Automated drones: An ethical debate?

Due to some technical difficulties, we aren’t able to post the video from yesterday’s live Q&A, but I’ll be online … Continued

Due to some technical difficulties, we aren’t able to post the video from yesterday’s live Q&A, but I’ll be online next week at 12:30pm ET to take your questions on ethical issues in the news.

Yesterday’s chat did raise some interesting questions about three stories making headlines this week — the use of automated military drones, President Obama’s planned tax increases and controversial proposed changes to the rules on harvesting organ

Several chatters addressed the ethics of using automated military drones. One chatter wondered how much of the debate is a moral one, given the technological vs. ethnical aspects of drone warfare. Another noted that drone warfare potentially removes military service people from the sense that they’re killing an enemy. Even if such technology has the potential to save lives, does creating a greater distance between ourselves and enemy targets encourage us to go to war?

Obama’s planned tax increases — and the notion that Americans should pay their “fair share” was next up for discussion. At face value, it seems fair for top earners to pay more in taxes — after all, as one chat participant pointed out, President Obama has said he does not want it to come out of the pockets of those who can least afford it. From the Republican side, the argument is that top earners already pay about 60 percent of the income tax. Who decides what’s fair and how?

We also discussed proposed changes to the rules on harvesting organ, which would allow doctors to harvest organs in a hurry. While the new rules would offer the potential to save more lives, opponents worry that patient interests aren’t being protected.

Chat participants stressed that the patient donating the organs must come first. But how long should doctors wait to determine if a patient is really dead? Organ donation offers a real opportunity to save lives and every organ donor should come up with some criteria, whether medical, religious or a mix of both, that serves as a reasonable determinant of the end of their life. Based on that definition, they should sign up to donate whatever organs would be usable after that definition is met.

The last chat question addressed my column this week, which looked at a fanatical atheist group’s decision to tear up the Bible as an act of protest. I argued that there is something inherently hypocritical about a group of so-called “freethinkers” destroying a text. One chat participant wondered if there if there were exceptions to my argument — can a text ever be considered so morally wrong that defacing it is an acceptable method of protest?

There are, I’m sure, exceptions, but my argument is this: Fanasticsm of any kind – religious, secular or otherwise — that holds a deeply held ideology as more important than people – is always dangerous and always wrong. There are other ways to protest or debate ideologies we disagree with, but destroying texts doesn’t have a place in free thought.


Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • SteveinOhio1

    As to drones: Couldn’t the notion that “drone warfare potentially removes military service people from the sense that they’re killing an enemy” be recast as “a nation should minimize its’ soldiers’ exposure to combat when combat can be conducted by other means?”

    As to taxes: I am still amazed the top earners in the nation don’t write-out their tax check and say “thank you” to a country that perpetuates an economic system that permits people to receive vast sums of money while others go without adequate food, healthcare, etc.

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