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.
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.”
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.
Living Archives team member, Gregor Wolbring, will be speaking on the body and prosthetics at the “Frontiers in Research: Our Post-Human Futures” conference at the University of Ottawa on November 15, 2011.
The University of Ottawa is pleased to present the thirteenth annual Frontiers in Research lectures. This year’s theme is Our Post-Human Future .
During the past decade, human perfection and even immortality have become topics of renewed interest due to groundbreaking scientific advancements, and are now much more tangible and potentially achievable goals. The quest for human improvement through biomedical means appears to be unstoppable in the developed world. But this drive towards the “post-human” has also given rise to discussion, debate, conflict and a great deal of research on where to take the human species.
Frontiers in Research: Our Post-Human Future will explore these questions in light of developments in the fields of genetics, neuroscience and prosthetics, and their social, political, economic, ethical and religious implications.
For more information on the conference, click here.
Oakland-based filmmaker Regan Brashear is launching her film FIXED: The Science / Fiction of Human Enhancement and is running a Kickstarter campaign to help with funding for the film’s clean-up. You can start with donations of $1 and up–details about the campaign and film here. The campaign runs until 9.03am EDT, August 31, so donate NOW. A brief excerpt from the site:
What’s the film about? What does “disabled” mean when a man with no legs can run faster than many Olympic sprinters? With prenatal screening able to predict hundreds of probable conditions, who should determine what kind of people get to be born? If you could augment your body’s abilities in any way imaginable, what would you do and why? From pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to neural implants and bionic limbs, researchers around the world are hard at work developing a myriad of technologies to fix or enhance the human body, but what does it mean to design “better humans” and do we want to? FIXED follows three remarkable people: Continue reading →
JOHN DOSSETOR HEALTH ETHICS CENTRE
HEALTH ETHICS SEMINAR AND HEALTH ETHICS WEEK EVENT
Advances in Genetic Testing: Professional and Consumer Perspectives
Dick Sobsey, EdD Professor Emeritus, John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre
& Faculty of Education
Monday, 7 March 2011 12:00—12:45pm Room 1J2.47 Walter MacKenzie Health Sciences Centre
University of Alberta
American Society for Bioethics and Humanities
Call for Proposals
ASBH 13th Annual Meeting
October 13-16, 2011
The American Society for Bioethics and Humanities‘ 13th Annual Meeting is scheduled for
October 13-16, 2011, in Minneapolis, MN at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis. Sleeping rooms at
the Hyatt can be secured at the ASBH group rate of $199 beginning in August. Reservations will
be taken on a first-come, first-served basis.
History of Cell BiologyMay 15 -21, 2011 in Woods Hole, MA
The MBL-ASU History of Biology Seminar is an intensive week for graduate students, postdoctoral associates, younger scholars, and established researchers in the life sciences, history, philosophy, and the social sciences. Continue reading →
Katie Baratz thought she was a typical teenage girl. Katie was born with XY chromosomes a condition called androgen insensitivity syndrome, or AIS. This intersex condition is one of many that pushes the boundaries of “normal” sex categories.
In 1990, AIS was still called “testicular feminization,” a name I hate. It makes me sound like a failed man, not a woman at all. The belief since the 1950s was that if a woman knew she had this, she’d go crazy or become a lesbian. The doctor told my stunned parents that I could grow up normally, even adopt, but I shouldn’t know I had XY chromosomes or testes. My parents decided to tell me gradually.
This week saw the death of two colleagues-at-a-distance whom I more than respected, not simply and coldly for their contributions to philosophy, but for the friendship and caring mentorship they each showed to me early in my career, as I know they did with others. I’ll keep this brief here, just giving some general pointers and two short memorial anecdotes I’ve already posted at other sites.
David Hull was the founding figure in the philosophy of biology. John Wilkins has already got three posts up on him at Evolving Thoughts, David Hull is dead, David Hull’s Philosophy, and Ruse on Hull: A Memoir. The last makes me cringe a little, but that’s probably because Michael Ruse often induces that effect, at least in me. In response to the first, I said:
David was one of the three people I sent my first attempt in phil of biology to–the others were both people in the field whom I’d had some contact with before in other contexts. I was a third year assistant professor mainly working in phil of mind and cog sci at the time, and the paper was on John Dupre’s “promiscuous realism”. Like the others, David wrote back encouragingly and sympathetically. The welcoming response from David, especially since I was a complete stranger to him, marked an important contrast with the fluff and competitiveness of phil of mind at that time, and it made phil of biology a truly attractive option for me to pursue more seriously. There are likely many other short anecdotes about David’s kindness and professional integrity, but this small one with a big effect for me is what comes to mind first. He will be missed all round.
