Tag: killing

Bioethics Blogs

Beauty’s Knowledge: Hawthorne’s Moral Fable “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Leo Coleman

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “Rappaccini’s Daughter” is a nineteenth-century moral fable that sets the fruits of experimental knowledge against obligations to humanity, and stages a dramatic encounter between these two apparent goods. In many ways, the moral it offers seems familiar, and could be recognized by anyone with even a passing familiarity with contemporary bioethical debates. It features a mad scientist’s garden, a gorgeous but poisonous plant of his creation, and a lovely daughter who tends to his terrible plants, and who is—like the plant—both attractive and potentially infectious. The daughter receives the attentions of a naïve medical student, and she falls in love with him, but their fate is shadowed by the actions of not one but two bad scientist father-figures who experiment upon the younger characters and try to shape their (biological) destinies without their knowledge. But Hawthorne’s story does not simply anticipate, in an antique and allegorical way, contemporary defenses of human dignity and nature’s inviolability. Nor does it merely rehearse, with its private garden and unknowingly experimented-upon subjects, a Lockean notion of our own inevitable and natural possession of our bodies and the fruits of our lives and labor.

Hawthorne’s story puts the experimental subject at the center of its moral allegory, suffering both hopes and fears provoked by her own mutability, her own biological plasticity. That is, his titular character is no innocent pawn in the hands of the great scientist: she is an artificial being—grafted and forced—and deeply morally and biologically transformed from the very beginning; but because of this she is also able to reflect on her relations with others and her environment, and to mark (in this case, tragically) a new ethical frontier.

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

In the Journals – August 2017 by Livia Garofalo

Here is the article round-up for August, put together in collaboration with Ann Marie Thornburg.  There is a special issue section of Social Science and Medicine out this month on Austerity, Health, and Wellbeing (abstracts below). Also of note is a recent ‘Takes a Stand’ statement on the End of AIDS published in Global Public Health by Nora Kenworthy, Richard Parker, and Matthew Thomann. You can take advantage of the article being temporarily free access and on early view here. Enjoy!

 

Cultural Anthropology (Open Access)

Tangles of Care: Killing Goats to Save Tortoises on the Galápagos Islands

Paolo Bocci

If calls to care for other species multiply in a time of global and local environmental crisis, this article demonstrates that caring practices are not always as benevolent or irenic as imagined. To save endemic tortoises from the menace of extinction, Proyecto Isabela killed more than two hundred thousand goats on the Galápagos Islands in the largest mammal eradication campaign in the world. While anthropologists have looked at human engagements with unwanted species as habitual and even pleasurable, I discuss an exceptional intervention that was ethically inflected toward saving an endemic species, yet also controversial and distressing. Exploring eradication’s biological, ecological, and political implications and discussing opposing practices of care for goats among residents, I move past the recognition that humans live in a multispecies world and point to the contentious nature of living with nonhuman others. I go on to argue that realizing competing forms of care may help conservation measures—and, indeed, life in the Anthropocene—to move beyond the logic of success and failure toward an open-ended commitment to the more-than-human.

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

Fetal tissue and commerce

You may have seen in the general press that Indiana University is asking a federal judge to declare unconstitutional that state’s law banning research on the remains of aborted fetuses.  I noticed an article in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required).  An open-access account can be found here.

I oppose abortion, but I can imagine for the sake of argument that, if one allows for abortion, that it might be claimed that the tissue of an aborted unborn human could ethically be donated for research.  It seems to me that such an argument would construe this donation to be similar to donation of organs for transplantation.  In this case, the mother would be speaking for her (newly-deceased) unborn to make the decision, since the aborted one would not have decision-making capacity.

For such an action to be remotely ethical, donation of tissue could not in any way influence the decision to have an abortion–as, indeed, federal restrictions on fetal tissue research currently require.  There should be no profit to the donor or the abortion provider in the process.  In light of the Planned Parenthood brouhaha over this subject, I might suggest that the researchers seeking the tissue for research be required to bear any costs for the preparation of the tissue.  And something like the dead donor rule for organ transplantation would have to apply.  But that’s probably a trivial point in this case.  Never mind that the dead donor rule itself is under attack these days.

I imagine it’s clear that I don’t find this argument very persuasive. 

