Tag: metaphysics

Bioethics Blogs

Trump is Gross: Taking Political Taste (and Distaste) Seriously

by Shelley Park 

ABSTRACT. This paper advances the somewhat unphilosophical thesis that “Trump is gross” to draw attention to the need to take matters of taste seriously in politics. I begin by exploring the slipperiness of distinctions between aesthetics, epistemology, and ethics, subsequently suggesting that we may need to pivot toward the aesthetic to understand and respond to the historical moment we inhabit. More specifically, I suggest that, in order to understand how Donald Trump was elected President of the United States and in order to stem the damage that preceded this and will ensue from it, we need to understand the power of political taste (and distaste, including disgust) as both a force of resistance and as a force of normalization.

My 5-year-old granddaughter refers to foods, clothes, and people she does not like as “supergross.” It is a verbiage that I have found myself adopting for talking about many things Trumpian, including the man himself. The gaudy, gold-plated everything in Trump Towers; his ill-fitting suits; his poorly executed fake tan and comb-over; his red baseball cap emblazoned with “Make America Great Again;” his creepy way of talking about women (including his own daughters); his racist vitriol about Blacks, Muslims and Mexicans; his blatant over-the-top narcissism; his uncontrolled tantrums; his ridiculous tweets; his outlandish claims; his awkward hand gestures and handshakes; the disquieting ease with which he is seduced by flattery; his embarrassing disregard for facts; his tortured use of language; his rudeness toward other world leaders; the obsequious manner in which other Republicans are treating the man they despised mere months ago; the servility of many Democrats in the face of a military–industrial coup.

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 battle continues over the A-List embryos

In happier times   

What began as soap opera is turning into a master class in metaphysics. “Modern Families” TV star Sofia Vergara, 44, and her former partner, entrepreneur and Hollywood producer Nick Loeb, 41, have been at war over two frozen embryos in a California IVF clinic. Vergara, now married to “True Blood” star Joe Manganiello, refuses to allow the embryos to be brought to term with a surrogate mother; Loeb insists that they have a right to life.

Both of them have deep pockets and wily lawyers. With 600,000 supernumerary embryos in deep freeze in the US, the outcome could set legal precedents in a number of areas. However, the dispute is not theoretical, but passionate and sometimes vindictive.  

The latest moves are as follows.

Slut-shaming

In mid-November Vergara’s lawyers demanded that Loeb disclose the names of two former girl friends who had abortions. They want to show that his belief that life begins at conception is insincere. “Oddly, Loeb wants us to believe that he supports a woman’s right to privacy, and to make a choice concerning reproduction. However, he seems to believe that his celebrity ex-fiancé, Sofia Vergara, does not have those same rights,” said her lawyer.

Loeb, who now has strong pro-life views, was adamant in his refusal. “Could you imagine if you had moved on with your life, gotten married and had children and kept this a secret from your family, then all of a sudden 15 years later (you were) made to reveal your abortion to the world.

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

Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Medicine

Now available:  the Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Medicine.  This 48 chapter volume is a comprehensive guide to topics in the fields of epistemology and metaphysics of medicine.

PART I: GENERAL CONCEPTS
The concept of disease (Dominic Sisti and Arthur Caplan)
Disease, illness, and sickness (Bjorn Hofmann)
Health and wellbeing (Daniel Hausman)
Disability and normality (Anita Silvers)
Mechanisms in medicine (Phyllis Illari)
Causality and causal inference in medicine (Julian Reiss)
Frequency and propensity: The interpretation of probability in causal models for medicine (Donald Gillies)
Reductionism in the biomedical sciences (Holly Andersen)
Realism and constructivism in medicine (Jeremy R. Simon)

PART II: SPECIFIC CONCEPTS
Birth (Christina Schuees)
Death (Steven Luper)
Pain and suffering (Valerie Gray Hardcastle)
Measuring placebo effects (Jeremy Howick)
The concept of genetic disease (Jonathan M. Kaplan)
Diagnostic categories (Annemarie Jutel)
Classificatory challenges in psychopathology (Harold Kincaid)
Classificatory challenges in physical disease (Mathias Brochhausen)

