Eva Feder Kittay: 2014 Guggenheim Fellow

Eva Feder Kittay, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Stony Brook University and Senior Fellow of the Stony Brook Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics, has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to complete a book tentatively titled Disabled Minds and Things that Matter: Lessons for a Humbler Philosophy. The prestigious fellowship, which places Professor Kittay in the company of many illustrious names, which also includes a lengthy list of noble prize laureates (Czeslaw Milosz being a particular favourite of mine), was established in 1925 and is granted to individuals whose work makes substantial contributions to education, literature, art, and science. Professor Kittay’s work pushes philosophical discourse beyond the inadequate rationalistic framework that has traditionally been utilized to measure the worth of persons. She urges that actual relationships of care and love characterize who we are and why we are morally considerable. Equipped with both the argumentative and analytic tools of a philosopher and the personal experience of being a parent of a child with severe cognitive disabilities, Eva Kittay is in a unique position to play the part of a competent judge whose insights have great philosophical, and more saliently, educational value. Although Disabled Minds and Things that Matter: Lessons for a Humbler Philosophy will be a philosophically rigorous contemplation on the place of disability in philosophical discourse, it will nevertheless be aimed at the educated lay reader, meaning that it will not only shape future philosophical projects, but will also serve to educate the public.

Why is a focus on disability important to the future of philosophical research? Taking severe cognitive disabilities into account when formulating questions in philosophy will force us to reframe both traditional and contemporary inquiries. For example, the rationalistic model of personhood inherited from Aristotle and Kant as well as the numerous individualistic psychological accounts of diachronic personal identity that have been developed since Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding will have to give way to other, more inclusive models and accounts that better represent the relational nature of memory, personhood, and moral status of human beings. Relational personhood and an extended account of personal identity, which is the focus of my own research is indebted to such fundamental reframing of philosophical questions by placing the interests of individuals with severe cognitive disabilities at the centre of our philosophical contemplations regarding the moral status of persons. If placing disability at the centre of philosophical inquiry helps philosophy transcend its current theoretical bounds, then not only is Eva Kittay correct in suggesting that disability is at the frontier of philosophy itself, but Professor Kittay and those her research project inspires to work at the intersection of philosophy and disability studies are forging a new philosophical direction in the time honoured spirit of philosophical innovation and transformation.

Adrienne Asch–RIP

Adrienne Asch

by Rob Wilson. 

Many of us have been saddened today to learn of the death of prominent disability rights scholar and activist Adrienne Asch.  Some obituaries tributes have started to appear, and we will gather those we find in the coming days and add them to this one.  Please feel free to add your own in the comments to this post.

Adrienne was the Edward and Robin Milstein Professor of Bioethics, and Director of the Center for Ethics at Yeshiva University in New York.  She wrote on ethical issues in reproduction, death and dying, and justice for disadvantaged minorities in American society, and is perhaps best-known amongst philosophers for her powerful articulations of core arguments in the disability rights critique of the busy-as-usual practices utilizing prenatal diagnosis and testing.

Adrienne had been supportive of the What Sorts Network in its early days,

Continue reading

Future Past: Disability, Eugenics, & Brave New Worlds

Future Past: Disability, Eugenics, & Brave New Worlds. A public symposium on the history and ongoing implications of eugenics ideologies and practices for people with disabilities.
Why do these issues matter? How can we address them in teaching and pedagogy, in policy and activism, and in art?

On November 1, 2013 at San Francisco State University, Seven Hill Conference Center from 9:00 am – 8:00 pm.
The Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada is co-sponsoring a conference, dinner and reception plus the screening of FIXED: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement. Conference organizers include: Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability, Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada, and the Center for Genetics and Society.

Registration is free:  geneticsandsociety.org/futurepast

Future Past is the result of a cross-national collaboration among advocates and academics interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the long and tangled relationship between disability and eugenics, and the contemporary implications of genetic technologies to the lives and futures of people with disabilities.

Program – November 1, 2013

9:00 – 9:15: Welcome

  • Provost Sue Rossier, San Francisco State University
  • Catherine Kudlick, Director, Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability

9:15 – 9:30: Table Introductions

9:30 – 11:30: What? Eugenics and Disability: Past and Present

Many people are unaware of the history of eugenics movements in North America, yet they are disturbingly relevant today.

