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Showing posts with label ethical dilemmas in politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ethical dilemmas in politics. Show all posts

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

An ethical dilemma for Cardinal O’Brien

One well-established method to examine fundamental ethical questions is to pose imagined ethical dilemmas and discuss them in the abstract. Every student of philosophy is familiar with this methodology, and a recent BBC 4 series featured Michael Sandel in a series of lectures from his Harvard course in Political Philosophy which contained many examples.

On the subject of gay marriage, I have such a hypothetical dilemma to posit to Cardinal O’Brien, and it is one that those opposed to gay marriage from other Scottish churches and faiths – and politicians - might also wish to consider.


A prominent Roman Catholic – or a prominent member of the Church of Scotland, or member of the Jewish or Muslim faiths or any other church or faith – pursues a successful career in public life.

He or she is gay, and is in a long-standing relationship with someone of the same sex. But the nature of that career and the social pressures associated with it lead that person to the judgement that he or she cannot acknowledge the true nature of their sexuality, or the nature of the relationship with the person closest to them.

This leads them to a legal marriage, and a wedding solemnised by their particular faith in a church, to someone of the opposite sex, for the sake of public appearances.


My questions to the Cardinal, to any other church leader or politician who opposes the legalisation of gay marriages, and specifically to Gordon Wilson, elder statesman of the SNP, are these -

1. Are they prepared to accept that their church’s or faith’s opposition to gay marriage in effect forced this public figure into this unsatisfactory action and this path of deceit and concealment?

2. Would not the legalisation of gay marriage in a civil ceremony, and the ability to also solemnise it in a church of their choice not have at least reduced the need for the public figure’s course of action, or indeed eliminated it completely?

3. Are the Church leaders, faith leaders and politicians prepared to condone such deceits if they have full knowledge of them, rather than either condemn them publicly or accept that such a loving relationship be legal, and ideally be given the blessing of the church or faith?

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Hippocratic Oath for medically - qualified politicians

It occurred to me that I should offer my own version of the Hippocratic Oath for modern career politicians who are also medically qualified: there are many of them in the UK and worldwide. At the moment, such professionals face an intolerable conflict between the ancient high standards of ethics in their profession and the pragmatic realities of politics today.

I’ve tried to keep it simple -

I will strive to preserve life and the quality of life, not only for my patients but for any human being upon affected by my actions and decisions, except where it conflicts with the order of my party whip and/or my political career and advancement.

I will not knowingly support any action, or measure, or decision that will harm a human being, nor will I impede any measure, action or decision that protects human beings from harm, except where it conflicts with the order of my party whip and/or my political career and advancement.

I feel this simple oath will give the necessary get-out clauses to any medically qualified politician who finds the conflict between political career and medical ethics intolerable. I accept that my experience has been confined to business and commercial ethics, which tend to have a high degree of elasticity, especially where the maximisation of profit and volume sales are concerned.

Business and commercial professionals also have the convenient theory and practice of externalisation to distance themselves from the often inconvenient aspects of ethics, whereby untidy matters of principle can either be outsourced or laid at the door of government. This flexibility has unfortunately been denied to medical professionals – and to some degree members of the legal profession – when facing similar ethical and moral dilemmas, especially in the matter of wars, the rationale for going to war, conflicts, weaponry, WMDs, and measures to protect the health of the population. (Accountants and bankers have long since cracked this thorny problem, as many large corporate audit practices and investment houses regularly demonstrate across the globe.)

 The legal profession, however, are well equipped to look after themselves, especially when the blunt instrument of UK libel law is so readily available to them.

Perhaps my little contribution may go some way to promoting a debate that will lead to solutions for hard-pressed politicians, still reeling from the disgraceful press, public opinion and legal attacks on their traditional privileges, in relation to expenses, house flipping, revolving doors to industry, non-executive directorships and consultancy contracts, etc.