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

Germany Takes an Ethics Stance on Driverless Cars

August 24, 2017

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The idea of autonomous cars has always raised a big question: in the event of a serious crash that involves life-and-death decisions, what should the vehicle do? Clearly, it’s possible to program cars to do as humans desire, but there isn’t necessarily a clear course of action to take in every situation.

That, however, hasn’t stopped German regulators from taking a stance on the issue. Reuters reports that autonomous-car software must be “programmed to avoid injury or death of people at all cost.”

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Image: By Grendelkhan – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47467048

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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 Blogs

Teaching Disability Studies in the Era of Trump by Pamela Block

In spring semester of 2017 we (Pam Block and Michele Friedner) co-taught the graduate course “Conceptual Foundations of Disability Studies.” Though the readings were the same as in previous iterations of the course, the emphasis and tone of the class shifted, not just because of the co-teaching but because we were now teaching in a context in which the rights and lives of disabled people are at increased risk. This essay will focus on one class session devoted to a discussion of how disability studies and eugenics are strikingly intertwined in some ways, and why it is salient and important to think about eugenics in the present moment, especially in relation to the current United States presidency.

Eugenics opens up a way to talk about immigration; traits and qualities of and in people; desirability; deservedness; “good” and “bad” science; and the making of facts. Eugenics comes to mind when we think of silencing and containing nasty women and ejecting bad hombres. While we are not arguing that Trump himself advocates eugenics, we argue that a study of the history of eugenics offers an entry point to considering the emergence of past and present norms and normals, especially in relation to perspectives on bodily variation. We also think that a discussion of eugenics affords different ways of conceptualizing what disability studies scholars Snyder and Mitchell (2010) call “able-nationalism,” (riffing off of Puar’s (2007) work on homonationalism). That is, a discussion of eugenics allows for consideration of how disability—and the values attached to it– is mobilized in different time periods, in the service to the nation.

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

Double Dutch euthanasia evokes sympathy through age and romance

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

O true apothecary!
Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.
– Romeo & Juliet, Act 5, Scene 3

In a scene reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, a Dutch couple were voluntarily euthanized together after sharing their final kiss. Nic Elderhorst, 91, had a stroke 5 years ago that left him with limited mobility and chronic pain. Trees, 91, his wife and primary caregiver, had declining physical health and was diagnosed with vascular dementia. She feared that she could no longer care for him. Both feared living without the other and had stated for a long time that they had hoped to die together.

Headlines around the world focused on the romance of their euthanasia. “Dying Together was their deepest wish” declared one British paper. Another said “Loving couple, 91, pass away in rare double euthanasia” not only showing the romance, but changing the active process of killing to the metaphor of “passing away.” “Elderly couple got ‘deepest wish’ declared the Washington Post. “Elderly couple kiss, hold hands before double-euthanasia” was published in New Zealand.

The Netherlands is one of the few countries in the world that permits voluntary euthanasia, where a physician administers a drug to fulfill a person’s request to end his/her life. To qualify, a patient must make a considered request, have unbearable and hopeless suffering, be informed about the situation and future possibilities, and have no reasonable alternatives. Thus, a person does need to have a “terminal illness” or “irreversible condition” in order to request and receive life-ending procedures.

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 the Present Debate About Autonomous Weapons is Getting Wrong

Author: Michael Robillard

Many people are deeply worried about the prospect of autonomous weapons systems (AWS). Many of these worries are merely contingent, having to do with issues like unchecked proliferation or potential state abuse. Several philosophers, however, have advanced a stronger claim, arguing that there is, in principle, something morally wrong with the use of AWS independent of these more pragmatic concerns. Some have argued, explicitly or tacitly, that the use of AWS is inherently morally problematic in virtue of a so-called ‘responsibility gap’ that their use necessarily entails.

We can summarise this thesis as follows:

  1. In order to wage war ethically, we must be able to justly hold someone morally responsible for the harms caused in war.
  2. Neither the programmers of an AWS nor its military implementers could justly be held morally responsible for the battlefield harms caused by AWS.
  3. We could not, as a matter of conceptual possibility, hold an AWS itself morally responsible for its actions, including its actions that cause harms in war.
  4. Hence, a morally problematic ‘gap’ in moral responsibility is created, thereby making it impermissible to wage war through the use of AWS.

This thesis is mistaken. This is so for the simple reason that, at the end of the day, the AWS is an agent in the morally relevant sense or it isn’t.