Presenters:

  • Alexandra Minna Stern (moderator), Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology, American Culture, and History at the University of Michigan.
  • Marcy Darnovsky, Center for Genetics and Society
  • Glenn SInclair, Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada
  • Nicola Fairbrother, Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada

Table Discussions

11:30 – 12:30 : Lunch

12:30 – 2:30: So What? The Consequences of Misremembering Eugenics

What are the social and ethical consequences of omitting eugenics from historical memory or misrepresenting it? What is the price of the pursuit of “human betterment” for reproductive and disability justice?

Presenters:

  • Marsha Saxton (moderator), World Institute on Disability
  • Rob WIlson, Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada, University of Alberta
  • Troy Duster, Warren Institute for Law and Society Policy, University of California, Berkeley
  • Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Emory University

Table Discussions

2:30 – 3:00: Break

3:00 – 5:00: Now What? Looking Ahead to Brave New Worlds

What is being done – and what can be done – to increase public and student understanding of the legacies of eugenics through teaching, activism and art?

Presenters:

  • Milton Reynolds (moderator), Facing History and Ourselves
  • Gregor Wolbring, Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada, University of Calgary
  • Kate Wiley, Lick-Wilmerding High School
  • Patricia Berne, Sins Invalid

Table Discussions

5:00 – 6:30: Dinner and Reception

6:30 – 8:00 Sneak-preview screening

FIXED: The Science/FIction of Human Enhancement

Producer/DIrector Regan Brashear will answer questions

 Future Past Nov 1

Alberta Eugenics Awareness Week (AEAW) 2013 ~ Oct 16 – Oct 22, 2013

Please join us in Edmonton at the University of Alberta for a series of events throughout Wednesday October 16 to Tuesday October 22, 2013 that mark:

Alberta Eugenics Awareness Week (AEAW) 2013 ~ Oct 16 – Oct 22, 2013

Wednesday Oct 16 – Rob Wilson, University of Alberta, Standpoint Eugenics.  Brown-bag lunch co-sponsored with the Dept. of Educational Policy Studies.  Noon-1:30pm, 7-102 Education North.

Thursday Oct 17 – Eugenics and Indigenous Perspectives.  Discussion panel co-sponsored with the Faculty of Native Studies.  Panelists: Tracy Bear, Joanne Faulkner, Jerry Kachur, Noon-1:00pm, 2-06 Pembina Hall.

Friday Oct 18 – 1) Persons’ Day Panel: Feminism, Motherhood and Eugenics: Historical Perspectives. Panelists: Wendy Kline, University of Cincinnati, Erika Dyck, University of Saskatchewan, and Molly Ladd-Taylor, York University. Noon – 1:00 pm, Henderson Hall, Rutherford South. Wheelchair accessible. 2) Wendy Kline, University of Cincinnati, “The Little Manual that Started a Revolution: How Midwifery Became a Hippie Practice”, 3:30 – 5.00pm, Assiniboia 2-02A, co-sponsored with the Departments of History and Classics, and Women’s and Gender Studies. 3) FIXED: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement. A documentary by Regan Brashear www.fixedthemovie.com, co-sponsored with the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine and the John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre. Telus Centre 150.  Doors at 6:30 pm, film at 7:00 pm. Q&A with Dr. Gregor Wolbring (who is featured in the film) following the film. Wheelchair accessible and closed captioned.

Saturday Oct 19 – Team Meeting, Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada.  2-02A Assiniboia Hall (9:00 am – 4:30 pm) Lunch provided; please RSVP to moyra@ualberta.ca by Noon Oct 16th.

Monday Oct 21 – 1) Joanne Faulkner, University of New South Wales, The Politics of Childhood and Community Identity.  Noon – 1:00 pm in 7-152 Education North.  Co-sponsored by the Departments of Educational Policy Studies and Human Ecology.  2) World Premiere “Surviving Eugenics in the 21st Century: Our Stories Told” 7:00 pm – 9:15 pm Metro Cinema at the Garneau, 8712 – 109 Street NW, Edmonton. Trailer: http://youtu.be/QoM12GAJm8I; closed captioned and ASL interpretation; wheelchair access through the alley entrance.  Please sign up in advance at Facebook to help us with numbers!

