[February 04, 2015] The recent outbreak in measles in the United States has ignited a political debate on whether the government should require all children to be vaccinated against the virus. On the face of it, the answer would seem simple. Of course, nothing is as it appears and the right for parents to choose what’s best for their children has made this issue more complex. Thus, it would be beneficial for leaders to have a conversation on ethics; if for no other reason than to clarify our values.
What makes such a conversation unlikely to occur – or at least any serious conversation – is that many powerful and popular people believe that ethical behavior is not about good and evil, right and wrong. They believe that ethics is about cultural approval or disapproval of behavior (see link here for a more thorough discussion). Logically, it follows from this thought process, that we should not be teaching or insisting on ethical behavior but on what our culture gives its approval for at the time.
The responsible starting point should be asking about what is the ethical solution … what is best for the greatest number of people, without any disadvantage or negligible impact. We should at least agree that recognizing that such a discussion – involving scientific logic and recommendations – would be helpful to understand the background before debate occurs. We should do this but recognize that any such discussion can be held with the understanding that people have a deep emotional attachment for their own children. This fact alone will, unsurprisingly, skew any debate politically and scientifically.
This is where good leadership comes into play. Responsible leaders are needed. Our political leaders are unreliable and untrustworthy, according to the American public. Any politician would come with a tinted credibility and cannot be expected to hold an open and honest debate on difficult, emotional issues. The recent measles outbreak is not the only difficult subject deserving a discussion on ethics. For example, headlines today in the United Kingdom blare “It’s the dawn of the three-person baby.”
While many Americans are happier to discuss who won the Super Bowl and what color dress the hottest supermodel is wearing, should we be having this difficult conversations on ethics? Are we serious and mature enough? I think the answer is yes. Our political leaders can begin the conversation with an admission that the subject is legitimate and request that our values be first clarified.
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