Scandinavian Perspectives

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Editor: J. Britt Holbrook
Date: 2015
Ethics, Science, Technology, and Engineering: A Global Resource
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 4
Content Level: (Level 5)
Lexile Measure: 1380L

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Page 231

Scandinavian Perspectives

One of the main trends for Scandinavian bioethicists since the mid-1980s has been to describe, clarify, and critically discuss moral arguments in the wake of advances within different branches of science and technology. In particular, moral arguments for and against the use of biotechnologies such as assisted reproduction, prenatal diagnosis, stem-cell research, gene therapy, enhancement of humans, and neuroscience have been on the agenda. Around the late 1980s, governments in the three Scandinavian countries (Norway, Denmark, and Sweden) established ethical councils in response to developments in these scientific areas. The tasks of these councils are not only to brief the parliament but also to inform and initiate public discussions about the ethical challenges that are raised by modern biotechnology, the environment, and climate change. Examples of such organizations are the Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board, the Danish Council of Ethics, and the Swedish National Council on Medical Ethics. The establishment of these councils has undoubtedly led to increased interest in bioethics in Scandinavia.

Central Discussions

Of keen interest to bioethicists in Sweden and Denmark are developments in the areas of reproductive technology and prenatal diagnosis. Several bioethicists have argued that these technologies should be embraced in a liberal way because of the benefits they may bring and because the arguments against their use are weak or flawed. It has been argued, for example, that it should be legal for health-care personnel to assist almost all infertile people (including single mothers, lesbians, and women over the age of forty-five) to bring children into the world by means of assisted reproduction techniques such as in vitro fertilization or microinsemination (see, e.g., Tännsjö 1991b ; Petersen 2001 ). And it also has been argued that the moral worries that may be voiced against the use of prenatal diagnosis to help people bring healthy children into the world, such as the fear of eugenics, are too weak compared to the benefits (see, e.g., Munthe 1992 , 1999 ; Hermerén 1999 ; Persson 2004 ; Petersen 2005 ; Tännsjö 1991a ). At the same time, however, there have also been some critiques of these liberal conclusions (see, e.g., Holm 1998 ; Kemp, Lebech, and Rendtorff 1997 ), often centered on the moral wrongness of terminating embryos or fetuses. A key research focus for Scandinavian bioethics, in connection with the ethical challenges raised by the abovementioned technologies (as well as abortion in general), has been the development of arguments in favor of the view that an individual can benefit from coming into existence (compare, e.g., Elster 2007 ; Munthe 1992 ; Ryberg 1995 ; Tännsjö 1997; Petersen 2001 ; Holtug 2001 , 2011 ; Persson 2004 ; Bykvist 2007 ; Arrhenius and Rabinowicz 2010 ). Unlike in countries such as the United States and Germany, and those with large Catholic populations such as Spain, Italy, and Ireland, where similar discussions tend to revolve around the questions of whether or not abortion is morally acceptable or should remain legal, Scandinavian bioethicists have played down this debate and have thus turned their attention to other issues.

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One current topic in Scandinavian bioethics is the use of biomedical enhancements. This work has included discussions surrounding the use of medical substances and methods in sports and has embraced arguments claiming that current doping policies are implausible (compare, e.g., Tännsjö and Tamburrini 2000 ; Tamburrini and Tännsjö 2005 ; Petersen and Lippert-Rasmussen 2007). Another area of interest to Scandinavian bioethicists, such as Ingmar Persson (2012; Persson and Savulescu 2012 ), Nick Bostrom (2005 ; Bostrom and Savulescu 2009 ), and Anders Sandberg (Savulescu and Sandberg 2008 ), is the ethics surrounding moral enhancement of humans by means of drugs, and in particular the role these drugs can play in helping users amend behaviors so they are less destructive. In a similar vein, the ethical challenges that arise from the use of pharmaceuticals to improve behavior in criminal offenders have been discussed by Lene Bomann-Larsen (2013 ), Jesper Ryberg (2012 ), and Ryberg and Thomas Søbirk Petersen (2013 ).

The Scandinavian bioethics community also contributes to a wide range of ongoing discussions in the international arena, including the defense of the legalization of euthanasia (Tännsjö 2004 ; Kappel 2002 ), the critique of slippery-slope arguments against the use of gene therapy (Holtug 1993 ), the moral importance of the distinction between treatment and enhancement (Bostrom and Roache 2007 ; Holtug 2011 ), the discussion about what characterizes a fair distribution of resources within the health-care system (Kappel and Sandøe 1992 ; Lauridsen and Lippert-Rasmussen 2009 ; Cappelen and Norheim 2005 ; Cappelen and Tungodden 2006 ), the use of stem-cell research and biobanking (Solbakk, Holm, and Hofmann 2008 ; Solbakk and Holm 2008), the use of presymptomatic genetic testing (Juth 2005 ), and the ethics concerning organ donation (Karlsen, Strand, and Solbakk 2009 ; Petersen and Lippert-Rasmussen 2012 ).

Sites of Scandinavian Bioethics

In all three Scandinavian countries there are universitybased centers and research groups that focus on bioethical research. For example, at the University of Oslo in Norway there is the Center for Medical Ethics, which counts Jan Helge Solbakk among its professorial staff. Research at the Norwegian School of Economics in Bergen includes a strong focus on the fair distribution of health care— especially work undertaken by the professors Alexander W. Cappelen and Bertil Tungodden. At the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, the Department of Philosophy and History of Technology, chaired by Sven Ove Hansson, carries out research on risk assessment and the sustainability of the use of science, technology, and engineering (see, e.g., Hansson 2009 ). Torbjörn Tännsjö is the chair of the Stockholm Center for Health Care Ethics and is also an affiliated professor in medical ethics at the medical university Karolinska Institutet. At the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, Peter Sandøe is the head of the Danish Center for Bioethics and Risk Assessment. Sandøe and his colleagues, especially Karsten Klint Jensen and Mickey Gjerris, have contributed extensively to both the national and the international debate on bioethics— especially within the areas of food consumption and animal welfare (see, e.g., Sandøe and Christiansen 2008 ; Jensen and Andersen 1999 ; Gjerris and Gaiani 2013 ). In 2013 the Research Group for Criminal Justice Ethics at Roskilde University in Denmark—which is chaired by Jesper Ryberg—received funding from the Danish National Research Foundation for a project on neuroscience and criminal ethics.

The Future

With these research groups in place, together with the fact that several scholars outside these groups work in the field of bioethics, the future of bioethics in Scandinavia looks more than just well established. Additionally, many researchers collaborate with peers outside the Scandinavian bioethics community, one notable example being the affiliation or contact several Scandinavian moral philosophers have with the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford.

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Thomas Søbirk Petersen
Jesper Ryberg

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3727600100