Tag: artificial life

Bioethics News

Scientists Just Took a Major Step Toward the First Complex Artificial Life

A new breakthrough now takes humankind closer than ever to developing the first complex artificial life. In a suite of seven new studies published Thursday in the journal Science, researchers from the Synthetic Yeast Genome Project report that they have successfully synthesized six of the 16 chromosomes that comprise the entire genome of yeast

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.

Bioethics News

If Animals Have Rights, Should Robots?

November 30, 2016

(The New Yorker) – In an automated world, the gaze that meets our own might not be organic at all. There’s a growing chance that it will belong to a robot: a new and ever more pervasive kind of independent mind. Traditionally, the serial abuse of Siri or violence toward driverless cars hasn’t stirred up Harambe-like alarm. But, if like-mindedness or mastery is our moral standard, why should artificial life with advanced brains and human guardianships be exempt? Until we can pinpoint animals’ claims on us, we won’t be clear about what we owe robots—or what they owe us.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

New Symposium on Definition of Death

Does the ability of some brain dead bodies to maintain homeostasis with the help
of artificial life support actually imply that those bodies are living human organisms? Or might it be possible that a brain dead body on life support is a mere collection of still-living cells, organs and tissues which can coordinate with one another, but which lack the genuine integration that is the hallmark of a unified human organism as a whole? 

To foster further study of these difficult and timely questions, a Symposium on the Definition of Death was held at The Catholic University of America in June 2014. The Symposium brought together scholars from a variety of disciplines—law, medicine, biology, philosophy and theology—who all share a commitment to the dead donor rule and to a biological definition of death, but who have differing opinions regarding the validity of neurological criteria for human death. 

Papers from the conference were just published in The Journal of Medicine & Philosophy 41(3).

Melissa Moschella
Brain Death and Human Organismal Integration: A Symposium on the Definition of Death

Nikolas T. Nikas, Dorinda C. Bordlee, and Madeline MoreiraDetermination of Death and the Dead Donor Rule: A Survey of the Current Law on Brain Death

Maureen L. Condic
Determination of Death: A Scientific Perspective on Biological Integration

Melissa Moschella
Deconstructing the Brain Disconnection–Brain Death Analogy and Clarifying the Rationale for the Neurological Criterion of Death

Patrick Lee
Total Brain Death and the Integration of the Body Required of a Human Being

Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, OP
The Brain Dead Patient Is Still Sentient: A Further Reply to Patrick Lee and Germain Grisez

E.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Clinical Ethics Consultation As Practical Philosophy


As a philosopher who works in a large health science center
where the scientific method and perspective reign supreme, it is common to hear
comments about the abstract and ideal nature of philosophy. As though those who
think about human problems from a philosophical perspective do so from an abstract,
insular perspective with little or no practical impact. Though I hear such
dismissive comments about philosophy less often than I used to, say 20 or more
years ago, I sense there is still a commonly held view that those who think
from a philosophical perspective as not well oriented to practical affairs. And
with some justification do people have this view of philosophy.


 


As I have written in previous blogs, philosophy has long and
even proud part of its tradition for being, well, useless. If we assume that
the basis of philosophical truth and wisdom lay in some ultimate, objective
form that only those who think in certain ways can grasp, then knowledge
becomes privileged to the philosophical few as an end it itself. This type of
Platonic philosophical truth quickly divides the here and now inferior world
from the more exclusive understandings of reality. Because of this basic
influence of Platonic philosophy, much of the history of philosophy in the
Western tradition has been focused on the search for a rational, objective
basis of truth, value, and reality. Not surprisingly, the goal has not been
reached. But the quest continued through most of last century and philosophical
got its more or less justified reputation for being an insulated, esoteric, and
detached form of intellectual activity.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Rethinking Dying and Alzheimer’s Disease: How Do We Plan For Future Care?

 

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that over time robs the
person of their selfhood. Eventually the advanced Alzheimer’s patient lives in
a world of discrete, fleeting moments. The former self is obliterated and all
of the personal connections to former loved ones are forever lost. The current
self or the “now-self” is self-contained in each passing moment so there are as
many selves as there are moments. From the onset of diagnosis a patient may
live for as few as 3 years to as many as 10 or more. Much depends on the age of
the patient and the comorbid conditions. But it is important to make clear:
Alzheimer’s is a terminal disease for which there is no effective treatment to
abate the progressive symptoms or to prevent or slow the mental and physical
dying process. Though death does not occur until the whole human organism
ceases to function, death must also, at least partly, be understood as the
gradual dying of that unique personal self. This includes the higher brain
functions that allow humans to be their uniquely personal selves, with
personalities, habits, loves, careers, causes, values, characters, and so on. When
these aspects of the patient begin to wane, there begins the gradual loss of “critical
interests”—those personal aspects of one’s life one controls as an autonomous,
social human being and moral agent.

Yet, the loss of critical interests or what we might call
rational selfhood, do not necessarily entail the simultaneous loss of “experiential
interests” that are connected to purely biological functions.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

What’s the Difference?

“How is having a cochlear implant that helps the deaf hear any different than having a chip in your brain that could help control your thoughts?”   —Michael Goldblatt, former director of DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office, quoted in the Atlantic

What’s the difference between reading books all day and playing video games?

Come on, what’s the difference between spending your time with friends and family “in person” and spending your time with them virtually?

How is having a child through cloning any different from having a child the old-fashioned way?

Why is the feeling of happiness that you have after a good day any different from the feeling of happiness I have after I take this drug?