Tuesday Oct 22 – 1) Joanne Faulkner, University of New South Wales, The Coming Postcolonial Community: Political Ontology of Aboriginal Childhood in Bringing Them Home.  4.00 – 5.30pm in Assiniboia 2-02a.  Co-sponsored with the Departments of Philosophy and Sociology.  2) Difference and Diversity: An Evening of Performances.  Featuring CRIPSiE (formerly iDance), a reading by Leilani Muir, the art work of Nick Supina III, and much more.  Education North 4-104. Doors at 6:30 pm, performances at 7:00 pm.  Please sign up in advance via Facebook to help us with numbers!

ASL Interpretation can be arranged for events, please contact moyra@ualberta.ca prior to the event.

All Events are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC!

All events are at the University of Alberta, Edmonton.

Individualism and Eugenics

h/t to Ken Bond; from Nathaniel Comfort at the Scientific American blog:

Is eugenics a historical evil poised for a comeback? Or is it a noble but oft-abused concept, finally being done correctly?

Once defined as “the science of human improvement through better breeding,” eugenics has roared back into the headlines in recent weeks in both Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jekyll personae. The close observer may well wonder which will prevail. The snarling Mr. Hyde is the state control over reproduction.

To read the full story:

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2013/08/23/is-individuality-the-savior-of-eugenics/

 

Sterilization Abuse in State Prisons: Time to Break with California’s Long Eugenic Patterns

An article by Professor Alex Stern, Living Archives Team Member, has been released today in The Huffington Post. The article, Sterilization Abuse in State Prisons: Time to Break With California’s Long Eugenic Patterns, reveals that at least 148 female prisoners in 2 California institutions were sterilized between 2006 and 2010. Tubal ligations in violation of prison rules during those five years – and there are perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents and interviews.  Professor Stern’s work points to a discernible racial bias in the state’s sterilization and eugenics programs.

Corey G. Johnson of the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) published on July 7th a detailed expose’ of unauthorized sterilizations of unwilling women in California prisons. Johnson’s excellent report brought international attention to a scandal that some activists and researchers have at least partially documented. It is important to note that, as the CIR report says, these sterilizations were illegal: Federal and state laws ban inmate sterilizations if federal funds are used, reflecting concerns that prisoners might feel pressured to comply. California used state funds instead, but since 1994, the procedure has required approval from top medical officials in Sacramento on a case-by-case basis. Yet no tubal ligation requests have come before the health care committee responsible for approving such restricted surgeries….

How could this happen?

Governor Gray Davis apologized in 2003 for California’s twentieth-century sterilizations, 20,000  procedures carried out under an explicitly eugenic law. He did so  quietly, via press release, and with no attempt to discover or  compensate the victims. (Recognized experts on American eugenics were  disappointed at the time: Paul Lombardo called it “premature” and Alexandra Minna Stern said it was “preemptive.”) Now his statement seems like a sham. The  fault is no longer the law, it’s the failure to follow the law.

North Carolina is still struggling to pass a budget that includes compensation for its victims of eugenic sterilization.  California has barely started the process of coming to terms with its  troubled history.

The California state prison system is overcrowded — Governor Jerry Brown is appealing a federal court order to release inmates — and conditions are so bad that 30,000 are on  hunger strike. If this report about sterilization helps to usher in a  period of genuine reform, that would be wonderful.

We would still need to educate all too many people, inside and  outside the jail system, about the moral and practical harm of modern  eugenics. Based on some of the remarks by state officials that Johnson  reported, and on some of the comments on coverage of his investigation,  people slide right back into eugenic ways of thinking.

Justice Now is an organization that works with women in prison. Their website has links to the CIR  reports and videos.

