Tag: human characteristics

Bioethics News

Is It Unethical to Design Robots to Resemble Humans?

June 22, 2017

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So goes the scene in Mike Judge’s cult classic film Office Space, which is a cathartic release from the constant indignities of the modern worker. The printer is a source of chagrin for its regular paper-jam notifications and its inability to properly communicate with its human users. There is no trigger to feel compassion toward this inanimate object: It is only a machine, made of plastic, and filled with microchips and wires. When the printer met its demise, the audience felt only joy.

But what if this brutal assault had been on a human-looking machine that had cried out to its attackers for mercy? If instead of a benign-looking printer, it was given a name and human characteristics? Would we still mindlessly attack it? Would we feel differently?

As technology progresses from inanimate objects governed by numbers to human-looking machines controlled with conversations, it raises questions as to the compassion owed to artificial intelligence—and each other.

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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

The Future of Bioethics: Organ Transplantation, Genetic Testing, and Euthanasia

By Ana Lita

When you think of bioethics, some of the first hot-button topics you may consider are organ transplantation, fertility and genetic engineering, and end-of-life-care. The Global Bioethics Initiative serves as a platform to address many bioethical questions and engages in public debates to develop resolutions to present and emerging issues.

Dr. Ana Lita, founder of the Global Bioethics Initiative, discusses the various areas GBI addresses and highlights the organization’s contributors in their prospective fields. She acknowledges the valuable contribution of the current president of GBI, Dr. Bruce Gelb, in the field of organ transplantation. She also addresses the original co-founder of GBI, Dr. Charles Debrovner, and his lifelong passion in the field of fertility and genetic engineering. Lastly, Dr. Lita offers a brief insight into the future of Bioethics in these uncertain times.

ORGAN MARKETS AND THE ETHICS OF TRANSPLANTATION 

Recent developments in immunosuppressive drugs and improved surgical techniques have now made it much easier to successfully transplant organs from one human body to another. Unfortunately, these developments have led to the rise of black-markets in human organs. This underground market is where people who need kidneys to survive or to improve the quality of their lives, for example, purchasing such organs from impoverished persons in the developing world. In January 2017, scientists announced that they successfully created the first human-pig hybrid and a pig embryo with some human characteristics. Given the increasing need for transplant organs, should such markets be regulated and legalized?  Could the success of therapeutic cloning eliminate the need to consider this option?

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

The lure of human-animal chimera research

Andrew Fenton and Letitia Meynell call for moral reflection on the primacy of capacities for determining the moral status of non-human animals used in human-animal chimera research.

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Last week Nature and Cell published research that takes us closer to creating non-human animal hosts for growing human organs. According to their Nature article, Tomoyuki Yamaguchi and colleagues modified rats to grow mouse pancreata that were then used to successfully treat diabetic mice. According to their Cell article, Jun Wu and colleagues modified embryonic pigs and allowed them to develop long enough to confirm that human cells could be successfully integrated into their tissues and organs.

Both studies represent advances in what is known as chimera research. Chimeras are animals (human or otherwise) possessing cells containing a genetic identity distinct from their parents and sometimes from their own species. Human-animal chimera research is largely motivated by shortages in human organs available for transplant. The hope is that in the not too distant future, part-human chimeric animals will grow what are effectively human organs to make up for the shortfall.

Cardiac muscle cells. Photo Credit: David C. Zebrowski, Felix B. Engel

This research is receiving a good deal of media attention. Some scientists express cautious excitement about the breakthroughs while other scientists and ethicists express worries about the use of non-human animals in such invasive research and question its legitimacy.

Ethical confusion is understandable. The non-human animals typically used in this research – mice, rats, pigs and cows – don’t have a high moral status in our society.

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

Ethical reflection on the latest biomedical experiments by Juan Carlos Izpisua and his group

Juan Carlos Izpisua biomedical experiments. They present serious ethical problems primarily because some of them use human embryonic stem cells

pdfOver the last few days, some of the biomedical experiments conducted by Juan Carlos Izpisua and his group — in which researchers from several Spanish universities take part — have been widely reported by various media.