Why is talking with your spouse and children using your mouth and ears different, in any way that counts, from communicating with them through brain chips that link your minds directly?

We already pick our mates with some idea of what our kids might look and act like. How is that any different from genetically engineering our children so they look and act the way we want?

Don’t we already send our children to school to make them smarter? How is that any different from just downloading information straight into their brains?

If your grandmother is already in a nursing home, what’s the difference if the nurses are robots?

Memory is already so fluid and fallible that we forget things all the time; what’s the difference if we just help people forget things they would rather not be stuck remembering?

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Do Physicians Follow the Golden Rule? Some Thoughts on End of Life Care

There has been a lot of talk recently about end of life care and how people die in America as well as important recommendations made on how effective end of life care should be provided. But there is still much work to be done. Because the nature of this work cannot be resolved by more laboratory experimentation or investment in and mastery of technology, the kind of challenge presented to our healthcare system is actually more daunting, since it relates to how physicians’ communicate with their patients. The precise question I am raising with respect to the kind of end of life care patients receive at the end of their lives is this: Do physicians follow the golden rule? Do they give their patients the chance to have the same kind death they would want for themselves and for their families? Sadly, the answer is too often, no, they often do not follow the golden rule.

A recent study from Stanford University “found most physicians surveyed would choose a do-not-resuscitate or “no code” status for themselves if they were terminally ill even though they tend to pursue aggressive, life-prolonging treatment for patients facing the same prognosis.” At the same time, at 2013 JAMA study found that most seniors want to die at home or in the home of someone they know and avoid burdensome end of life treatments, yet only about 1 in 3, or less, actually do. In fact, about 1 in 3 people over 65 die still die in hospitals or ICU’s after having receiving aggressive, often burdensome, medical interventions.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Is progress being made towards the creation of artificial life?

¿Se avanza hacia la creación de vida artificial?

Recent press reports have highlighted what appears to be a major advance towards the creation of artificial life, when they reported the total synthesis of the first chromosome of an organism, a yeast, that is biologically more similar to humans than to bacteria[1]. The study was conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins and New York universities in the United States, in what was an interesting innovation in the approach to this type of research. The new chromosome has substantial differences with respect to the original model. These modifications, which result in it being roughly 14% shorter, were introduced in order to make it more stable and flexible from a genetic point of view. According to the authors, this flexibility will enable it to be modified in vivo to change a specific property aimed at, for example, the production of antibiotics or biofuels. Although the synthetic chromosome has several differences with respect to the original, the yeasts that contain it are biologically indistinguishable from natural yeasts.

This is one further step in the field of Synthetic Biology, which already had huge media coverage in 2010, with the synthesis of the first whole genome[2]. At that time it was Craig Venter’s group who made a copy of a bacterial chromosome that was shown to be perfectly functional, as in the case of the yeast. Interestingly, the size of the bacterial molecule was four times larger than the one synthesised now and essentially identical to the original, unlike the yeast chromosome, which is significantly different.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

NIH-Funded Research Makes Science’s “Top 10” List

NIH-funded AAAS/Science Editors' Choice for 2014 Breakthroughs of the YearModeled after Time’s Person of the Year, the journal Science has a tradition of honoring the year’s most groundbreaking research advances. For 2014, the European Space Agency nabbed first place with the Rosetta spacecraft’s amazing landing on a comet. But biomedical science also was well represented on the “Top 10” list—with NIH helping to support at least four of the advances. So, while I’ve highlighted some of these in the past, I can’t think of a better way for the NIH Director to ring in the New Year than to take a brief look back at these remarkable achievements!

Youth serum for real? Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon may have never discovered the Fountain of Youth, but researchers have engineered an exciting new lead. Researchers fused the circulatory systems of young and old mice to create a shared blood supply. In the old mice, the young blood triggered new muscle and more neural connections, and follow-up studies revealed that their memory formation improved. The researchers discovered that a gene called Creb prompts the rejuvenation. Block the protein produced by Creb, and the young blood loses its anti-aging magic [1]. Another team discovered that a factor called GDF11 increased the number of neural stem cells and stimulated the growth of new blood vessels in the brains of older animals [2].

These intriguing experiments have led to clinical trials that are exploring the impact of plasma from young people on middle aged and elderly Alzheimer’s patients. If the results are positive, this could mark a turning point for the study of diseases of aging.

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.

Bioethics Blogs

Synthetic Biology: A Study in Reinvention

An article in the October issue of Discover Magazine has a great line from Drew Endy, a bioengineer at Stanford University who has become one of the foremost public figures in the field of synthetic biology. It’s not his comment about how, someday, synthetic biology might allow us to create a modified fungus that can turn a can of sawdust into a computer, although I understand why that caught the interviewer off guard. Great lede, but Endy has been saying things like that for years. Nor is it anything about the overall vision he offers of synthetic biology: the generation of standardized genetic parts that predictably do what they are designed to do and can be strung together in larger assemblies—in effect, genetic programs that can in turn be inserted into fungi, yeast, or bacteria cells and cause them to carry out the designer’s bidding without the designer even having to know very much about the underlying biology. Nope. Familiar stuff, all that.

No, for me, the fascinating line is the very last sentence in the interview: “We actually have a chance of reinventing civilization.” Usually, synthetic biology is thought of as offering a chance to reinvent nature, not civilization. That seems to be the point of talking about “synthetic” biology, “synthetic organism,” and “artificial life” in the first place: witness the book by George Church, Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves. These terms are meant to sound revolutionary, and the revolution is against the second part of each phrase—“biology,” “organism,” “life.”

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.