Professor Stern’s article in the Huffington Post raises awareness about eugenic practices and calls for a new era of human rights and the protection of vulnerable populations. Tony Platt co-authored the post. The original article can be found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alex-stern/sterilization-california-prisons_b_3631287.html

Meet the New Eugenics, Same as the Old Eugenics

From the Center for Genetics and Society blog, by Gina Maranto, Biopolitical Times guest editor, March 4, 2013

The unfortunate truth is that discredited ideas never do die, they just rise again in slightly altered forms—witness eugenics. Despite the horrors perpetuated in its name, including forced sterilization and the Holocaust, the eugenic impulse is with us still. One of the forms it takes is schemes for “improving” offspring through the selection and manipulation of embryos.

In the last year or so, one neo-eugenic advocate in particular has been garnering media attention. He’s Julian Savulescu, holder of an array of titles, including an endowed chair and directorship of a center at the University of Oxford funded by the Uehiro Foundation on Ethics and Education.

Continue reading

“Baby M”, End of Life Policy, and the Stollery Children’s Hospital

Some of you may be aware of the matter of “Baby M”, involving a 2-year-old child who was admitted to the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta, on May 25, 2012. She required a ventilator for life support. Despite the parents’ opposition to the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment, which incorporated their religious beliefs, the Court of Queen’s Bench found that it was in the child’s best interests to terminate life support and, on September 14, 2012, ordered the withdrawal of the ventilator. The Court held that there is a general notion in society that a life dependent upon machines and without awareness is not in the best interests of any patient. On September 19, 2012, a three member panel of the Court of Appeal held that there was no error in principle in the Queen’s Bench decision and the appeal was dismissed. On September 20, 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the parents’ application for a further stay. “Baby M’s” ventilator was removed, she suffocated, and died.

 
The parents are appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada to have Canada’s highest court decide important issues regarding termination of life-sustaining medical treatment. This decision of the lower courts and, if leave is granted, the ultimate decision of the Supreme Court of Canada will decide the process that will be used and who will make decisions to terminate life support.

These decisions of the Alberta Courts and how they will be followed in the future may ultimately affect individuals in your organization or your community. Should you believe that you, your organization, or community have a position on these life and death issues that should be heard and considered Continue reading

What sorts of academics should there be?

from Carl Elliott, “How to be an academic failure: an introduction for beginners”, The Ruminator Review, but also:  whitecoatblackhat.com/academicfailure/

Carl visited us up in Edmonton a few years ago, courtesy in part due to the work he was doing at the time on big pharma and also as a member of the What Sorts Network.  In addition to enjoying and learning much from his public lecture, we also had a great informal, roundtable session with about a dozen people that was focused on his then-developing work on a particular case in psychopathology that involved a senior professor who had murdered his spouse.

I also had a fun dinner with Carl in which he confessed his slight ill-ease with me.  This was caused by the fact that every time I started speaking, I managed to disappoint his expectation that I would sound just like The Dude.  “Damn it, how can that be?” he wondered aloud, almost with sufficient pathos for me to consider peppering our conversation with some of the many lines I know from heart from The Big Lebowski.  But despite the short-term fun this would have involved, I thought that this might actually exacerbate the problem in the long run, so I resisted the temptation.  “But that’s just like, your opinion, man.” I still hear a small voice inside my head say.

Here’s how his recent article, with all its sage advice on academic failure, begins:

How to be an academic failure? Let me count the ways. You can become a disgruntled graduate student. You can become a burned-out administrator, perhaps an associate dean. You can become an aging, solitary hermit, isolated in your own department, or you can become a media pundit, sought out by reporters but laughed at by your peers. You can exploit your graduate students and make them hate you; you can alienate your colleagues and have them whisper about you behind your back; you can pick fights with university officials and blow your chances at promotion. You can become an idealistic failure at age 25, a cynical failure at 45, or an eccentric failure at 65. If failure is what you’re looking for, then you can hardly do better than the academic life. The opportunities are practically limitless.