I also admired David for his successful efforts to convince the Philosophy of Science Association to avoid holding its meetings in overtly homophobic states.
Mary Anne Warren was one of four philosophers who, in essence, put applied ethics on the philosophy map in the early 1970s. Continue reading →
Apparently, I’m an “honorary distinguished senior advisor” to this project, where I assume that “honorary” means “unpaid”, “distinguished” is a typo, “dis” for “ex”, and “senior” means “old”. The complete information on the award recipient projects may be of interest to some readers of the blog. Congratulations to Laurie Santos especially for her grant on the origins of altruism!
Positive Neuroscience / Psychology
Award-winning researchers to explore human flourishing
from neural networks to social networks
The Positive Psychology Center of the University of Pennsylvania and the John Templeton Foundation (www.templeton.org) have announced the recipients of the Templeton Positive Neuroscience Awards. The project will grant $2.9 million in award funding to 15 new research projects at the intersection of Neuroscience and Positive Psychology.
The winning projects will help us understand how the brain enables human flourishing. They explore a range of topics, from the biological bases of altruism to the effects of positive interventions on the brain.
The Positive Neuroscience Project (www.posneuroscience.org) was established in 2008 by Professor Martin E.P. Seligman, Director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center, with a $5.8 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation. In 2009, the project announced the Templeton Positive Neuroscience Awards competition to bring the tools of neuroscience to bear on advances in Positive Psychology. Seligman founded the quickly-growing field of Positive Psychology in 1998 based on the simple yet radical notion that what is good in life is as worthy of scientific study as what is disabling in life. Read the full press release from the PNP website.
The development of this case continues to be ominous and scary. Anyone with a serious interest in disability, human rights, and medical interventions, should tune in. For the previous 18 What Sorts posts on the case, either search the blog via the category Ashley X or simply click right here.
The following is the beginning of a response delivered by distinguished bioethicist Arthur Caplan to Ezekiel Emanuel’s address to the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities earlier this year. The full speech was posted by Linda MacDonald Glenn at the Women’s Bioethics Project blog about a month ago.
The issue: what kind of training do bioethicists need? More descriptively (if awkwardly): what is it important for the people providing advice on life and death decisions to parents, children (of aged parents), doctors, hospitals, and others involved in health care, to know?
What Sorts readers might also be especially interested in checking out Emanuel’s views of the legalization of euthanasia, and might recall the misrepresentation of those views in the recent discussions of Death Panels in the US. Anyway, here’s Caplan’s speech, which provides much food for thought: Continue reading →
Here is an older, short talk by Greg Stock, from 2003–How Biotech Will Drive Our Evolution–on uses of present and future biotechnologies for human betterment that has recently been posted on TED Talks.
One of the interesting things is that while Stock presents a dismissive view of past hype about future technologies–e.g., the Human Genome Project and curing all ailments–there is also much more uplifting and positive talk about the uses of technology in medicine in 5-10 years, i.e., about the period that we’re almost in the middle of now. It’s nice to have predictions whose test conditions are now in place so we can, well, see how they have fared. I guess you can decide how much difference there is between the past and the present.
On October 25, 2008, the What Sorts Network hosted a public symposium to examine, well, philosophy, eugenics, and disability in Alberta and places north. Four speakers were featured on the panel, Dick Sobsey, Simo Vehmas, Martin Tweedale, and Rob Wilson. This event was video recorded and over the next month we will highlight these videos on this blog. Roughly four videos will be featured each week.
To download the full description of the symposium please click here.
With this video we begin the second part of the presentation by Rob Wilson (The first part may be found here). Professor Wilson’s presentation is titled “Building Inclusive Communities Through Practices of Collective Memory: The Case of Eugenic Sterilization in Alberta.” Part interim report, part philosophical reflection, this presentation is a glimpse into the ongoing process of exploring the eugenics history of Alberta.
Highlights: reaction to relatively recent publishing of sterilization rates, quote from MacEachran on the value of sterilization.
