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RIGHTS: A right might be defined as the freedom to do what one has a duty to do. This might be the freedom which one actually has, or the freedom, which one ethically ought to have. The former may be called positive rights, and the latter ethical rights. If one believes in the Bible, or a similar doctrine according to which God commanded things to exist, and commanded plants, animals and humans also to be fruitful and multiply, then everything -- including rocks, water and fire -- will have a right to exist, and plants, animals and humans will also have a right to be fruitful and multiply. Sometimes duties, and therefore also rights, come into conflict. I cannot exist unless I eat other creatures and deprive them of their duties and rights to exist. I have, however, no more rights than my duties require. So I have no right to eat more than what I must eat in order to be healthy and survive. Certainly if we have a right at all to kill animals for meat, we have no right to a milligram more meat than we need for health. If some people need less meat than others, they have less of a right to it.

If we do not believe in the Bible or any other metaphysical source of duties, it is much harder to prove the existence of ethical rights. Indeed the great theorists of natural and inalienable rights, like John Locke and the framers of the United States Declaration of Independence, believed in God. Without such belief, someone else may contradict anyone's claim to a right or a duty, with no clear method to decide the argument other than by a contest of power. In such a case, only positive rights will exist. And only those who manage to fight for rights and win will have them. (FL)

RIGHT TO DIE: A right claimed by patients or their representatives to make decisions with regard to the patient's dying, such as by refusing life-sustaining medical care or by requesting assistance in dying. (See ADVANCE DIRECTIVES). (DM)

RISK: The probability of adverse effects, their nature, and their severity over a range of exposures. For example, a function of the probability of an adverse health effect and the severity of that effect, consequential to a hazard(s) in food. A risk is an expected danger or a problem situation around the corner, due to the introduction of a new technological situation. e.g.. introduction of GM crops/antibiotic resistance due to the proliferation of drugs, interspecies transfer of genes, creation of new bioweapons -pathogenic organisms, crop failure, reduction in biodiversity, privatization of natural resources and patenting. (DM, JA)


RISK ASSESSMENT: Science of understanding hazards - identification, possibility of their occurrence ad the consequence of such occurrence. i.e. characterizing the risk. (JA)

RISK COMMUNICATION: The interactive exchange of information and opinions concerning risk among risk assessors, risk managers, consumers and other interested parties. (JA)

RISK MANAGEMENT: If the assessed risk is dangerous then it includes weighing policy, selecting, implementing control options, regulatory measures. (JA)

RISK/BENEFIT: A decision-assisting process that attempts to identify, estimate and weigh all the risks and benefits associated with a particular action and to determine whether overall the benefit would be worth the associated risk. (DM)


RITALIN HYDROCHLORIDE: Trademark for methylphenidate hydrochloride, a central nervous system stimulant that has been used successfully in the treatment of children suffering from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The drug acts by stimulating the brain to increase the amount of dopamine available to it, however, there are side effects associated with this treatment including growth retardation, insomnia, decreased appetite and nervous tics. Therefore, medicating young people is controversial; especially in the absence of more severe mood disorders it should not be forgotten that high levels of activity, precociousness and curiosity are often simply normal childhood characteristics. (See ATTENTION-DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER). (IP)

RNA, RIBONUCLEIC ACID: A chemical found in the nucleus and cytoplasm of cells; it plays an important role in protein synthesis and other chemical activities of the cell. There are several classes of RNA molecules, including messenger RNA, transfer RNA, ribosomal RNA and other small RNAs, each serving a different purpose. Contains uracil as a base pair. Similar to DNA in structure and plays an intermediary role in converting information from DNA to ribosomes where proteins are made. (DM,JA)

RNAi: Double stranded interference RNA, can destroy messenger RNA sequence, can slice any gene. (JA)

