“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

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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

Obesity and Naturalness

High profile anti-obesity activist Meme Roth writes on her blog: “Let’s finally recognize obesity as abuse—abuse of our children, abuse of ourselves—and together take action.” Roth has recently trademarked the term “second-hand obesity”, playing on “second-hand smoke.” She writes that second-hand obesity is passed along from parent to child and from citizen to citizen. Roth makes numerous television appearances every year and continually underlines the association of fat with sickness, death, and unnaturalness.

New research by Dr. Arya Sharma is beginning to break the elision of fat and sickness with his new research:

“The back-to-back studies come as more evidence emerges that a significant proportion of overweight people are metabolically healthy and that the risks associated with obesity do not make for a one-size-fits-all formula.” More can be found here: http://www.canada.com/health/Heavy+healthy+formula+slims+down+definition+dangerously+obese/5257089/story.html

If the risks associated with obesity are less dramatic than once believed, then what is feeding this culture of obesity panic that aims to “blast away fat” and “burn belly fat” away in 10 days or less?

What surprises me about much of the writing on obesity, like Roth’s and Richard Carmona, the Surgeon general of the United States who compared the obesity epidemic to terrorism, is that Continue reading

One Child, Three Biological Parents – End of Diseases?

Last week, The Telegraph announced that within three years, it will be possible to have three biological parents for any one embryo using in-vitro fertilization.  Why would anyone pursue such a technique?  To “eradicate hereditary disease.”  You can read the full artcle below:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/9025121/Babies-with-three-parents-possible-within-three-years.html

This controversial method proposes that transferring a tiny fraction of DNA from a different donor than only the parents will result in a child without mitochondria-related diseases.  (Mitochondrial diseases are often severe and incurable, including muscular dystrophy and ataxia).  Researchers believe they can wipe out such diseases within a generation.  Children would also retain DNA from both their mother and their father.  The genetic implant of a third person is described as being “as minimal as changing the batteries in a camera.”

Researchers are also placing great emphasis on needing public support, before current laws (which would prevent such an operation) become changed.  Strong opposition comes from “groups who oppose embryo research and claim genetic engineering can result in serious defects.”

What is perhaps equally interesting to the article itself is the poll available on the website.  The Telegraph asks: Continue reading

Conference Call for Papers: Human & Machine: Posthumanism in Technology, Culture, and the Arts

This might be of interest to some people:

The Ewha Trans-Humanities Research Team will host an international
conference on “Human & Machine: Posthumanism in Technology, Culture
and the Arts” from June 1st to 2nd, 2012 and invites suitable
contributions for presentation at the conference..

Genetic engineering and digital technology are more than just
supplement of human intellectual and physical ability; they seem to
bring fundamental changes to the nature of what it means to be human.
Such changes have been seen in how philosophy, literature, art,
technology and cultural discourse view the issue of individual and
group identities, the nature of human characteristics, the meaning of
life, the status of humans in nature and other relevant issues taken
from ethical and political perspectives. In this conference, the
subject of humans and technology, both of which are represented in the
debate on posthumanism, will be deeply discussed from a
multidisciplinary perspective focusing on the topics of: Human Body
Transformation in Science, Technology, and Art; Ethical Issues on
Human Enhancement; Representations of Posthumans in Popular Culture;
and Posthumanistic Impact on Human Ontology.

The conference poses the question as to whether or not technology has
influenced the perspective of being human and the nature of humanity
itself. The conference examine the aspects of the human body that have
been transformed through technology and their significance: How have
physical transformations through prostheses, implants, genetic
engineering, and organ transplants influenced human identity? How are
the ethical issues, that such transformations generate, demonstrated
in the arts? Given the phenomenon that human beings can reconstruct
themselves with machines as well as utilize machines, what is the
meaning of post-human embedded within the interaction between
human-like robots and human beings, or the combination of technology
and human-beings? These questions are to be discussed in the
conference.

Human enhancement and transformation technology, which cutting edge
technology will make possible, demand our serious consideration since
the diverse aspects of being human in the future rely on a variety of
ethical and political issues including the rationality and validity of
the application of such technologies. The conference endeavors to find
answers to the fundamental questions of how to define what is the norm
in the nature of being human, and what natural rights for human beings
are, followed by which values are to be respected in the era of
cutting edge technology.

Furthermore, the conference examines aspects of representations of
posthumans like human clones, androids, cyborgs and aliens which
depict new forms of human beings, through the image of the future
presented in popular culture such as SF movies, animations, SF novels,
music videos and TV commercials. And also, there will be a discussion
of public awareness on the notions of naturalness, otherness, class,
utopia and dystopia related with such popular culture.
As human beings attain the ability and skill to reconstruct their
bodies through substitution, the boundaries between the human body and
its image, the lines between what is artificial and what is natural,
and the distinctions between nature and culture disappear. This
phenomenon raises various ontological issues regarding the
relationships of the real body and the virtual body, life and
lifelessness, and the subject and its surroundings or ‘others’.
Posthumanism pursues, on one hand, a liberal and post-ideological
relativism, but on the other hand, it tends to combine with the
critical theories, materialism and feminism. How can individual
transhumans and posthumans be positioned in social systems and
relations? Indeed, do human beings have the freedom to choose a body
for themselves? If so, how and where can we apply our enhanced
abilities? To what extent can it be considered an individual matter or
a social and political matter? Through posing the issues and problems
on modern anthropocentricism, this conference reconsiders the human
ontology that is constantly changing and being reconstructed rather
than the one that is defined by identity in the nature of
transcendental property.

A tentative schedule of the conference is as follows:

June 1st
Session 1: Human Body Transformation in Science, Technology, and Art
Session 2: Ethical Issues on Human Enhancement
Roundtable Discussions: all speakers and discussants will participate in

June 2nd
Session 3: Representations of Posthumans in Popular Culture
Session 4: Posthumanistic Impact on Human Ontology
Roundtable Discussions: all speakers and discussants will participate in

Confirmed Speakers include Julian Savulescu (Oxford University), Dónal
O’Mathúna (Dublin City University), Michael Hauskeller (University of
Exeter), Thomas Philbeck (NYIT), Stefan Sorgner (Universität
Erlangen-Nürnberg),  and Jens Eder (Johannes Gutenberg University,
Mainz).

If you like to present a paper at the conference, please submit an
abstract of not more than 400 words by 29 February 2012 to Dr.
Eunryung Kim, e-mail: elysak@ewha.ac.kr.

Limelight Film Festival: Edmonton

The Limelight Film Showcase, Day 2, is TOMORROW, i.e., Tuesday 18th October, 2011, at the University of Alberta campus in Edmonton.  All events are in Myer Horowitz Theatre in the SUB Building, and the festival runs from noon until around 10pm and includes not only short and feature films, but also live dance and movement performances.  Check out the schedule via the festival page here.  All events are free and open to the public.

Our Post-Human Futures Conference

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.