PART III: RESEARCH MEDICINE
(a) Evidence in Medicine
The randomized controlled trial: internal and external validity (Adam La Caze)
The hierarchy of evidence, meta-analysis, and systematic review (Robyn Bluhm)
Statistical evidence and the reliability of medical research (Mattia Andreoletti & David Teira)
Bayesian versus Frequentist clinical trials (Cecilia Nardini)
Observational research (Olaf Dekkers & Jan Vandenbroucke)
Philosophy of epidemiology (Alex Broadbent)
Complementary/alternative medicine and the evidence requirement (Kirsten Hansen & Klemmens Kappel)
b. Other Research Methods
Models in medicine (Michael Wilde & Jon Williamson)
Discovery in medicine (Brendan Clarke)
Explanation in medicine (Mael Lemoine)
The case study in medicine (Rachel Ankeny)
Values in medical research (Kirstin Borgersen)
Outcome measures in medicine (Leah McClimans)
Measuring harms (Jacob Stegenga)
Expert consensus (Miriam Solomon)

PART IV: CLINICAL METHODS
Clinical judgment (Ross Upshur & Benjamin Chin-Yee)
Narrative medicine (Danielle Spencer)
Medical decision making: diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis (Ashley Graham Kennedy)

PART V: VARIABILITY AND DIVERSITY
Personalized and Precision Medicine (Alex Gamma)
Gender in Medicine (Inmaculada de Melo Martin & Kristin Intemann)
Race in Medicine (Sean Valles)
Atypical bodies in medical care (Ellen Feder)

PART VI: PERSPECTIVES
The biomedical model and the biopsychosocial model (Fred Gifford)
Models of mental illness (Jacqueline Sullivan)
Phenomenology and hermeneutics in Medicine (Havi Carel)
Evolutionary Medicine (Michael Cournoyea)
Philosophy of Nursing: caring, holism and the nursing role(s) (Mark Risjord)
Contemporary Chinese medicine and its theoretical foundations (Judith Farquhar)
Double truths and the postcolonial predicament of Chinese medicine (Eric Karchmer)
Medicine as a commodity (Carl Elliott)

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

Jennifer Greenwood, Becoming Human: The Ontogenesis, Metaphysics, and Expression of Human Emotionality, MIT Press, 2015

Becoming Human by Jennifer Greenwood is one of the most thought-provoking books on emotion and its expression I have read. At its core, it attempts to provide an account of the development of full human emotionality and in so doing argues the emotions are “transcranial.” Emotions are radically realized outside our nervous systems and beyond our skin. As children, we are functionally integrated affectively with our mothers; so much so that in a sense our emotions are not ours alone. Regardless of whether one agrees with her radical claims, it is a must-read for those interested in emotion and expression. In order appreciate the significance of this book, let me sketch its contents and raise a few criticisms.

Many, but certainly not all, psychologists and philosophers assume that there are basic emotions (BEs) and higher-cognitive emotions (HCEs). The former include fear, anger, disgust, happiness, surprise, and sadness; and the later include guilt, shame, and pride amongst others. BEs are thought of as natural kinds involving facial expression, homologous traits shared with non-human primates, specific brain structures, and stereotyped behaviors. HCEs differ in that they often do not have unique physiological profiles, facial expressions, dedicated brain regions, and culturally vary quite a bit. Greenwood argues that there are affective precursors that develop into BEs and HCEs. However, the distinction between BEs and HCEs lulls us into naïve views about nature and nurture, biology and culture. We have not taken their development from childhood as seriously as we should. Both develop through time.

Greenwood has us consider human infants.

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

Untimely Ends and the Pandemic Imaginary by Christos Lynteris

It was one of those typical late spring afternoons in Beijing, when the desert sand blowing from the North begins to give way to an electric atmosphere more pregnant with thunder than rain. Seated on a covered leather-armchair, I tried to concentrate my attention away from the rasp of the polyethene sheet under me and repeat the question: So what was it, in the end, that put a stop to the spread of SARS five years ago? The epidemiologist seated opposite me held one of those lucrative double posts one often comes across in China as in the US; professor at a medical faculty and officer in a key disease control apparatus of the republic. We do not really know, he replied, why it went or where it’s gone. But what will you do if SARS returns one day? I retorted. In a tone perched between a lament and a scoff, the epidemiologist replied: Exactly what we did last time.