ROBOT: (Czech: robota "work" or "servitude") An automated electromechanical device imitative of human anatomy or actions, often with programming to perform certain human-like functions such as perception and manipulation. The term was coined by Karel Capek, robots defined in his 1920 play Rossum’s Universal Robots as mass-produced mechanical humanoids for cheap labor. Since then robots have become a staple of fiction, popular culture, science, technology and work. About half of the world’s operational robots are in Japan, with the world robot population in 2000 roughly 1 million. Most of the robot workforce are non-complex "dumb" robots engaged in repetitive tasks. Robot workers outperform humans in speed, strength, stamina and precision, and are used in the commercial production of cars, electronics and chemicals. An "intelligent" robot uses its sensory apparatus to interact, respond and adapt as well as follow its programming. Robots can work in hazardous, extreme or remote environments such as the exploration of space (probes) and the deep sea (aquabots). Robotic technology contributes to prosthetics and bionics (cyborgs), and the design of robots often imitates the human form (androids). Some parents have interactive robot dogs as pets, and the domestic cleaning robot is eagerly anticipated by others. Modern snake-like robots used for earthquake rescue are comprised of numerous interchangeable segmented units acting as a network. Robot spy-planes and autonomous missiles are currently used in international conflict. In the future self-replicating robots constructed from atoms and molecules (nanobots) may swarm the battlefield or sweep the bloodstream of cholesterol and other illnesses. (See ANDROID, AQUABOT, CYBORG, NANOBOT, ROBOT BUSH, ROBOT ETHICS, ROBOTICS) (MP)

ROBOT BUSH: A hypothetical thought experiment by Hans Moravec in Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence, designed to illustrate the outermost extremes of potential advancement in robot technology. "A bush robot would be a marvel of surrealism to behold." It capitalizes on the manipulative utility of limbs and fingers, being comprised of numerous such extensions into smaller and thinner branches and then cilia. These dexterous self-constructing mechanical joints would be so numerous as to give the robot "organic" flexibility. The adaptable leaf fingers are antennae able to radio-communicate and sense forces, movement, electromagnetics and light among other things. With artificial intelligence and coordinated neural networking, they could divide into a swarm of smaller units which could burrow, swim, fly like insects and collect environmental data relevant to the parent robot’s knowledge and survival. Taken further, the fingers could subdivide down to the realm of nanotechnology, in which case the abilities of such a robot would truly appear like magic. (See NANOTECHNOLOGY, ROBOT) (MP)

ROBOT ETHICS: The flipsides to ethics in relation to robots and artificial intelligence are: 1. How should we treat them, and 2. How will they treat us? Robots and androids like ‘R2D2’ and ‘Atom’ (Astroboy) are already considered ‘part of the family’ by younger media viewers in places like Japan and America. But where do we draw the line with our machines and start treating them humanely - when they can ask us not to turn them off? Will they consider ethics in their own attempts at survival? Isaac Asimov proposed his Three Laws of Robotics in 1942: “1) A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; 2) A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where in conflict with the first law; 3) A robot must protect its own existence except where in conflict with the first or second law.” The fear is that learning machines may not be that easily ‘programmed’ (e.g. Terminator or ‘Hal’ in 2001). The combination of human and machine (bionics, microchip implants, creation of cyborgs) provides another dimension relevant to medical bioethics. (See ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, BIONICS, CYBORG, MICROCHIP IMPLANTS, ROBOT, ROBOTICS) (MP)

ROBOTICS: The science and technology of robot design, engineering and operation, combining artificial intelligence with mechanical engineering. Each requirement of a robot has technology to match, for example seeing (video), hearing (audio), perception (radio-waves), understanding (face/speech recognition), walking (locomotion), manipulation (cybernetic networks), problem-solving (heuristics, expert systems), thinking (artificial intelligence), action (robot body), interaction (learning procedures) and self-evolution (artificial life). Robotics has the job of integrating such functions, including both design/engineering and programming for dealing with the environment. Experimental robotics is conducted for example at NASA and MIT and by Japanese technology companies, surveyed by the International Federation of Robotics. The field of robotics is applied to business (e.g. consumer robots), policy (e.g. expert systems), medicine (e.g. bionics, cyborgs), engineering (e.g. cybernetics), industry (e.g. assembly-line), hazardous work (e.g. radioactive materials, bomb disposal), military (e.g. autonomous vehicles, missiles) and exploration (spacecraft, submersibles). Robotics may provide economical exploration of the solar system with larger numbers of smaller robotic space probes. Robotics presents its greatest risk to humans when applied to artificial intelligence (AI), providing computers with thinking and learning ability, senses and a ‘body’ with which to manipulate their environment. This may prove dangerous not only in the event of sentient or self-aware AI, but also when applied to non-intelligent autonomous weapons such as networks of armed robotic vehicles or nanobots possible in future combat. (See ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, ARTIFICIAL LIFE, BIONICS, CYBERNETICS, NANOTECHNOLOGY, ROBOT) (MP)