Let us say at the outset that we see no need to highlight the biomedical importance of these experiments (some of which we would dare describe as spectacular), as this has already been abundantly emphasised by the media. Quite another matter is the possibility of being able to use what they have achieved in human medicine, which could take several years.

The bioethical aspects of these experiments have scarcely been addressed, however, and we believe they merit consideration.

Before we go any further, and in order to structure this report, the experiments by Izpisua to which we are referring should be divided into three groups. Concisely (although we will refer to this in more detail below) they are: a) to create quasi-human organs in animals, to be ultimately used for clinical transplants; b) to modify the CRISPR technique that offers so many biomedical possibilities, to make it more efficient, and c) to apply cell reprogramming “in vivo”, to try to rejuvenate a group of experimental animals.

  1. To create quasi-human organs in animals.

chimeraThese experiments were first reported in an article published in Nature in May 2015. They essentially consist in injecting human embryonic stem cells into mice so that they can generate quasi-human organs, since the human cells injected into the animal will produce organs with a genome that is very close to the human one.

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

Ethical reflection on the latest biomedical experiments by Juan Carlos Izpisua and his group

Juan Carlos Izpisua biomedical experiments. They present serious ethical problems primarily because some of them use human embryonic stem cells

pdfOver the last few days, some of the biomedical experiments conducted by Juan Carlos Izpisua and his group — in which researchers from several Spanish universities take part — have been widely reported by various media.

Let us say at the outset that we see no need to highlight the biomedical importance of these experiments (some of which we would dare describe as spectacular), as this has already been abundantly emphasised by the media. Quite another matter is the possibility of being able to use what they have achieved in human medicine, which could take several years.

The bioethical aspects of these experiments have scarcely been addressed, however, and we believe they merit consideration.

Before we go any further, and in order to structure this report, the experiments by Izpisua to which we are referring should be divided into three groups. Concisely (although we will refer to this in more detail below) they are: a) to create quasi-human organs in animals, to be ultimately used for clinical transplants; b) to modify the CRISPR technique that offers so many biomedical possibilities, to make it more efficient, and c) to apply cell reprogramming “in vivo”, to try to rejuvenate a group of experimental animals.

  1. To create quasi-human organs in animals.

chimeraThese experiments were first reported in an article published in Nature in May 2015. They essentially consist in injecting human embryonic stem cells into mice so that they can generate quasi-human organs, since the human cells injected into the animal will produce organs with a genome that is very close to the human one.

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

The Third Rail of the CRISPR Moonshot: Minding the Germline

As the 2015 news cycle ground down and rebooted for the new year, a wide swath of news publications—industry, research, scientific, and popular—declared CRISPR gene editing to be one of 2015’s biggest stories. In the new year, an ongoing CRISPR concern is how we can strengthen and brighten the line of policy and practice that cautions against creating genetically modified human babies.

Much of the news since the #GeneEditSummit in December has focused on a very different application of CRISPR: producing therapies for patients living with genetic conditions. Jaw-dropping investment news is issuing forth as multiple biotech firms team up with drug companies and venture capitalists to bring the CRISPR moonshot of gene-editing therapies into view.

While CRISPR coverage doesn’t always make it clear, many of the leading gene-editing companies have clearly stated that they’re aiming to treat genetic disease in one consenting patient at a time, not on a population level, and not in a fertility clinic for prospective parents seeking to tailor the genetic variants they pass on to their future children. Several key players in this lab-to-market push have spoken out forcefully:

Sangamo Biosciences (key figure(s): Edward Lanphier, CEO/president)

Early in 2015 as rumors were circulating that scientists were experimenting with the CRISPR/Cas9 technology on human embryos, some biotech figures stepped up proactively to make their concerns heard.  Edward Lanphier, CEO/president of Sangamo Biosciences (using older gene-editor Zinc Fingers to develop HIV/AIDS gene therapies), published an article in Nature with colleagues from the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine entitled “Don’t edit the human germline.”

