Tag: plants

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

We Can and Must Rebuild the Bridges of Interdisciplinary Bioethics

by Darryl R. J. Macer

This editorial is made available on bioethics.net. The editorial along with the target article and open peer commentary is available via tandfonline.com

Although we can argue that bioethics is holistic and found in every culture, and still alive among people of many indigenous communities as well as the postmodern ones, the academic discipline of bioethics as interpreted by many scholars has attempted to burn bridges to both different views and to persons with different life trajectories and training. The bridges between different cultural and epistemological foundations of bioethics have also been strained by the dominance of Western paradigms of principlism and the emergence of an academic profession of medical bioethics.

This editorial reacts to the points made in the article by Lee, “A Bridge Back to the Future: Public Health Ethics, Bioethics, and Environmental Ethics.” This issue of the American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB) includes a number of commentaries on this theme, and challenges readers to reconsider the manner in which they conceive of bioethics, as well as the range of literature and scholars that they consider to as legitimate sources of wisdom. Such a new approach will not only breathe fresh light into the important work of all scholars, students, and teachers, but also offer some fresh references for contemporary policy changes that face us. Let us approach these issues like an ostrich who is taking her head out of the sand after some years of monodisciplinary focus. To be clear, Lee and some others writing here have apparently not had their head in the sand, as the interrelatedness of health and the environment is clear through the examples shared.

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 Hidden Story of Medical Experimentation on Caribbean Slave Plantations

The new book, “Secret Cures of Slaves: People, Plants, and Medicine in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic,” zeroes in on human experimentation on Caribbean slave plantations in the late 1700s. Were slaves on New World sugar plantations used as human guinea pigs in the same way African-Americans were in the American South centuries later?

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 Role of Plant-Based, Meatless Meats In Sustainable Diets

July 27, 2017

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The two American companies are not the first to create innovative alternative proteins (known as APs, such as tofu), meat analogues, or imitation meat (e.g. veggie burgers, tofurkey). Other start-ups such as Memphis Meats and Mosa Meats are creating animal-based cell-cultured meats. But Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are the first start-ups to market their non-meat products to meat eaters (or “lovers,”), not vegetarians or vegans. The companies excel at targeted marketing: meatless meats bring to mind foods with all the sensory and nutritional benefits of meat without any of its environmental or health harms – but meatless meats are simply rebranded, repackaged, and reimagined meat analogues. After all, their products contain plants, just like veggie burgers. The difference in terminology between meatless meats and meat analogues or imitation meat is primarily in intended audience – not in substance.

Beets are the secret to Beyond Burger’s bleeding patty, while the “magic” ingredient that simulates sizzling fat in the Impossible Burger is genetically-modified plant-based heme, an iron-compound found in most animal muscles. The long-term health and nutrition impacts of meatless meat are not yet fully known. However, both the Beyond and Impossible Burger burgers contain 20 grams of plant protein per serving, relatively equivalent to one beef patty. Compared to normal burgers, these patties have significantly more calories (40-50 kcal per serving more) and sodium (about six times as much). The difference between beef and vegetable fats is also striking – the Impossible Burger has 15 grams of saturated fat (triple that of a beef burger) – and may contribute to any taste differential noticed by a serious meat eater(link is external).

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 At Stake in Speculation? by Matthew Wolf-Meyer

We’ve long been thinking about health, well-being, illness, sickness, and disease, in relation to risk. That things might not be maintained at their present levels, either individually, among our cared-for, or socially, is not something new, even if we’ve entered a period of intensification, with calls to ‘repeal and replace’ the Affordable Care Act, and the slow, often subtle chipping away at social safety net policies in the United States and throughout the North Atlantic in the spirit of austerity and for the sake of freedom. What might have been primarily personal and interpersonal concerns about health and disease have also expanded to include the environment and the species, as we continue to think through the Anthropocene and its consequences for exposures to environmental dangers – toxins and radiation foremost among them – and the spread of once localized diseases to the global stage, as the recent zika outbreak raised, and Ebola recurrently threatens. The intensification and generalization of risk may very well entail the intensification and generalization of speculation; what are our individual and collective possible futures? And what better way to confront our possible futures than through media that explicitly engages with the future, speculative and science fiction?

Is speculation fundamental to life itself? That’s the question that Steve Shaviro seeks to answer in his recent Discognition. Shaviro argues that sentience itself – which we might see operating in computer programs, plants, slime mold, and emergent technologies – is founded on the existence of the ability to speculate, to anticipate and plan. We may not be able to infer how speculation works for a sentient computer program or a slime mold, yet, they depend upon an ability to forecast, to imagine what may come next, so as to act appropriately in advance.

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 Impossibility of the Inert: Placebo and the Essence of Healing by Thomas J. Csordas

The concept of placebo is predicated on the opposition between active and inert, deploying this opposition to assert that an action or substance with no inherent active principle can have a paradoxical effect “as if” it were active.1 My thesis is that there is no such thing as the inert in human affairs, relationships, or experience. Think of the apparently simple retort of the bullied child that “sticks and stone may break my bones but names can never hurt me.” Contrary to this retort, names can indeed hurt. They are not inert, but carry an actual force identifiable as hate or disdain. And what of the retort itself? Is it a vain, desperate, and ultimately inert act of self-protection, effective only insofar as it taps into the “as if” logic of the placebo? I think not, though like any remedy it must be applied under the right conditions and with the understanding that it may not be uniformly effective in the degree to which it buffers the noxious influence of name-calling with an equivalent, self-confident force of self-esteem. There is also, however, an easily overlooked element of materiality in the retort. That is its rhythm: the fact that it is phrased in trochaic meter. It is not only that meter adds the force of incantation or song, but that it directly engages the embodied existential immediacy of the situation, contributing an element of jauntiness encompassing not only tone of voice but posture and gesture.