Call me arrogant, but I like to think I have a knack for failure. Having started and abandoned one abortive career, participated in the dissolution of a major bioethics center, published dozens of articles nobody has read and given public lectures so dull that audience members were actually snoring, I think I have earned my stripes. It is true that I am not an alcoholic yet. I do not have a substance abuse problem, and no university disciplinary proceedings have been brought against me so far. I am still a novice at failure. Many other people in my own field have succeeded at failing in a far more spectacular fashion than I have, some of whom are rumored to be living in South America. But I am learning. And I think I have something to contribute.  Read more

Shades of Personhood: A Worry About Definitions of Death for Transplant Purposes

Although brain death, which is an “irreversible cessation of all the functions of the brain, including the brain stem” (see article), has been used as a pretty safe definition of a person’s death, transplant advocates are calling to revive a different definition of death, namely cardiac death or circulatory death, which is “an irreversible cessation of circulation and heartbeat and breathing” (see article).  In such cases, CPR is not performed and after a short wait, organs are removed.  However, the problem is that there is no guarantee that the heart won’t restart by itself, so the question of how long to wait becomes a tricky one.  Some hospitals wait five minutes while others only two.  The trouble with waiting too long is that organs cut off from a nourishing blood supply cannot last very long.  Surgeons in Michigan are starting to place donors on ECMOs (heart-lung machines) even before the donor’s heart stops beating.  This ensures that the organs are not deprived of nourishment, but it also further blurs the line between life and death.

The Michigan doctors say the approach is a blessing. Family members have more time to say goodbye and a chance at getting some solace from their loss.  “They are so pleased that the last act of the person’s life on Earth was to donate organs and save other people’s lives,” Punch said.  Transplant surgeons say the chance to turn a death into an opportunity for life is a godsend. (See article)

Defining death is not as straight forward as it might seem.  Of course, there are certainly clear cut cases.  Taking a stroll through a cemetery reveals hundreds such cases.  However, the moment that marks the exact boundary between life and death is much harder to define.  Perhaps this is because there is no such moment, death being a process of a certain duration.  Technological advancements such as ECMOs, however, can extend this process far beyond the short period it would normally take.  Are such patients essentially in a state of dying, but not really dead or are they essentially alive due to the fact that the process of dying had been interrupted by the machines?

Just because machines are doing the breathing does not mean that the person is dead.  By that definition, artificial hearts or pace makers would make the people who have them into walking corpses.  Also, just because someone is in a coma, does not mean that they are ready to be harvested for organs.  Perhaps an argument for the practice of recirculating blood in order to keep organs nourished hangs on the irreversibility of the donor’s condition.  But again, not only is “irreversibility” not a certainty in all cases, but irreversibility itself does not seem to be reason enough to harvest organs from a living human being.  We don’t generally think that extracting organs from patients in permanent vegetative states is permissible, even if such states are by definition irreversible and if such patients happen to be organ donors.

This is certainly a tricky question, especially since the patients involved are donors who have agreed to donate their organs after they die, but unless their advance directives state that organs are to be extracted while alive as long as it happens at the discretion of the doctors or family, the problem with the definition of death will continue to be an issue.  Citing the number of lives that can be saved by the practice of extracting organs from a living person (even if irreversibly damaged), should not be used as an argument for such a practice particularly since the same argument can apply to extracting organs from any living person (I have in mind the classic objection to utilitarianism here).

I am not entertaining slippery slope worries, but I think that it is important to stress that the subtle details regarding our practices of extracting organs for transplantation should be thoughtfully considered, reasoned through, and explained.  One moral worry I have is that such patients may not be viewed as persons by doctors eagerly waiting to extract vital organs in order to save the lives of other (more obvious?) persons.  Can what the Michigan doctors are doing be done with a genuine air of respect and dignity that is owed to persons?  Perhaps it can, but the reasons for such practices must reflect this respect and dignity.  I am simply not convinced that, at least in all cases, merely focusing on what the family and other patients get out of it constitutes reasons that are saturated with genuine respect for the personhood of the donor.

CCD Calls on Global to Stage Follow-up Episode

Recently, Dick Sobsey wrote about the Live Euthanasia Debate airing on Global Television’s 16 x 9 program.

The show, “Taking Mercy”, also featured a Live Blog including comments from several members of the What Sorts Network.

Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director with the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, wrote a post condemning the one-sidedness of the show and comparing the “propaganda” in the 16 x 9 episode with the eugenic attitudes that led to the Nazi euthanasia program.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities has also responded to the lack of an opposing perspective in the so called “debate”. The CCD is challenging Global to stage a follow-up episode.