This short ethnographic vignette encapsulates what in epidemiological literature has come to be spoken of again and again as “the lesson of SARS”. Following the end of the 2003 coronavirus epidemic, the WHO, the US CDC and the newly founded China CDC hailed the success of the measures against the outbreak. Yet, at the same time, they tacitly acknowledged that whilst there was evidence to support that the former halted the pathogen’s rapid spread across the globe, no demonstrable relation could be established between this and the sudden disappearance of the pathogen amongst human populations.

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

Bioethical debates. Contributions of religion in the field of research and biomedical practice

As a general rule, bioethical debates deal with the questions raised by scientific-technical breakthroughs in the field of research and biomedical practice. The swiftness with which these advances take place calls into question whether moral philosophy —and in particular theological ethics— can provide answers to the new questions raised, or whether it should capitulate to strategic ethics.

In the last few months, the Journal of Medical Ethics has reignited the debate about the place of religion in medical ethics. Nigel Biggar, Professor of Moral Theology at Oxford University [1], has criticised the moral ambiguity of secular ethics, which often obliges us “to settle for a somewhat messy compromise” [1]. Biggar denies that religious logic is irrational, and admonishes intellectuals to overcome their “scientistic” prejudices and recognise that moral theology is a repository of genuinely convincing and illuminating principles. Biggar’s theory is contested by Kevin Smith, professor at Abertay University in Dundee [2]; Brian Earp, researcher at Oxford University [3]; and Xavier Symons of Sydney Catholic University [4].

Smith’s criticism of Biggar’s arguments centres on the following: firstly, the principles of theological ethics are not universal, since they appeal to divine authority instead of rational discourse; furthermore, they were formulated when the possibilities of contemporary technology for detecting prenatal disease early on, creating and maintaining embryonic life outside the maternal womb, or eliminating intrauterine life using techniques that are safe for the pregnant woman were still unknown. Only “secular” ethics, he adds, guarantee discussion based on ethical principles open to rational analysis. He concludes that only utilitarianism has the potential to attract a universal consensus, because happiness and suffering are, respectively, highly valued and deprecated by all agents who participate in the debate.

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

Writers Whose Expertise is Deplorably Low

Something popped up on my twitter feed the other day: this document from Oxford’s philosophy department.  (I’m not sure quite what it is.  Brochure?  In-house magazine?  Dunno.  It doesn’t really matter, though.)  In it, there’s a striking passage from Jeff McMahan’s piece on practical ethics:

Even though what is variously referred to as ‘practical ethics’ or ‘applied ethics’ is now universally recognized as a legitimate area of philosophy, it is still regarded by some philosophers as a ghetto within the broader 
area of moral philosophy.  This view is in one way warranted, as there is much work in such sub-domains of practical ethics as bioethics and business ethics that is done by writers whose expertise is in medicine, health policy, business, or some area other than moral philosophy, and whose standards of rigour in moral argument
are deplorably low.  These writers also tend
 to have only a superficial understanding of normative ethics.  Yet reasoning in practical ethics cannot be competently done without sustained engagement with theoretical issues
in normative ethics.  Indeed, Derek Parfit believes that normative and practical ethics are so closely interconnected that it is potentially misleading even to distinguish between them.  In his view, the only significant distinction is between ethics and metaethics, and even that distinction is not sharp.  [emphasis mine]

It’s a common complaint among medical ethicists who come from a philosophical background that non-philosophers are (a) not as good at philosophy, (b) doing medical ethics wrong, (c) taking over.  All right: there’s an element of hyperbole in my description of that complaint, but the general picture is probably recognisable. 

