Friday, September 19, 2008

On the Precautionary Principle

On this blog I've talked about ethics mostly as lived, personal experiences. In fact, I've even gone so far as to say it directly here. And yet, over time, ethical codes of conduct, peoples' attempts to create stability through consistency while being moved by compassion or a sense of 'right', inform choices; indeed, it is probably the interplay between experiences and codes that ethics is most clear.

There is a very clear ethical principle being espoused by the Environmental Justice movement, one that, if I were to fall out of the sky as a completely alien being and were to hear for the first time I would more probably attribute to conservative views, but here we are. This is the Precautionary Principle. Wikipedia does the definition and history greater justice than I, so I won't cover it so much. This principle, shortly, says that if you don't know whether something will hurt you or not, then you don't allow it until it can be proven to be benign. Although new-sounding and high-falutin', mushroom eaters have been following this principle for many years.

The Environmental Justice community wants to relate this to the use of chemicals in their community, and they have good reason. A recent report I heard claims that fewer than 2% of the chemicals used today have been tested for their effects on humans.

What I would like to know is, why might this be a controversial principle? It seems reasonable to me, and it seems like conservatives and liberals alike can get behind a principle that says, in effect, to slow down and first do no harm. But, I don't always have my finger on the pulse of folks' beliefs, so here's your chance to chime in...

1 comment:

A. Stark said...

You'd think most people would live by the precautionary principle. I do, yet I think most people would say I'm somewhat "paranoid" about things. However, when I think about how many millions of people take all kinds of prescription drugs unnecessarily or even without researching the drug, or even knowing the potential side effects, I think people are clearly in denial. The death of Heath Ledger is an example of not taking chemicals seriously enough and thinking that you can't get hurt. Some of us trust too much, or have too little skepticism.

Also, I think we should actively apply the precautionary principle to our relationship as patients to our doctors. Why should you automatically trust your doctor? You don't know this person and their motivations. From my experiences and observations, doctors too quickly make diagnosis and write prescriptions. Here is an example. This summer I went to a doctor because of a bad cough. As soon as she walked into the room, looking at the notes the nurse made under "why are you here today," without even glancing at me, the doctor said, "You have allergies, you need to take Claritin and Prednisone." Surprised and taken aback, I asked the doctor to listen to my lungs, please, and asked her if my cough could be a temporary symptom of the very bad air quality we were having due to the multiple wild fires in California. She said no way to know until we tried the Claritin and Prednisone and if they don't work then we'll know that it may not be allergies. Then I have to come back in and we'll try another route. Needless to say, I didn't take the drugs, my cough went away after a while, and I have no faith in this doctor. She didn't earn my trust, and she was much too ready to get those drugs sold. Sadly, this has been a common experience with Doctors. They are much to quick to direct you to put all kinds of chemicals in your body, who knows with what consequences down the road.