Bioethics Blogs

Beware Responsible Discourse

I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.

Another day, another cartoon supervillain proposal from the Oxford Uehiro “practical” “ethicists”: use biotech to lengthen criminals’ lifespans, or tinker with their minds, to make them experience greater amounts of punishment. (The proposal actually dates from August, but has been getting renewed attention owing to a recent Aeon interview with its author, Rebecca Roache.) Score one for our better angels. The original post, which opens with a real-world case of parents who horrifically abused and killed their child, uses language like this:

…[the parents] will each serve a minimum of thirty years in prison. This is the most severe punishment available in the current UK legal system. Even so, in a case like this, it seems almost laughably inadequate…. Compared to the brutality they inflicted on vulnerable and defenceless Daniel, [legally mandated humane treatment and eventual release from prison] seems like a walk in the park. What can be done about this? How can we ensure that those who commit crimes of this magnitude are sufficiently punished?…

[Using mind uploads,] the vilest criminals could serve a millennium of hard labour and return fully rehabilitated either to the real world … or, perhaps, to exile in a computer simulated world.

….research on subjective experience of duration could inform the design and management of prisons, with the worst criminals being sent to special institutions designed to ensure their sentences pass as slowly and monotonously as possible. 

The post neither raises, suggests, nor gives passing nod to a single ethical objection to these proposals.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.