Larry Smarr is trying to save your life:
Larry sees medicine as a stubborn holdout. Current efforts to reform the system—for instance, the Obama administration’s initiative to digitize all health records by 2014—are just toes in the water. Medicine has barely begun to take advantage of the million-fold increase in the amount of data available for the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Take the standard annual physical, with its weigh-in, blood-pressure check, and handful of numbers gleaned from select tests performed on a blood sample. To Larry, these data points give your doctor little more than a “cartoon” image of your body. Now imagine peering at the same image drawn from a galaxy of billions of data points. The cartoon becomes a high-definition, 3-D picture, with every system and organ in the body measured and mapped in real time.
What would you do if the very means by which you said your life had no meaning suddenly gave your life meaning? Tony Nicklinson is having just that problem.
So just a few days ago [and this will probably become a famous remark in the history of social networking], he wrote this: “Hello world. I am Tony Nicklinson, I have locked-in syndrome and this is my first ever tweet.”
Among the many fascinating things about this technology is that the very nature of the euthanasia debate means that well-meaning relatives will argue with well-meaning lawyers over a person who cannot speak for him or herself.
Yet now this man can – and not just to the High court, but to the court of public opinion as well. Within five days of his first tweet he had gained 15,000 followers, many of whom were expressing openly supportive opinions of him and his right to die.
He’s got more followers than most folks desperate for followers. Which leads to the conundrum.
But here’s the potentially extraordinary thing about Mr Nicklinson and Twitter.
People have begun asking him whether he still thinks his life’s worthless if he can enjoy a conversation with anyone in the world on the internet.
Mr Nicklinson’s reply suggests an open mind: “People want to know if I will change my mind because of Twitter. Let’s hear the judgement first and maybe I’ll tell you.”
It’s not about wanting to die. It’s about wanting the freedom to choose and say, “I am done. It’s my life. It’s my death.”
Should we force feed those with anorexia? Sounds like a question for the text books.
Charles C. Camosy, Professor of Christian Ethics at Fordham, decided to weigh in on the “After-Birth Abortion” article that caused such a stir a few months ago. He makes the case that ideas, no matter how abhorrant they seem on face, deserve debate and rational discussion.
Several philosophers I talked to could not understand this kind of public outcry—and, indeed, some even thought that the article’s argument was not sufficiently original to be published in the first place. After all, especially as the influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition has waned in the developed West, pro-choice arguments for infanticide have become increasingly common. The thinkers who have made such arguments often point out that our culture has rejected a religious respect for the sanctity of human life given our broad acceptance of abortion; instead, we locate the right to life in having morally valuable traits like rationality and self-awareness. Since a newly born child is not rational and self-aware, so the argument goes, one should be able to commit infanticide for many of the same reasons one may now have an abortion.
This is logical, consistent reasoning.
And the pro-choice position for infanticide appears to be here to stay. In a move which will confuse those who think of this position as something new, Savulescu is planning a special issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics devoted to infanticide which will have contributions from many of its defenders over the past forty years—including himself, Peter Singer, Michael Tooley, Jeff McMahon, and more. To his credit, Savulescu is also inviting pro-lifers like myself, Robert George, and John Finnis to contribute diverse and opposing views as well.
How should pro-lifers respond to the debate over infanticide? I have tried to convince public pro-life figures like George to resist using language like “madness” to describe the arguments of our opponents. For if one throws out the sanctity of life ethic as one’s moral guide—as we have already done in many aspects of our culture in the developed West—it seems perfectly reasonable to be pro-choice for both abortion and infanticide. In resisting this shift in defense of the sanctity of life, however, the correct strategy is not to insult or call names (or, God forbid, make threats of violence and murder), but instead we should respectfully engage pro-choice arguments for infanticide.
Two of my good friends have started the move toward vegetarianism. One for health reasons, the other for ethical ones. I’ve started eating better myself (more fruits and veggies) because of them. But the lure and ever-almost-here-ness of synthetic meat gives me hope for those of us who can’t (or won’t) give up our carnivores sides. The Guardian presents the two most likely candidates to bring ethical meat to the masses.