We are challenging Global, in the name of journalistic balance, to stage a follow-up episode featuring persons with disabilities who want to live and who see a danger in opening up the debate on euthanasia. Only good can come from providing an opportunity for a broader, fairer public discourse.

If you agree that the perspective of those opposed to euthanasia should be represented in a follow-up episode, please take a minute to write to Global representatives at the addresses listed in CCD’s response to “Taking Mercy”.

Rick Santorum and prenatal screening

For those that missed the controversy, towards the end of February Rick Santorum (current candidate for the Republican presidential leadership bid) argued that,  ” a lot of prenatal tests are done to identify deformities in utero, and the customary procedure is to encourage abortions.” His argument was roughly as follows: since prenatal screening leads to an increase in abortions, and since abortion is morally reprehensible, the morality of prenatal screening should also be considered. He was also, however, making the point that prenatal screening leads to a new form of eugenics — one that targets a fetus which exhibits abnormalities and deformities which are deemed undesirable. These arguments set off a firestorm of controversy.

Emily Rapp wrote a reply, “Rick Santorum, Meet my Son”, in which she claims that if she had determined that her son would have been born with Tay-Sachs (as he was), that she would have chose to abort her fetus.

 If I had known Ronan had Tay-Sachs (I met with two genetic counselors and had every standard prenatal test available to me, including the one for Tay-Sachs, which did not detect my rare mutation, and therefore I waived the test at my CVS procedure), I would have found out what the disease meant for my then unborn child; I would have talked to parents who are raising (and burying) children with this disease, and then I would have had an abortion. Without question and without regret, although this would have been a different kind of loss to mourn and would by no means have been a cavalier or uncomplicated, heartless decision.

But it seems like both sides are talking passed each-other a bit here. It seems necessary to recognize the potential dangers for a form of newgenics — something that can be informed by our understanding of the history of eugenics, and the ways in which new technologies can reassert these tendencies. But it also seems necessary to recognize the potential value of pre-natal screening technologies, and to recognize the very real pain that diseases like Tay-Sachs impart on the child.

A Prequel to Gattaca?

The 1997 film Gattaca, written and directed by Andrew Niccol, portrays a futuristic society where babies are genetically engineered according to parental references.  The film features a society that consists almost exclusively of such artificially built individuals, with those who are born in the archaic, natural manner occupying the fringes of this society.  In order to protect the rights of what are referred to as the “valids” and thereby keep out the inferior “invalids,” each individual’s genetic material is constantly sampled and monitored.  Every person’s DNA is stored in a database, making multiple scans and random genetic sweeps in the workplace very efficient.  The story follows an “invalid” who has a dream of becoming an astronaut, a job open only to the genetically enhanced elite.

But my intention here is not to provide a synopsis of the film, which is very good and is certainly well worth the time it takes to watch.  Rather, I wanted to Continue reading

Ethicist gets hate mail

A Melbourne academic has triggered an ethical storm by suggesting it is acceptable to kill newborns in so-called after-birth abortions if parents do not want them.

Ethicist Francesca Minerva said yesterday that she had received hate mail since a provocative article she co-wrote with Dr Alberto Giubilini appeared online.

They argued after-birth abortion should be allowed in cases when abortion would be permitted, including if a child had a defect such as Down syndrome.

Even in cases where the baby was born perfectly healthy, parents should have the right to end the life of the child if their own wellbeing was at risk.

The researchers said a newborn baby and a foetus were “morally equivalent” and both were “potential people”.

“If criteria such as the social, psychological and economic costs for potential parents are good enough reasons for having an abortion even when the foetus is healthy…then the same reasons which justify abortion should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is as the stage of a newborn, they said.

Adopting out an unwanted baby was not necessarily a solution because the mother might suffer psychological distress from giving up her child for adoption.

Dr Minerva said the article was not intended for public debate but rather for discussion among bioethicists.

“This debate has been going on for 30 years,” she said.

The BMJ Group said the researchers had been subjected to personal abuse, including threats to their lives.