If it isn’t, then premise 2 is either false and moral responsibility falls on the persons within the causal chain to the extent that they knew or should have known the harm they were contributing to and the degree to which they could have done otherwise, or premise 2 is true but vacuous because the harm was a result of a genuine accident.

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

CRISPR, Pigs, Organs, Ethics: Some Key Considerations

Michael S. Dauber, M.A., GBI Visiting Scholar

Luhan Yang and members of her research team at eGenesis have taken a crucial step in growing organs in animals that may be used to provide organs for therapeutic transplants in humans, according to a study published in Science Magazine on Thursday, August 10th. Researchers involved in the study used CRISPR, a genetic editing technique, to “knock out” 25 genes that cause porcine endogenous retroviruses (sometimes referred to as “PERV genes”) that make ordinary pig organs unsuitable for transplants because PERVs can infect human transplant recipients. The result was the birth of 37 baby pigs without PERV genes.

The move comes at a time when CRISPR experiments are becoming increasingly popular. Last week, a team led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov published the results of the first successful attempt to modify human embryos using CRISPR by American scientists in Nature. The researchers successfully deleted a gene responsible for several fatal heart conditions.

While the results are a significant step in developing techniques for growing organs suitable for human transplantation, scientists must still travel a long road before any human patients will receive such organs. Researchers will need to determine whether or not organs from pigs developed using CRISPR can be safely and effectively transplanted into other animals first. Another hurdle is the cost and complexity of the technique: Yang’s experiments with her team involved embryos produced through cloning, an expensive technique that is not always completely effective: indeed, in Yang’s study, only a few of the cloned embryos were viable.

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 ‘Weird’ First Fortnight of the Foetus: Implications for the Abortion Debate

Guest Post: William Simkulet
Paper: The Cursed Lamp: The Problem of Spontaneous Abortion

For many people, the moral status of abortion stands or falls whether or not a human fetus is morally comparable to you or I; whether its death is a significant loss.  Many people believe human fetuses have a right to life from conception, and thus conclude that there is good reason to think induced abortion is seriously morally wrong.  Judith Jarvis Thomson challenges this belief, constructing a scenario where she believes it is morally acceptable to end the life of a person because although he has a right to life, his right to life does not give him a right to use your body.  Her example should be familiar:

Violinist:  You wake up in the hospital, surgically attached to a violinist.  Your doctor explains that last night the Society of Music Lovers kidnapped the two of you and performed the surgery.  The violinist has a serious condition that will result in his death soon unless he remains attached to your kidneys for the next 9 months (you alone are biologically compatible).

The violinist has a right to life, and surely you are free to let him remain attached to your body to save his life.  It would be a great kindness for you to do so, but Thomson says that the violinist’s right to life does not give him the right to use your body.  Anti-abortion theories that focus on the moral status of the fetus neglect to show why the fetus’s moral status – its argued for right to life – would give it a right to use the woman’s body.

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 Limits of Choice: Abortion and Assisted Dying

Michelle Oberman compares abortion and assisted dying and argues that focusing on the ‘right to choose’ risks ignoring the social and economic factors that shape and constrain our choices.

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I’ve watched the trend toward legalizing physician assistance in dying with a vague sense of alarm. My peers, healthy and wealthy, are puzzled by my response. How is this different from abortion, they ask? You’re pro-choice on abortion, so why wouldn’t you be for assisted dying?

Here’s my problem: As much as I support reproductive rights, I am weary of the rhetoric of ‘choice’ as it applies to great swaths of women who have abortions. I’ve spent the past six years studying abortion in the United States, and in countries like El Salvador where abortion is completely banned. The more I’ve learned about why many women have abortions, the less I see abortion as a choice. Abortion is often a coerced response to desperate circumstances.

When we focus on the question of choice – framing the issue as one of individual liberty – we ignore entirely the social and economic factors that shape and constrain choice. Such constraints lead many women to undergo abortions they might otherwise deeply prefer to avoid. The most common reason that women give for seeking an abortion is financial. It is expensive to have a baby, to pay for day care, to feed, clothe, and house a child. For marginally-employed women, having a baby necessarily means plunging themselves and their families deeper into poverty.

We’ve spent decades fighting over abortion, yet we have done little to offset the economic pressures that compel some women to have 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.