The idea of synthetic meat has been around for a long time. In 1932, Winston Churchill stated, “Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.” But fake meat, aka schmeat or in-vitro meat, is one of those ideas that, like lunar colonies, fusion power and flying cars, has yet to cross the threshold between fantasy and reality.
To make bigger chunks of meat, [Dr Mark Post, an affable 54-year-old Dutchman] will need to make synthetic fat (“actually quite easy”) and grow the fillets on some sort of biodegradable scaffold, “fed” with nutrients pumped through artificial polysaccharide “veins”. Otherwise the centre of the fillet will become gangrenous and die.
The technique is viable for any species.
“Could you make fake panda?”
“What about human?”
“Don’t go there.”
Eventually, Post envisages a future where huge quantities of high-quality meat are gown in vats, incorporating not only muscle fibres but layers of real fat and even synthetic bone. “In 25 years,” he says, “real meat will come in a packet labelled, ‘An animal has suffered in the production of this product’ and it will carry a big eco tax. I think in 50-60 years it may be forbidden to grow meat from livestock.”
Brave is a much richer and more important film than most people realize. Context as they say, is everything. And to understand why Brave matters, we have to look at it within the context of animated films up to this point.
Nearly every review I’ve read about Pixar’s newest film and Disney’s newest addition to the princess cannon has noted how standard the story is. Alyssa Rosenberg gives the most concise, level review of the film, accurately pointing out the total failure regarding the characterization of the witch (ugh, what a waste, could have been the next Ursula) and pointing out the importance of Merida as Pixar’s first heroine. In brief: I agree with the consensus that the film is spectacularly beautiful, has some hilarious moments, great characterization, flirtations with genuine darkness (all I’ll say: blank-bear eyes) and is a very solid, if standard film.
But here’s the thing: Brave is not just about a typical child/parent film. It’s about Pixar’s relationship to Disney’s entire princess lineage.
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Ah yes, another law drafted by the “the government is evil and should be small except for when legislating about sex, drugs, and procreation” GOP has failed.
And did they really want it to pass? No – it’s a wedge issue designed to give them something to point to during the election cycle. “See, look, these Democrats voted to KILL LITTLE BABY GIRLS. Vote Republican.” An actual back and fourth on the issue:
“Today’s vote is a stunning declaration by supporters of abortion that they oppose any restrictions on abortion,” said Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana.
Democrats accused Republicans of contriving a vote on legislation to address a problem that does not exist.
“I don’t support abortion for gender selection,” said Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado and an opponent of the legislation. “I don’t know anyone who does. Maybe that’s because there is no problem in this country of abortion for gender selection.”
Maybe. Who knows? Why let facts get in the way of posturing. Sigh.
I’m always amazed by the way governments address their own abysmal actions. Thousands were involuntarily sterilized? Here’s some money, now be quiet.
There should be a massive, public announcement in which the governor and all members of the state’s government (senators, reps, etc.) deliver a clear, honest description of what happened, why North Carolinian’s thought involuntary sterilization was alright, why those reasons were wrong, and what they have done to ensure it will never happen again.
Asimov had some good ideas, but we need to, you know, actually write some laws now:
As they become smarter and more widespread, autonomous machines are bound to end up making life-or-death decisions in unpredictable situations, thus assuming—or at least appearing to assume—moral agency. Weapons systems currently have human operators “in the loop”, but as they grow more sophisticated, it will be possible to shift to “on the loop” operation, with machines carrying out orders autonomously.
As that happens, they will be presented with ethical dilemmas. Should a drone fire on a house where a target is known to be hiding, which may also be sheltering civilians? Should a driverless car swerve to avoid pedestrians if that means hitting other vehicles or endangering its occupants? Should a robot involved in disaster recovery tell people the truth about what is happening if that risks causing a panic? Such questions have led to the emergence of the field of “machine ethics”, which aims to give machines the ability to make such choices appropriately—in other words, to tell right from wrong.
Bioethics is controversial.
No one endorses the ideas or concepts explored here, not even me.
You will develop a strong opinion about something you find here. I want to hear it. Philosophy is a conversation.
popbioethics [at] gmail [dot] com
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