradox of choice (Barry Schwartz) – The thing of all these different dilemmas have in common is, of course, choices that individuals, organizations, and sometimes society as a whole must make. Facing the responsibility of making a choice indicates that there is freedom of choice in the first place. The privilege of decision-making can also be a burden. One must be able to decide in the beginning in order to feel some sense of personal dissatisfaction or insufficiency provoked by the idea that other choices, and other outcomes could have been possible.

 

As the above demonstrates, there are many diverse examples of ethical dilemmas which come from all areas of business and life. This effectively points out how ubiquitous these challenging situations are. From simple, everyday interactions to matters of life and death, ethical dilemmas present challenging, compelling moral questions.

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Selected TED/TEDx talks for compliance and ethics insights

TED and TEDx conferences and events have become important and popular venues for speakers from all walks of life.  This includes academics and business leaders but also ordinary people who have had inspiring or extraordinary experiences, to share their insights and stories. Given how ever-present ethics and morality are in business and life, many talks touch on useful compliance topics.

  • Creating Ethical Cultures in Business (Brooke Deterline) – We must question why we don’t speak up on behalf of other people or ideals, and how it makes us feel after we encounter a situation where we want to say something but don’t. Challenging discomfort and fear can help us advocate for each other and our principles and create corporate cultures where standing up courageously and speaking our values is seen as safe and helpful. Courage is an inspiring and powerful antidote to corruption and unethical behavior.

  • Building Business on Character Ethic (Kevin Byrne) – Commercial profitability and competitive advantage dominate most metrics of business success, but how can these be achieved and sustained without integrity? Taking care to do the right thing in all areas of business – from dealing with customers to retaining employees and everywhere in between – and avoid reputational risk are powerful drivers in building a business designed to last.

  • Why Credibility is the Foundation of Leadership (Barry Posner) – Speaking to the perennial compliance topic of tone at the top, leaders must be people worth believing and following. We evaluate whether those in senior management or supervisory positions are competent and credible. Expertise, intelligence, passion, and innovative thinking – all of these things are also necessary for leadership to succeed, but in order for anyone to believe in them, integrity must come first.

  • We Need a “Moral Operating System” (Damon Horowitz)  A strong, developed moral framework is necessary for knowing what to do with all the information and power we possess and must make decisions about how to use on a regular basis in both business and life in general. Ethical decision-making is challenging and nuanced and can even be awkward. Thinking, discussing, debating, and defining beliefs are all integral to understand our human ability to distinguish right from wrong and make a principled choice on how to act.

  • Our Buggy Moral Code (Dan Ariely) – Confronting the theory that purely bad people are to blame for the majority of bad things that happen in society, the work of behavioral economists such as Dan Ariely suggests that human behavior is far more complex than static good or bad values. Rather, wrongdoing in decision-making is influenced greatly by intuition and context. Situational awareness and a strong affinity for personal morality are therefore important mitigating factors to unethical behavior.

This is merely a brief selection of TED/TEDx talks touching upon personal empowerment, entrepreneurship, leadership, decision-making, and behavioral economics – all topics which are linked powerfully to compliance and organizational ethics.

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