Wednesday, 2 February 2011

More on sodium thiopental

Ah, some more curious moral reasoning regarding Hospira's refusal to continue manufacturing sodium thiopental, (see earlier comments).   Charles Lane objects to the discontinuation of its production because (i) there are legitimate anaesthetic uses of the drug and (ii) "I suppose European restrictions on thiopental might be justifiable if they save a lot of lives on Death Row. They probably won't."

Consider the second point first. Lane seems to be contending that it's justifiable to refuse to contribute to an objectionable moral act only if you have good reason to think that your refusal to participate will prevent the act from occurring.  It's okay (required?) to contribute to morally objcectionable acts if it's reasonable to think that your contribution to the act is relatively easy to replicate or replace.  Suppose I'm producing some drug that turns out to be highly effective for date rape and is, in fact, often used for that purpose. Suppose further that for that reason I stop producing it.  Well, according to Lane I'm not justified in doing so because, after all, if people don't have my drug they can always use booze or roofies or something to accomplish the same goal. 

Let's also consider the objection that there are legitimate uses of sodium thiopental and let's assume that that's true.  Where does the moral compulsion here lie -- on the producer of the drug or on the ones intentionally using the drug for unintended purposes?   Suppose, again, that I'm producing a drug that can be used for date rape but also has legitimate uses.  Suppose you are in control of distributing the drug and I ask you not to sell it to people who tell you that they're planning to use it for date rape.  Suppose, you refuse this request.   And suppose that because of your unwillingness to provide this assurance, I refuse to continue to produce it.  Who is to blame here for the fact that some are unable to use the drug for its intended end, those who who refused to produce it because of the reasonable belief that it will be misused or those who refused to use it for its intended purpose?

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