ROBUST: Able to withstand utilization; for example robust machinery is tough and long-lasting, and a robust model is able to stand up to model testing such as sensitivity analysis. (See SENSITIVITY ANALYSIS) (MP)

ROLE PLAYING: Is a method to discover the best approach for a problem and is the most often used in business, industry and education. In general it is not aimed at discovering the deeper feelings involved in a person's behavior. (See AXIODRAMA, PSYCHODRAMA, ROLE REVERSAL). (IP)

ROLE REVERSAL: Is where the major participants in an interaction change roles aimed at transcending the habitual limitations of egocentricity and reach a space where empathy for the other person's viewpoint or feeling can be accurately assessed. (See AXIODRAMA, PSYCHODRAMA, ROLE PLAYING). (IP)

ROMA: Known by many names, the Roma are commonly known in English as Gypsies. Various Roma populations may be found in Europe, the Middle East, and North America. The Roma were traditionally travellers, and have suffered much discrimination, especially in Europe. They were targeted, along with the Jews, as primary victims in the Holocaust. The origin of the Roma is not totally clear, although their language appears to be of northern Indian origin. Their language was traditionally unwritten, and not standardized and this accelerated the development of local dialects into quite distinct forms. The result is that many forms of the language of the Roma, known as Romany, are not mutually intelligible. (AG)


ROUNDUP: Glyphosphate, a very widely used, systemic, non-selective herbicide. Monsanto has genetically engineered some crops, notably soybeans, with glyphosphate tolerance to facilitate weeding of fields. (RW)


RU-486: The steriodal antiprogestin milepristone produced by xxxx as its trade name, which is capable of inducing early abortion by inhibiting the secretion of progesterone. (DM)

RUSSELL, BERTRAND: (1872-1970) An English mathematician, philosopher and peace activist, Lord Russell was one of the most prolific and influential philosophers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Principia Mathematica, which he co-authored with Alfred North Whitehead, was an attempt to translate mathematics into the language of formal logic, and to formulate axioms from which all mathematics could be deduced. This enterprise was frustrated by Kurt Godel's 1931 proof that all such systems must be incomplete. But the book nonetheless laid the foundations for the logical analysis of mathematics, language and science. Even though this book was co-authored, it was essentially a development and formal working-out of the ideas of an earlier work, Principles of Mathematics, which Russell wrote himself.

Russell's contributions to almost every branch of philosophy were immense. In an early paper, "On the notion of cause" he worked out in detail Hume's substitution of the idea of regularity, for that of necessary causal connexion. The outcome is that cause itself becomes an outmoded concept, with is replaced by that of laws describing regularities of correlation between one kind of event and another. This is the philosophical background behind accepted thinking in medicine and epidemiology today, in which it is rarely said that a certain kind of event causes certain clinical symptoms. It is said instead that these events are correlated or associated with those symptoms.

Russell's A History of Western Philosophy (1945), has always been unpopular among academic philosophers because of its readable and somewhat flippant style, and a few inaccuracies. But it remains a valuable reference book until this day. It has been consulted frequently for the dates of most of the philosophers referred to in this Dictionary.

Russell's ethics was not only philosophical. He was willing to make personal sacrifices for his principles. As an outspoken pacifist, active in the No-Conscription Fellowship during World War I, he was jailed for his activities. He wrote his Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy while serving his jail term.

Russell's intellectual courage is a model for philosophers and bioethicists. Some people hang on to their ideas, and hesitate to learn new things for fear that their long-held opinions might be challenged. Russell was the opposite. He began every enquiry with an open mind, ready to discover new truths. If what he discovered happened to contradict what he had written before, he did not resist, but accepted this as a further step towards truth. Although Russell was a pacifist during World War I, he later recognised Nazism as a threat to humanity, and supported the Allied war effort in World War II. (FL)

RYLE.G: (1900-1976) Gilbert Ryle was one of the most influential in the Oxford School of Ordinary Language Philosophy. These philosophers taught that the purpose of philosophy is to analyse our concepts. This is done by observing and recording how we use words in ordinary language. In his book The Concept of Mind, he argued that we do not learn about the mind through neurobiology, but rather by analysing how we use words, like thought, pain, and pleasure, which refer to our mental lives. (FL)



































