Adam Lee asks and answers that very question:
My guess is that when life-extending technology is invented, the clerics and fundamentalists – the people most invested in religious belief – will denounce it as the ultimate violation of God’s plan, and will probably outlaw it wherever they have the power; but the vast majority of ordinary people, religious or not, will be clamoring for it. And I think this may be the wedge that splits religion once and for all.
Past and present moral struggles, like the revolutions in women’s rights, racial justice and gay rights, have diminished the moral authority of the churches that resisted them. But the impact of this one will be far greater, because it affects everyone.
The X Prize Foundation has plunked down another gauntlet, this one to the tune of $2.25 million with the help of Nokia, to drag healthcare kicking and screaming into the 21st century. The objective? A portable, affordable, accurate, and comprehensive sensor suite able to constantly and unobtrusively measure every aspect of health that has thus far been quantized.
The result if successful? Well, in my perfect future, the data is constantly analyzed by another X Prize winner – a digital panel of medical A.I. – and when something comes up, the system sends an email to your human doc recommending an exam for specific unquantifiable symptoms (fatigue, nausea, joint pain, depression – subjective stuff) and possible diagnoses and courses of action. All medicine becomes preventative, preemptive medicine.
Data is for machines, doctors are for people. These prizes might tip the balance back to where it belongs.
Welcome to the futurenow, courtesy of SpaceX Dragon.
Michael Wolff says what must be said: in our desperate attempt to advance medicine we have created a population of millions who suffer because we will not let them die – every life is worth ending.
This is not anomalous; this is the norm.
The traditional exits, of a sudden heart attack, of dying in one’s sleep, of unreasonably dropping dead in the street, of even a terminal illness, are now exotic ways of going. The longer you live the longer it will take to die. The better you have lived the worse you may die. The healthier you are—through careful diet, diligent exercise, and attentive medical scrutiny—the harder it is to die. Part of the advance in life expectancy is that we have technologically inhibited the ultimate event. We have fought natural causes to almost a draw. If you eliminate smokers, drinkers, other substance abusers, the obese, and the fatally ill, you are left with a rapidly growing demographic segment peculiarly resistant to death’s appointment—though far, far, far from healthy.
Wolff goes on to outline the horrors:
This is not just a drawn-out, stoic, and heroic long good-bye. This is human carnage. Seventy percent of those older than 80 have a chronic disability, according to one study; 53 percent in this group have at least one severe disability; and 36 percent have moderate to severe cognitive impairments; you definitely don’t want to know what’s considered to be a moderate impairment.
From a young and healthy perspective, we tend to look at dementia as merely Alzheimer’s—a cancerlike bullet, an unfortunate genetic fate, which, with luck, we’ll avoid. In fact, Alzheimer’s is just one form—not, as it happens, my mother’s—of the ever-more-encompassing conditions of cognitive collapse that are the partners and the price of longevity.
There are now more than 5 million demented Americans. By 2050, upward of 15 million of us will have lost our minds.
In the new issue of Arc (out May 28th) I explore why gaming is a new way to tell stories and lets us explore old ideas in new ways.
“I, the reader, am not culpable for the destiny of Romeo and Juliet simply because I turn the page. Games demand that we choose to take the action that gives the story weight. In that moment of confrontation – of ‘This is unfair! The game only gives two options and I don’t want to take either!’ – we realize that our only way out is either through the narrative, or via the power button.
“By throwing these rules in our way – rules we know to be programmed and designed – video games call our attention to the constructed narratives in our everyday lives. When we are presented with two choices and neither is desirable, we see the rules of the system laid bare.”
Arc is new but amazing. The last issue featured articles by folks like Margaret Atwood, China Miéville, and Bruce Sterling.
Pop Bioethics has been dormant longer than I’d care to admit.
A new career path, a new apartment in a new borough, and the loss of a beloved family member formed a triumvirate fulcrum upon which my life has pivoted this past month. Writing has been neigh impossible.
