“I may have hit him a little, but I didn’t mean for him to get hurt. We were just joking around.”
“I didn’t rape her. She was asking for it. You just need to look at her to know what kind of girl she is.”
My first question is: How stupid can you claim to be and still get away with it?
My second question, after some thought and better formulated is: What if people in everyday life could be subject to the same ethical guidelines governing the work of our scientists?
If you wanted to do science in the age of Leonardo da Vinci, you’d better be prepared to break or bend one or two laws. The situation today is somewhat different, and with the legacy from the Nüremberg trials and the Declaration of Helsinki yet in fresh memory, most people see the laws of ethics as useful guidelines when it comes to protecting our privacy, our body and minds from the prying and poking of curious investigators in the hunt for new data.
The principle can be summarized as the principle of informed consent. In short, it means that a person must know and agree to anything you wish to do with them. It can be to participate in a study, to be subject of a specific treatment, or in any other way is expected to be influenced by your scientific activity. At first glance it may seem as if his means it is enough if you tell them what is going on. But there is a catch: You have to make sure they understand what you tell them. And it is your responsibility.
Another is in the field of journalism. Talking to relatives and friends of a deceased, or approaching people who have just recently been caught up in a tragic accident requires more sensitivity than the average standard interview with any standars public person. The code Number One of ethical journalism is to make sure that the interviewee has a clear understanding of what is about to be released an accurate picture of the implications to his or her life. To perform and publish interviews with children or people under stress can be considered extremely questionable.
Making sure you have informed consent is not an easy task. You have to consider the persons age, state of mind, level of stress, general status and make an assumption on their ability to catch the full consequence of what you want them to do. And this principle is applicable even if the only thing you want them to do is answer five 1-X-2 questions on a piece of paper. In real life the consequences of non-informed consent can be much more severe.
Can anyone really claim that a teenager should be able to fully understand the impression her clothing may give men twice her age? And can anyone really claim that considering this is her responsibility? What are we – Mindreaders? Omnipotent? And what are you? Slaves under emotion? Children? Helpless and unable to resist any carrot dangling in front of you? What if it would instead be the responsibility of everyone to take responsibility for their feelings/urges/desires/wishes by making sure we live them out in circumstances which does not hurt our fellow man? There is a time, my friend, when it is time to stop pretending to be less than you can be. If not for anything else, so because nobody will believe it anymore.