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The Ethics of Chemical Warfare, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Advances in scientific research have led to the development of a variety of biological weapons, all of which have a potentially catastrophic impact on a population that is attacked with them. The use of chemical weapons is not unlike a nuclear attack; they are capable of mass destruction, and can spread over tremendous areas, so lethal that they can cause illnesses and disabilities to the people in their path, as well is having an effect on generations to come. The ethics involved in utilizing such weapons of mass destruction constitute legitimate and active scientific debate; the scientific community has had a history of violating ethical standards, such as in the infamous Tuskegee case, in which research was done on African-American men who were injected with syphilis and left untreated. In modern-day chemical warfare, exposure to anthrax raised the issue of the availability and relatively inexpensive use of a chemical to wreak havoc on a population (Reyes).

For purposes here, the working definition of chemical warfare is “the deliberate use of disease-causing microorganisms…that can reproduce themselves against humans, animals, or plants for hostile purposes” (Reyes.) These chemicals can be very easily inflicted on individuals or groups of people, and, as in the case of the anthrax attacks, can simply be sent through the mail, dumped into a water supply, or injected into the air in the form of gas. Because the scientific advances in this area are rapid and ever-expanding, it is essential to develop a code of ethics pertaining to their use. The scientists involved in research and development of chemical weapons are obligated to develop such standards in order to make sure that science doesn’t become “a science of death” (Atlas.) Such a code of ethics should include the following elements that would ensure that scientists’ work does not result in harm:

  • Individuals and scientists involved in working with such agents must refuse to engage in any work that would enable bioterrorism or biowarfare;
  • Scientists must refuse to contribute to the reckless development of biological agents that could be used for purposes of destruction and death;
  • Work must be done to make sure that scientific knowledge is used for beneficial and life-affirming purposes;
  • Healthcare professionals must ensure that access to biological elements are only made available to people who will not misuse them; and
  • Finally, scientists must make sure that all research studies and activities are scrutinized and overseen by panels who will make sure that valid benefits are being looked into, and that the positive factors involved outweigh the dangers and harm potentially caused by the work involved (Atlas).

The subject of the use of chemical weapons arose during the Iraqi war, when some American officials such as Donald Rumsfeld wanted to use “non-lethal chemical weapons” to attack Iraqi soldiers who were hiding in caves or buildings mixed in with civilians (Knickerbocker.) The argument against the use of such chemicals was that sometimes “non-lethal” chemicals can still kill people.  In addition, such an activity would have violated international law, specifically, The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention as well as The Chemical Weapons Convention.  In fact, if American troops ever plan to use chemicals that have the ability to incapacitate people, the President needs to sign a waiver of longstanding restrictions (Knickerbocker.)  A hard lesson was learned after the Vietnam War, when the use of an herbicide, “Agent Orange” cause a variety of illnesses and disabilities, chronic and fatal, to those who were exposed to that chemical, including the American soldiers.

There are many supporters of the idea of utilizing “non-lethal” weapons.  Those people in favor of such instruments of war believe that they are acceptable because they do not kill or maim people.  In the United States, such chemicals, called “incapacitants” are widely being sought to use as weapons because of the wide variety of effects that they can have on the people that fall victim to them: they can cause people to fall asleep, can interrupt their cognitive and neurological functioning, cause them to become panicked or sickened, all of which symptoms have a direct connection to both the human brain and the nervous system (Medical Ethics and Non-Lethal Weapons.) All of these issues raise troubling questions for the medical community about their connection to the use of non-lethal, chemical weapons, such as whether or not healthcare professionals should participate in developing weapons that have such an impact on the physical health of people who are in their path.  In addition, another ethical issue regarding doctors’ involvement in the field of chemical weapons is whether or not physicians should be prepared to care for people who are exposed to them.  It certainly cannot be ignored that the central tenet of medical practice is the motto, “first, do no harm.” Therefore, the idea that doctors participate in any way in the development and/or use of chemical weapons seems to contradict their ethical code.  Certainly, as suggested earlier, an international code of ethics is essential to be established and followed during this period in which chemical agents, both lethal and nonlethal, are hurriedly being developed, tested, and used in many forms. Within the last decade, the release of a noxious gas into the Japanese subway system, as well as the use of chemical weapons in a Russian classroom full of elementary school students only demonstrates how crucial it is that chemical weapons be tightly controlled, available only to a restricted population of people for limited purposes, and that ethical standards must be developed and honored by the international community.

Bibliography

Atlas, Margaret Somerville and Ronald. “Ethics: A Weapon to Counter Bioterrorism.” Science (2005): 1881-82.

Knickerbocker, Brad. “The Fuzzy Ethics of Nonlethal Weapons.” 14 February 2003. The Christian Science Monitor. 2 October 2011 <http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0214/p02s01-usmi.html>.

“Medical Ethics and Nonlethal Weapons.” April 2004. The American Journal of Bioethics.net. 2 October 2011 <http://bioethics.net/journal/j_articles.php?aid=622>.

Reyes, Daniel. “The Ethics of Chemical and Biological Warfare Weaponry.” Santa Clara University. 2 October 2011 <http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/submitted/reyes/weaponry.html>.

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