BMAT 2018 SECTION 3 – Q1 (30 mins) Liberty – John Stuart Mill

This quote from John Stuart Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ argues for individual freedoms that are not limited by laws or social agents. While this statement might have held true when written in the 19th century, in the 21st century it no longer holds the same validity it once did.

Mill’s claim posits that individual freedoms must be allowed to prevent social stagnation and to enable growth. This is a utilitarian approach as it uses desire as the dominating principle. Mill argues that liberty of opinion and action is necessary as an unpopular opinion might in fact be correct, and if it is not, it might enable those arguing against it to better understand their own positions on the topic. Furthermore, seemingly incorrect actions may serve those who take them best, and nonconformity may allow for greater development of more desirable ways of living.

However, the world is far more interconnected today due to the internet, air travel, and the global economy. This creates greater social responsibility than would have been possible, or even imaginable in the 1800s when Mill was writing, as we now must acknowledge the global impact our actions have. For example, many critiques of fast fashion include the way in which workers in the Global South are exploited, often working below minimum wage and in dangerous conditions. In this case, doing what one desires, buying trendy clothes, has far-reaching negative ramifications for those making them. Therefore, when thinking about our own desires, it is impossible to place them outside of the global context in which they exist.

If we apply Mill’s philosophy of liberty of action to this, we can argue that if consumers desire to be more responsible to others around the world, they might shop locally or sustainably to ensure that their actions are creating more good than harm. Yet, data shows that most people do not opt to do so due to the higher cost associated. However, unlike in the 19th century, individual liberty in today’s world has significantly wider implications. To bring Mill’s ideas up to date, we must encourage liberty of action whilst working to reduce harm not only within our own communities, but also globally 

Overall, in today’s globalised context, Mill’s concept of liberty and desire cannot be fully applied. A modern reading of his work suggests that liberty can be found in doing what one wants but that ‘what one wants’ must be mindful of the global consequences of individual behaviour.

BMAT 2018 SECTION 3 – Q2 (30 mins) Life – Rosalind Franklin

The notion that science gives only a ‘partial explanation of life’ refers to the fact that science is a particular lens or worldview through which we understand and process information. In this regard, Franklin evokes a long history of science being framed as the opposite of faith. The former is considered guided by rationality, face and falsifiability, whilst the latter is considered guided by belief, conviction and instinct. Due to these characteristics, many scientists argue for the hegemony of science over faith.

It has long been argued that science can and does give a complete explanation of life because science uses clear methodology, including hypothesis building and testing via experimentation to develop precise rules of engagement. Science has clear, data-driven, fact-based parameters that give it academic rigour and produce results that might be falsified. Unlike faith, the concept of ‘science’ has internal checks and balances, including international standards for research, universal codes of ethics, and peer-review for publication. It is argued that these high standards create conditions in which science can account for life more thoroughly than belief might.

For example, in 1998 prominent medical journal, The Lancet, published Andrew Wakefield’s inaccurate research stating that the Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine can cause autism in children. The study was done with 12 children, too small a number to produce any tangible results, and was later debunked by bigger experiments, leading to retraction by the journal. It was found that Wakefield had significant conflicting financial interest in the experiment, making it invalid. This demonstrates how science is accountable because it proceeds with fact, rather than faith, and rectifies mistakes by repeating experiments at bigger scales to produce more data to analyse. 

However, despite being debunked, the anti-vax (anti-vaccination) myth persists even today, and many parents hold the false belief that vaccination can cause autism, informed by Wakefield’s poor science. This leads thousands of children to go unvaccinated each year and leaves them at risk for disease. The belief that these parents hold, although incorrect, is informed by outdated science and demonstrates how faith and fact are intertwined. Without faith, the science would not have persisted, and without science the faith would not have developed in the first place. Therefore, I agree to a large extent with Franklin’s statement, because science and faith interact constantly both in and out of the lab. I would further advocate for collapsing the hard binary between science and faith and see them as symbiotic, relational ways of understanding the world. All different explanations of life can and should interact with one another to produce a more full, more convincing picture of the human experience. 

BMAT 2018 SECTION 3 – Q3 (30 mins) Death caused by medical error

Modern healthcare is considered to be one of humanity’s greatest advancements. Therefore, it stands to reason that medical error in the 21st century is the only possible cause of death after routine operations or procedures. However, this does not fully take into account the possibility of random chance.

This statement suggests that advances in medical knowledge and technology mean that all routine procedures are effectively risk-free, and that the only possible risk is that of preventable human error, including misdiagnosis, incorrect treatment, or surgical mishap. The basis for this argument is convincing as interconnected advances in science and technology mean that our knowledge of the human body and medical conditions are well addressed by the tools we have available. At no prior point in history have we had as advanced healthcare systems as we do today.

To take surgical mishap as an example, many cases of medical error are caused due to malpractice either by the surgeon or anaesthesiologist. In fact, many postoperative deaths are caused by reactions to anaesthesia. Risk mitigation is vital part of providing quality healthcare and in this case, where anaesthesia has been inappropriately selected or administered there can be grave consequences, such as routine tonsillectomies resulting in brain death. It is the responsibility of medical professionals to take detailed health histories and conduct appropriate tests to determine the best course of treatment for each patient as differences in lifestyle, diet, and a numerous range of other physical and mental conditions, can cause dramatic biological differences from patient to patient.

Though the initial statement can be well reasoned to a great degree, it is still limited as it does not consider that humans have not evolved parallely to modern healthcare. While medical research, knowledge and technology in the 21st century is standardised and heavily regulated, human bodies are still unpredictable, biological organisms. Where one case in one patient may present a certain way, it might present differently in others. Though we can establish standard courses of treatment for particular conditions based on data-driven research, there will always be those who deviate from the norm, leading to random error and unavoidable death.

Ultimately, the statement rings true to a large extent as medical advancements mean that routine procedures can be well-individualised and efficiently delivered. However, modern healthcare depends greatly on standardisation and as human bodies cannot be patterned as specifically as healthcare can be, anomalies in healthcare contexts will continue to exist, leading to random, unavoidable death.

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