The notion of materiality as I have just used it is of value in reflecting on the impossibility of the inert.

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 – May 2017 by Livia Garofalo

Please enjoy the article round-up for the month of May! This post was put together in collaboration with Ann Marie Thornburg.

American Ethnologist

Plant matters: Buddhist medicine and economies of attention in postsocialist Siberia

Tatiana Chudakova

Buddhist medicine (sowa rigpa) in Siberia frames the natural world as overflowing with therapeutic potencies: “There is nothing in the world that isn’t a medicine,” goes a common refrain. An exploration of sowa rigpa practitioners’ committed relations with the plants they make into medicines challenges human-centric notions of efficacy in anthropological discussions of healing. Their work of making things medicinal—or pharmacopoiesis—centers on plants’ vital materialities and requires attention to the entanglements among vegetal and human communities and bodies. Potency is thus not the fixed property of substances in a closed therapeutic encounter but the result of a socially and ecologically distributed practice of guided transformations, a practice that is managed through the attentive labor of multiple actors, human and otherwise. In Siberia, pharmacopoiesis makes explicit the layered relations among postsocialist deindustrialization, Buddhist cosmologies, ailing human bodies, and botanical life.

Annals of Anthropological Practice

Special Issue: Continuity and Change in the Applied Anthropology of Risk, Hazards, and Disasters

Disaster vulnerability in anthropological perspective 

A.J. Faas

In the study of disasters, the concept of vulnerability has been primarily employed as a cumulative indicator of the unequal distributions of certain populations in proximity to environmental and technological hazards and an individual or group ability to “anticipate, cope with, resist and recover” from disaster (Wisner et al. 2004). This concept has influenced disaster research as a means to question how natural, temporary, and random disasters are and focused analysis on the human-environmental processes that produce disasters and subject some populations more than others to risk and hazards.

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

Part II: LOVING, Bioethics and How Miscegenation became a ‘thing’

Photo Courtesy of Mill Valley Film Festival

Long Before Jeff Nichols, writer/director, chose to make the film LOVING (2016),  about a heroic couple of modest means striking a blow for the maintenance of humanity—by ending anti-miscegenation laws in the USA—The field of Eugenics had to be born and the term  ‘miscegenation’ coined. Miscegenation laws were present in many states  of the USA into the 1960s, in defiance of the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution and  the Declaration of Human Rights. 
Modern “bioethics” emerged from the documentation of the atrocities associated with both WWI and WWII, and the manipulation of science and technology to serve ‘evil’ rather than beneficence, autonomy and justice. The film Loving speaks to the need to carefully consider the obligations of science. There is no evil science, just bad science and immoral applications. In particular, scientist, and physicians (who are all ultimately researchers) should at least read the Nuremberg Code. The document is a page long with only ten points. 

How did Anti- miscegenation laws come about? Let’s be clear, they were an economic mechanism to oppress slaves and other underclass people and prevent their owning property. This begs the question of how miscegenation became ‘a thing.’

Philosophy and the applied sciences used to be one school—and still were in the 1800s. Philosophy, was not separated from maths, astronomy, medicine and engineering. The footsteps of philosophy still drive scientific method —theory, hypothesis, proof and argument. Francis Galton was born into that time of interface and development of knowledge. Oddly Galton,  a  latter day Renaissance thinker in the  model of Da’Vinci, is attributed with coining the words miscegenation and eugenics.

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

Defining dual-use research: When scientific advances can both help and hurt humanity

It’s not always obvious where a new technology will end up. NIH Image Gallery, CC BY-NC

Scientific research can change our lives for the better, but it also presents risks – either through deliberate misuse or accident. Think about studying deadly pathogens; that’s how we can learn how to successfully ward them off, but it can be a safety issue too, as when CDC workers were exposed to anthrax in 2014 after an incomplete laboratory procedure left spores of the bacterium alive.

For the last decade, scholars, scientists and government officials have worked to figure out regulations that would maximize the benefits of the life sciences while avoiding unnecessary risks. “Dual-use research” that has the capacity to be used to help or harm humanity is a big part of that debate. As a reflection of how pressing this question is, on Jan. 4, the U.S. National Academies for Science, Engineering, and Medicine met to discuss how or if sensitive information arising in the life sciences should be controlled to prevent its misuse.

For the new Trump administration, one major challenge will be how to maintain national security in the face of technological change. Part of that discussion hinges on understanding the concept of dual use. There are three different dichotomies that could be at play when officials, scholars and scientists refer to dual use – and each uniquely influences the discussion around discovery and control.

For war or for peace

WWI infantry wore respirators to protect against mustard gas, a chemical weapon that can be made from common solvents.

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

New Genetic Engineering Technique Could Help Design, Study Biological Systems

January 23, 2017

(PhysOrg) – A new technique will help biologists tinker with genes, whether the goal is to turn cells into tiny factories churning out medicines, modify crops to grow with limited water or study the effects of a gene on human health. The technique, published Jan. 20 in Nature Communications, allows scientists to precisely regulate how much protein is produced from a particular gene. The process is simple yet innovative and, so far, works in everything from bacteria to plants to human cells.

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.