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RS33 - Live at NECSS: New Dilemmas in Bioethics

Release date: April 24, 2011

In this one hour episode, recorded live at the 2011 Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism, Massimo and Julia discuss bioethics with two special guests: Jacob Appel, doctor, author, lawyer and bioethicist; and Jennifer Michael Hecht, poet and historian of science. Topics covered included: Should parents be allowed to select the gender and sexual orientation of their babies? Should pharmacists and physicians be allowed to refuse to provide treatments that violate their own religious or ethical principles? And when is assisted suicide acceptable?

Reader Comments (3)

During the part about genetically altering one's children, bow while listening now and and at NECSS I couldn't help but thinking of the movie "Gattaca". Vincent manages to excel through hard work, just like how most of us excel now, but he had to illegally make himself appear to be Jerome in any biological tests, and he does so in spite of the genetic enhancement of the people around him.

While it is emotionally satisfying that Vincent proves the ├╝berhumans' belief in GMOing themselves to be wrong, I wonder if it will actually always be that way?

In the near term it certainly is that way, for we don't know that much about the biological reasons for higher intelligence. (I say that we don't know mostly because, offhand, all I can think of are genetics that negatively affect intelligence like Downs Syndrome or phenyketonuria, and of no enhancing genes/alleles.) In addition, intelligence is probably (IANAB) a fiendishly complex interaction of epigenetic effetcs, epistatic effects and what not, so even if we could test for these alleles like we might for Tay-Sachs or Downs, making alterations would be non-practical.

But then I look at the young field of bioinformatics and how the application of computing power to biology has enabled so many avenues of research, most impressively in genomics and proteomics, and my boundless enthusiasm and faith for how computer will make our lives better falls off. Not because I lack faith in bioinfomatics enabling safe genetic alterations to increase intelligence in a newborn but but because I have entirely too much faith that it will do so.

Eventually that computing power will be there and simple knowledge of ourselves tells us that somebody will use it. Maybe it will be with the best of intentions, maybe it will be with the worst, but I cannot see the tool going unused. I wish I had the faith that Jennifer Michael Hecht has in humanity, too.

April 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCory Albrecht
Cool stuff again. =D

I would just say that the more we continue to tamper with Nature to fit in our idealistic worlds, the more monstrous results might come from it. We shouldn't always experiment with Nature and just learn to understand & Live with it better.
October 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterErnesto
Jacob Appel makes a really good point about euthanasia amongst the mentally ill. Chronic severe schizophrenia refractory to treatment does in many ways resemble terminal metastatic cancer. In both cases, the patient has lost the ability to enjoy life as well as the ability to contribute to society. We should not force terribly ill people to continue living just to make ourselves feel better. Allowing euthanasia does make sense and recognizes the fundamental right of the patient to determine their own existence.

The equal access argument as a reason to prohibit genetic enhancement makes no sense. The wealthier more affluent people of the world generally have earlier access to new technology. Their early adoption of new technology helps establish an industry that then increases its efficiency and delivers that same technology to the masses cost effectively.

If we have a safe, reliable, cost effective way to select for heterosexuality in newborns we should do so. Although the characteristic of homosexuality really has few disadvantages other than possible prejudice from fundamentalists, heterosexuality simply better conforms to human nature and society. For instance, we certainly need to retain the bulk of our population as heterosexual to ensure the continuation of humanity, and thusly a heterosexual will have many more available possible mates than a homosexual. A heterosexual female will have the opportunity to have many more close but non romantic friendships with her female friends, while also having many more opportunities for romantic relationships with her male friends. Most importantly, people should love their child no matter what the sexuality of the child.

We do have to take care when we modify human genetics, both for the sake of the individual and for the sake of the entire human population. However, we now have so many billions of people, and plenty of people will refuse genetic modifications for their children, that we will probably always have an excellent reservoir of wild type humans. Also, do we presently have the types of environmental stress necessary to continue to evolve humanity? Do we have to perhaps turn to artificial evolution to improve our species?

People do have an ethical duty to terminate a pregnancy in early gestation when medical tests reveal a severe physiological defect. To the extent possible, everyone has the right to a healthy body.

Massimo states that no genetic diseases exist, but rather that all diseases depend upon the environment. What about Down syndrome? This entirely genetic disease exists entirely independent of any environment.

Jacob Appel states the correct rule for religious or ethical preference. As long as a person's religious or ethical preference deprives no one of access to a good or service, the provider of those services should have the right to discriminate amongst their clientele. Traditionally, people should have the right to utilize any place of public accommodation, but not a private clinic. A student in medical school does have to fulfill the complete curriculum as determined by the school and the AMA.

Christian pharmacies should label themselves as such in order to increase convenience. Most major pharmacy corporations such as Rite Aid, Walgreen's, and CVS will sell anything legal, and we find these corporate pharmacies everywhere. If someone wants to fill a prescription for contraception from a small pharmacy, they can always call ahead to check availability. Most importantly, businesses should absolutely have the right to independently determine what goods and services they provide.

Conjoined twins who have lived conjoined for some period of time may have simply adapted to that condition and thus find the major change of separation as disconcerting. Uncircumcised men may feel the same way. However, male circumcision merely removes the foreskin, has no adverse effect, and has definite health benefits. We should circumcise male children, and uncircumcised men should have themselves circumcised.

Very sad to learn that vaccination rates have dropped below herd immunity in two US States.
February 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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