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

Synthetic Biology. Engineering and biology combined to create a minimal genome

Producing living beings with new characteristics by an artificial synthesis of a minimal genome
to then transplant it into a living cell

On 24th March this year, an article by Craig Venter and his team was published in Science, in which they described how they obtained an organism with the smallest genome of any known form of cell life. Furthermore, the genome was synthesised artificially in the laboratory.

This study represents a new milestone in Synthetic Biology, which combines engineering and biology to obtain living beings with new characteristics. One branch of Synthetic Biology, Synthetic Genomics, consists in the artificial synthesis of a minimal genome (a genome that contains the essential genes that enable an organism to live) to then transplant it into a living cell. One potential application of this minimal genome is to make a “genome chassis” to which other genes can be joined to achieve specific functions. Moreover, the essential genes are potential targets for new antibiotics, as they are necessary for bacteria to survive.

In 2010, investigators from the J. Craig Venter Institute managed to synthesise a completely artificial simple bacterial genome (although not the most simple), successfully inserting it into a bacterium from which the genome had been removed, so that the synthetic genome took control of bacterial development. Now, six years later, these investigators have managed to minimize the synthetic genome from 901 genes to 473, i.e. they have eliminated 428 non-essential genes. This is the closest scientists have been to obtaining a cell in which the function of each gene is known, although the function of 149 of the 473 genes — which accounts for around one third of the total genome — is not yet understood.

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

Crosspost: Bring back the dead

A version of this post was originally published at The Conversation.

A trial to see if it is possible to regenerate brains in patients that have been declared clinically dead has been approved. Reanima Advanced Biosciences aims at using stem cells, injections of peptides, and nerve stimulation to cause regeneration in brain dead patients. The primary outcome measure is “reversal of brain death as noted in clinical examination or EEG”, which at least scores high on ambition. The study accepts healthy volunteers, but they need to be brain dead due to traumatic brain injury, which might discourage most people.

Is there any problem with this?

Death of definitions

There is a trivial problem with the study, and that is the definition of brain death involves the irreversible cessation of function – if it is curable, the patients were never brain dead in the first place.

The way out of this is to recognize that being “irreversibly dead” is technology dependent. For a long time lack of breathing and pulse was regarded as hallmarks of death, until resuscitation methods improved. Today drowning victims suffering from extreme hypothermia, lack of oxygen, and lacking pulse and breathing for several hours can be revived (with luck and heavy medical interventions). Lacking a heart is not death if you are on the transplant surgeon’s table. Given historical precedent, we should hence not discount the possibility that some people currently regarded as irreversibly dead may be revivable by future medical technology.

If the Reanima project succeeds, we will have to revise brain death and possibly the status of some patients.

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

Bioethics and natural law: an interview with John Keown

Bioethics discourse is often divided into two broad categories: utilitarian perspectives and so-called deontological or Kantian approaches to ethics. An alternative viewpoint that receives far less attention is a natural law perspective on ethics and medicine. The natural law approach emphasizes interests or ends common to all members of humanity, and offers a teleological account of morality and human flourishing.

Professor John Keown of Georgetown University’s Kennedy Institute for Ethics recently co-authored a book on natural law with the late Georgetown Professor Alfonso Gómez-Lobo. The book is entitled Bioethics and the Human Goods: An Introduction to Natural Law Bioethics. The Deputy Editor of BioEdge, Xavier Symons, interviewed Professor Keown about his latest work. 

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Xavier SymonsWhat led you to write Bioethics and the Human Goods: An Introduction to Natural Law Bioethics?

John Keown: The book was largely written by my distinguished colleague and friend, the late Professor Alfonso Gómez-Lobo, who held the Ryan Chair in Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy at Georgetown. Before his untimely death at the end of 2011, he had submitted a manuscript to Georgetown University Press. With the kind permission of his widow, and with the approval of the Press, I completed the project, incorporating amendments that he had indicated, in his comments on the referees’ reports, that he wanted to make, and some amendments that I thought appropriate. About a third of the book is material I added to his original manuscript. I thought it important, given the regrettable dearth of introductory books on bioethics from a natural law perspective, that his manuscript should be enlarged, updated and completed

What contribution do you think natural law can make to the field of bioethics?

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.