On October 25, 2008, the What Sorts Network hosted a public symposium at the Western Canadian Philosophical Association annual meeting, held in Edmonton, to examine, well, philosophy, eugenics, and disability in Alberta and places north. Four speakers were featured on the panel, Dick Sobsey, Simo Vehmas, Martin Tweedale, and Rob Wilson. This event was video recorded and over the next month we will highlight these videos on this blog. Roughly four videos will be featured each week.
To download the full description of the symposium please click here.
With this video we begin the question and answer portion of the presentation by Martin Tweedale (The first and second parts may be found here, the third and fourth here). Professor Tweedale’s presentation is titled “Ethical Dilemmas in Eliminating the MacEachran Prizes in Philosophy.” It is a discussion of the decision made by the University of Alberta Philosophy Department over whether to continue its association with the prizes in the name of John MacEachran. Professor Tweedale summarizes the factors considered in the deliberations and explores the extent to which the decision taken was rationally demanded by those considerations.
Highlights: What is the relevance of John MacEachran’s position within the university? Should the university apologize? Should the Philosophy Department apologize?
Below are all 13 posts from our Modern Pursuit series of posts, deriving from the public dialogue that we cosponsored with the AACL and the CACL at the University of Alberta in October 2008. The public dialogue began with some opening comments from our cosponsors, continued with short presentations from our community member panelists talking of their personal experiences, and was rounded out by a series of interchanges between audience and panel. All videos now contain transcripts (thanks to Jackie Ostrem for completing the work needed here: update 21 June, 2009: all now are closed captioned, thanks again Jackie!), and the videos are also available on YouTube. Comments on the blog on any of these posts is still welcome, but we also hope that you’ll find these of interest and use down the track for individual reflection or group discussion.
Thanks to all participants: Anna Macquarrie, Bruce Uditsky, Dick Sobsey, Wendy Macdonald, Sam Sansalone, Colleen Campbell, Anne Hughson, and Simo Vehmas. And thanks to Grant Wang and Lee Ramsdell at the Arts Resource Centre at the University of Alberta for the filming and post-production work, and John Simpson for organizational assistance.
[This is the twelfth post in a series highlighting a public dialogue held at the University of Alberta on October 23rd, 2008, titled The Modern Pursuit of Human Perfection: Defining Who is Worthy of Life. The dialogue was sponsored by the What Sorts Network, in conjunction with the Canadian Association for Community Living and the Alberta Association for Community Living. For further context, please see the introductory post in the series, which can be found here; we'll string together all posts in this series when we have most / all of them up, or you can search by the category "Modern Pursuit" to get those already posted.]
Here Anna Macquarrie from the CACL talks more openly about the history of eugenics and contemporary genetic testing. In Part 2, below the fold, there is some discussion of this, with Simo Vehmas resisting the linkage of eugenics with contemporary attitudes and practices, and some hearty discussion following from all–not everything can be heard here, but we’ve put what we could make out on the transcripts beneath the fold.
Is making the connection between past eugenic practices and contemporary practices, such as genetic testing for Down Syndrome, “playing the Nazi card”, as Simo suggests?
Going Underground and True Choice: Part 1
Note that there is no sound in the first 30-40 seconds of Part 1, which simply contains the title of the clip, the name of the speaker(s), and the location of the symposium, information that is provided in the beginning of this post. Continue reading →
Over at the mostly awesome Project on Law and Mind Sciences (PLMS) blog, they have opened up PLMS Tube about a week ago. It’s a collection of about 80 videos so far, chiefly it seems from their first two annual conferences and visiting speakers. One of the videos, which they have running on their blog right now, is an amazing 30 minute talk from Jennifer Eberhardt‘s talk from 2007, “Policing Racial Bias”. Eberhardt is a psychologist working on the implicit cognition of racial bias, and its relevance for policing, the justice system, and ordinary cognition. Some of the experimental results are truly scary. Check it out.
If you think that racial bias is a thing of the past, or something that those who profess only the most liberal and inclusive attitudes about race are free of, watch the video below; it’s Part 3 of the talk, running to around 8 minutes. The whole talk covers ways in which implicit bias operates on racial grounds, and some of the results are staggering. In Part 3, Eberhardt focuses on punishment and racial proxies for evil or wickedness, but works up to the study results that had her exclaim “Have Mercy!”, starting at around 3.45 or so of this clip with a reminder from W.E.B. DuBois. Links to the whole thing beneath the fold. Update: Kudos to the folks at PLMS for getting these videos captioned! Continue reading →