It said the concept of infanticide was not new and the researchers had made an argument that deserved to be heard without receiving hostile abuse.
Catholic Respect Life executive officer Bronia Karniewicz said the argument that killing a healthy baby rather than putting them up for adoption because it might better benefit the parents was disturbing.

the article can be found here: http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/wa/13056055/ethicist-gets-hate-mail/

Australian paper says Euthanizing Babies should be allowed

A paper published in the Journal of Medical Ethics argues that abortion should be extended to make the killing of newborn babies permissible, even if the baby is perfectly healthy, in a shocking example of how the medical establishment is still dominated by a vicious mindset.

The paper is authored by Alberto Giubilini of Monash University in Melbourne and Francesca Minerva at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne.

The authors argue that “both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons,” and that because abortion is allowed even when there is no problem with the fetus’ health, “killing a newborn should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.”

The complete article can be found here:http://www.eutimes.net/2012/03/australian-paper-says-euthanizing-babies-should-be-allowed-as-abortion/

Perilous Relations: Bioaesthetics and Eugenics

Some might be interested in a conference session being held in Sydney, Australia this year titled Perlous Relations: Bioaesthetics and Eugenics. The session, which takes place July 12-14, will be part of the Together<>Apart conference—a conference which focuses “on the very broad idea of relations and relationships as well as allied terms such as collaborations, networks and partnerships.”

More about the conference can be found here.

And the abstract for the Perilous Relations session can be found after the break.  Continue reading

A reply to Allen Buchanan on Cognitive Enhancement

The interview with Allen Buchanan has spawned numerous discussions throughout the web, including Brendan Foht’s response. In it, Foht looks to address Buchanan’s claim that the nature of our evolution in some sense justifies cognitive enhancement, and the existence of other technologies.

It is strange that Buchanan thinks that opponents of genetic engineering who find something worth preserving in our nature must believe that evolution is analogous to some sort of “master engineer.” Considering that evolution is a slow process by which biological order spontaneously emerges from highly complex networks of highly conserved genes, there would seem to be an obvious analogy for it in the conservative view of society.

Another article on the topic by Allen Buchanan can be found here. And you can watch a lecture by Buchanan through Youtube, titled “Using Biotechnology to enhance normal humans: Why nature isn’t good enough.” 

“Why Cognitive Enhancement is in Your Future (and Your Past)”

For those interested in transhumanism, cognitive enhancement, and the potential ethical problems that follow, this interview with Duke Philosophy Professor Allen Buchanan might be of interest. Buchanan has written extensively on the ethical implications of human enhancement, notably in his book Better than Human, and has argued forcefully in favour of pursuing cognitive enhancements.

Buchanan disagrees with critics who suggest that cognitive enhancement should not be pursued, in part, because it’s antithetical to human nature. In fact, he argues that the desire to improve our capacities, and our ability to do so, constitutes an important part of our nature.

I think that any appeal to the notion of human nature, on either side of the enhancement debate, is tricky and problematic and has to be handled with care. Yes, in one sense we might say that it’s part of human nature to strive to improve our capacities. Humans have done this in the past by developing literacy and numeracy, and the institutions of science, and more recently we’ve done it with computers and the Internet. So, yes, if an alien were looking at humanity and asking “What is human nature?” one of the ingredients is going to be that these beings seem quite concerned with improving their capacities and they seem to have a knack for doing it.

Check out the complete, and lengthy, interview for more discussions on this topic, the films Gattaca and Limitless, the potential to exacerbate social inequalities, and other ethical debates surrounding cognitive enhancement.

Kidney Transplant Denied

The parents of a young girl with Wolf-Hirschorn syndrome claim that she was denied a kidney transplant solely on the basis of her intellectual disability at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The mother’s account of her interaction with the social worker and physician is very specific. There seems to be little room to conclude maybe there was some other reason for the denial. Medical Ethicist Art Kaplan’s poll goes right to the heart of this. While Kaplan concludes, “But those reasons, to be ethical, have to be linked to the chance of making the transplant succeed. Otherwise they are not reasons, they are only biases,” the poll on the page asks simply, “Do you think a mental disability is a valid reason to deny a transplant?” If you have an opinion consider responding to the poll. Continue reading