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

Growing a Kidney Inside a Pig Using your own DNA: The Ethics of ‘Chimera Organs’

Guest post by David Shaw

Imagine that you’re in dire need of a new kidney. You’re near the top of the waiting list, but time is running out and you might not be lucky enough to receive a new organ from a deceased or living donor. But another option is now available: scientists could take some of your skin cells, and from them derive stem cells that can then be added to a pig embryo. Once that embryo is implanted and carried to term, the resulting pig will have a kidney that is a perfect genetic match to you, and the organ can be transplanted into your body within a few months without fear of immune rejection. Would you prefer to take the risk of waiting for an organ donated by a human, which would require you to take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of your life? Or would you rather receive a “chimera organ”?

This scenario might seem far-fetched, but it is quite likely to be a clinical reality within a decade or so. Scientists have already used the same technique to grow rat organs inside mice, and it has also been shown to work in different types of pig. Although clinical trials in humans have not yet taken place, using these techniques to create human organs inside animals could solve the current organ scarcity problem by increasing supply of organs, saving thousands of lives each year in Europe alone. As illustrated in the example, organs created in this way could be tailored to the individual patient’s DNA, allowing transplantation without the risk of immune rejection.

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

Belief In Ultimate Truth: Does it make for peaceful living?

As I have been saying in recent blogs, most of what we do in
clinical ethics, but also in most areas of bioethics, is procedural ethics.
That is when we are faced with an ethical dilemma, our approach, whether
consciously or unconsciously is usually to try to reach a reasonable compromise
or consensus among the key participants that are in conflict consistent with
well-established values and principles. This tendency reflects an obvious
reality about the nature of contemporary ethics that we often ignore: in the
current Western moral setting, our only viable methodology for resolving value
laden disputes, whether at the micro level in clinical ethics or macro level in
healthcare policy, is to attempt to craft an agreement or consensus among those
with a say. Whether we are dealing with patients and families at odds with
their physician on how to define the goals of care in the hospital setting or
trying to build a consensus of opinion among voters in the political arena, we
assume there are no final, authoritative moral answers that avail themselves to
us. Whether we like it or not, we humans must figure out ethical dilemmas for
ourselves and learn to get along.

Yet the idea of procedural ethics remains very worrisome for
many people, including such bioethicists and Tristram Engelhardt, Jr. He believes
that procedural ethics, such much of what we do in clinical ethics, is not
really ethics in because it is based on convention and legalistic type
standards. For him ethics worthy of the name must flow from a content-rich,
canonical moral tradition that provides moral authority to our everyday ethical
and moral judgments.

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

Evolutionary psychology and multidisciplinary challenges

Evolutionary Psychology has recently gained some public attention in Finland, as the University of Turku has announced that it will establish the discipline as a permanent study module from the beginning of autumn 2014. University of Turku reports itself to be among the first universities in Europe to provide studies in this discipline[1].

Evolutionary psychology (EP) is a debated discipline, and its institutionalisation adds some weight to the debate. A thorough discussion of its “pros and cons” are beyond this entry – instead, I am interested on the manner in which this relatively young and multidisciplinary discipline is debated.

Most debaters seem to have a strong opinion about EP. It can be seen as the Grand Theory answering all the questions of humanity, or as pseudoscience without slightest scientific background. Obviously, none of the extremist positions is sensible.

SOME STRAINS IN THE DEBATE

The research target in EP is how evolution and natural selection has affected human mind. As explained in a Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, EP relies much on explaining human behaviour “in terms of underlying psychological mechanisms that are adaptations for solving a particular set of problems that humans faced at one time in our ancestry.” The methodological tools of EP for testing hypotheses are mostly from psychology. Thus, the project is to explain human behaviour in terms of evolutionary concepts.

EP’s critique comes from many directions. A well noted stream of the debate is one between philosophers of biology and evolutionary psychologists, as the SEP-article  reports. The research tradition has been accused of having, for example, too much enthusiasm for adaptationism, untenable reductionism, and a simplified and vague conception of fitness.

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.