I spend a tremendous amount of time reading, watching, playing, listening to, and discussing the finer points of pop culture, bioethics, science, medicine, and technology. From this, glimmers of hints of rumors have begun to emerge. The human path towards the future is not predicted by boffins or conjured by imagineers but is instead found in the modern mythopoetic process that plays out in our media. Our values, our beliefs and our hopes forge themselves into visions through which our reality is refracted. Position yourself properly and the image shifts, lenticular. We only need dare to take the tack oblique.
More and more, the hologram of the coming century is one in which the world is shaped not by our technologies but by our rights. A proper 21st century Futurama would be populated by booths of rights activists, sociologists, philosophers, and anthropologists – more of Foucault than of Fuller, I suspect. Why? Simple. The future is here. The concern is no longer attaining but maintaining.
In this space I intend to continue exploring how we should live in the future. As with everything, my belief is that through synthesis we will find the next step in our long march forward. William Blake, who had an incredible ability to see ahead by looking inward, offers a few lines that are fine axioms upon which I can continue this project.
Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are roads of Genius.
Where man is not nature is barren.
Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believ’d.
There are no answers here. Only suppositions, surmises, guesses and even the occasional wild-eyed shot in the dark. My ideas are and will be founded on what I hope will be tilting towards the truth, but errors are expected, anticipated, and embraced.
On to what’s next.
The after-birth abortion article continues to stir up discussions. For those who think that the idea is too extreme or unacceptable for a journal to publish, Julian Savulescu has some choice thoughts:
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, he added: “This “debate” has been an example of “witch ethics” – a group of people know who the witch is and seek to burn her. It is one of the most dangerous human tendencies we have. It leads to lynching and genocide. Rather than argue and engage, there is a drive is to silence and, in the extreme, kill, based on their own moral certainty. That is not the sort of society we should live in.”
He said the journal would consider publishing an article positing that, if there was no moral difference between abortion and killing newborns, then abortion too should be illegal.
Giubilini and Minerva have written an open letter in response to the uproar. The critical element:
We are really sorry that many people, who do not share the background of the intended audience for this article, felt offended, outraged, or even threatened. We apologise to them, but we could not control how the message was promulgated across the internet and then conveyed by the media. In fact, we personally do not agree with much of what the media suggest we think. Because of these misleading messages pumped by certain groups on the internet and picked up for a controversy-hungry media, we started to receive many emails from very angry people (most of whom claimed to be Pro-Life and very religious) who threatened to kill us or which were extremely abusive. Prof Savulescu said these responses were out of place, and he himself was attacked because, after all, “we deserve it.”
We do not think anyone should be abused for writing an academic paper on a controversial topic.
That two people were threatened for publishing ideas is shame.
Searing, intense, personal account of being mother to a child with Tay-Sachs, perhaps the archetypal disease used for discussing wrongful life. Emily Rapp’s take on prenatal testing is the opposite of abstract. Read it all:
That it is possible to hold this paradox as part of my daily reality points to the reductive and narrow-minded nature of Rick Santorum’s assertions that prenatal testing increases the number of abortions (a this equals that equation), and for this reason, the moral viability or inherent value of these tests should be questioned. Prenatal testing provides information, a value-less act. I maintain that it is a woman’s right to choose what to do with the information that attaches value and meaning, and that this choice is—and must be—directly related to that individual’s experiences. What’s at stake here is not the issue of testing, but the issue of choice. I love Ronan, and I believe it would have been an act of love to abort him, knowing that his life would be primarily one of intense suffering, knowing that his neurologically devastated brain made true quality of life—relationships, thoughts, pleasant physical experiences—impossible.
Here’s another set of truths for the moral and ethical mix: I was born with a physical deformity in the age before the evolution of advanced ultrasound technology that may have detected it. My mom did not have a choice about terminating her pregnancy, although when I was born and she was told that I might be retarded, that I might never walk, and that given these possibilities she might want to consider institutionalizing me, she probably wished she’d had the choice. Regardless of what she may or may not have decided had she been possessed of all the information prior to my birth, regardless of the fact that none of the doctor’s warnings had any truth to them, it would have been her choice to make.
Choice. The center of ethics.
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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