SACRED SITE: A site that has special religious meaning to a group of persons. To the Aboriginal Australians include burial grounds, ceremony grounds, spirit places and places formed by the actions of spirits or ancestors (see DREAMTIME AND DREAMING, RAINBOW SERPENT). The sites marking the location where the Dreamtime Spirits re-entered the Earth after creation are specially sacred as the power of the Dreaming force continues for the good of all living inhabitants of that land; however, its traditional laws have to be respected in specified ways. Their location is kept secret from those who have no relation to this knowledge and who are not initiates of that particular Dreaming - the latter are forbidden to go there on pain of illness or death. (IP, DM)


SADISM: Sadism is a form of satisfaction, commonly sexual, derived from inflicting pain or harm on another individual. It is a mental disorder which manifests in antisocial behaviour such as verbal or physical aggression. The term is derived from the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), a French soldier initially condemned to death for his cruelty and sexual perversions but later imprisoned in the Bastille, during and after which he wrote licentious novels. (See MASOCHISM, SADOMASOCHISM). (IP, MP)


SADOMASOCHISM: Sado-masochism (SM) is the acting out of sexual fantasies based around roles of domination and submission, often involving discipline, emotional ridicule, rope bondage and/or physical flagellation. In the underground sex community it also goes by the name S & M (short for Sadism and Masochism, or alternately Slave and Master). Harm minimizations, such as precautions with blood, feces and implements, are paramount as this may be one of the riskiest forms of sex. Ethical philosophy in SM precludes doing anything without the freely-given informed consent of a sane adult, or causing injury requiring a physician/psychotherapist or risk of death or irreparable damage, even with consent. (See MASOCHISM, SADISM) (MP)

SAFE PERIOD: Misleading name for the days during each 28-day menstrual cycle when sexual intercourse is least likely to be followed by pregnancy. (See NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING METHODS). (IP)

SAFETY: The reasonable certainty that no harm will result under expected conditions of use. (DM)

SALAAM: Salaam or salem means ‘peace’ in the Arabic language. The salutation is often used in greeting, as in assalum ‘alaikum (‘peace be with you’), illustrating the fact that peace and charity are central concepts of Islam. (See PEACE, SHALOM, SHANTI) (MP)


SALT: 1. A salt is a soluble crystalline solid compound (e.g. carbonates, chlorides, nitrates), including common salt (halite or sea/rock/table-salt) sodium chloride (NaCl). Chemical salts in the environment and food chain have implications for human, ecological and agricultural health. (See SALINIZATION) 2. Acronym for Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I and SALT II) and/or Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. (MP)

SAM: Surface-to-Air Missile.

SAMPLE: A sample is a subset of observed data drawn from the whole population set, to be used in statistical inference. A sample can estimate conclusions about the entire set if the sample size is sufficiently proportional to the size of the whole statistical population, and if it is randomly or representatively selected. (See REPRESENTATIVE SAMPLE, STATISTIC) (MP)

SANCTITY OF LIFE: The principle that life is sacred and cannot be killed. (DM)

SANCTIONS: Sanctions are non-military impositions placed on a country perceived to be behaving out of line with the international community. They may include unilateral or multi-national trade restrictions and interruptions to transport, media, economic and diplomatic relations. The object of sanctions is to coerce a national government to change against its will. United Nations sanctions at different times have included arms embargoes (e.g. South Africa, Somalia, Haiti, former Yugoslav republics), restricted sanctions (e.g. Libya) and economic sanctions (e.g. Yugoslavia, Iraq). Military sanctions are a powerful tool for preventing the spread of nuclear or conventional weapons and small arms, but economic sanctions have been criticized on ethical grounds for the suffering and death they inflict on populations with limited access to food, basic medicines and general life satisfaction. (See ECONOMIC SANCTIONS) (MP)

SANGER, MARGARET: (1879-1966) an American human rights campaigner who coined the term "birth control" as a positive description of family limitation to replace the old economic term "neo-Malthusianism" (after Malthus’s message that contraception was the logical response to poverty posed by over-population). Building on her wide experience as an obstetrical nurse working for single mothers and underprivileged families, Sanger became convinced that the high infant/maternal morbidity and mortality rates, especially found in "backyard" and self-induced abortions, could only be confronted by liberating women from unwanted pregnancies. Accordingly, and in defiance of the then prevailing climate of "righteousness", she founded in 1914 the magazine "Birth Control Review" in which she publicized contraceptive methods. In 1921 Sanger founded the American Birth Control League, in 1927 she organized the first World Population Conference in Geneva, in 1936 she was instrumental in modifying the Compstock Act to permit doctors to prescribe contraceptives, and in 1953 was elected the first president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (see STOPES, MARIE). (IP)

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