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November 30, 2006

Gary Francione on Peter Singer and “Vivisection”

Animal rights law professor and vegan activist Gary Francione has now weighed in at some length in his Blog about Peter Singer and his support for invasive brain research using monkeys. It is very hard hitting, and, it seems to me, hits a home run regarding amoral Singer-style utilitarianism:

If you read what Peter Singer has been writing for 30 years now, it is absolutely clear that he regards the use of nonhumans–and humans–in vivisection as morally permissible. Indeed, Singer explicitly rejects animal rights and the abolition of animal exploitation; he does not regard eating animals or animal products as per se morally wrong; he maintains we can be ‘conscientious omnivores;’ he claims that we can have ‘mutually satisfying’ sexual relationships with animals, and he claims that it is morally permissible to kill disabled infants.

In short, rather than asking ‘can you believe what Singer has said?,’ it is more appropriate to ask: Can someone please explain how Singer got to be the ‘father of the modern animal rights movement’?

There is much more about Singer in the post, some of which I knew (killing infants, sex with animals) and some of which that I didn’t (the permissibility of being a conscientious omnivore), and it is all worth reading.

I disagree with Francione completely about animal rights. For example, human beings are omnivores, and so its seems to me that eating meat is both nutritious and natural. But I respect him and his totally justified disdain for the “ethics” of Peter Singer.

“PETA a Cult” And Other Singer Monkey Research Fallout

I thought it was pretty significant that Peter Singer endorsed research on monkeys, and very invasive research at that–brain experiments. But the American media ignored the story, so I decided to kick up a little dust.

I was quite impressed with Gary Francione, who I interviewed by e-mail. He is a man of principle, integrity, and courage, calling PETA a “cult” and Singer “the leader of the cult.” (I have heard stories!) Others who left the animal rights movement have called PETA a cult, but Francione is as solid an animal rightist as it gets, and for him to denigrate PETA in this way, to me, is significant.

My analysis points to the animal rights movement fracturing over ideology and tactics, and Singer’s apostasy, I think, will further that process. Here’s my conclusion:

. . . given Singer’s prominence, his pro-research statement will surely undermine the general liberationist meme that animal experimentation is useless, as well as cruel, and hence an equivalent evil to the research conducted by Mengele in the concentration camps. Better still, his apostasy should exacerbate the movement’s ongoing splintering, a development most earnestly to be wished. After all, the less effective animal-rights/liberation advocacy is, the less likely we will ever perceive human beings as merely another animal in the forest.

Many Study Review Board Docs Have Ties to Drug Industry

That’s the finding of a new study in the Nov. 30 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The researchers also found that the vast majority of review board members surveyed — 85.5 percent — believed that industry ties do not affect members’ decisions in any inappropriate way. (HealthDay)

Japan’s long wait for organ donors

It is harder to get an organ transplant in Japan than almost anywhere else in the world. The problem is not a lack of funds or technology, but a lack of donors. (BBC)

Study: Private Medicare Costs $5.2B More

Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in private, managed care plans cost the government 12.4 percent more than those in the traditional program last year, for a total cost of more than $5.2 billion, according to a study released Thursday. (AP)

Parliament debates Australian ban on stem cell cloning

Australia’s Parliament began debating a bill Thursday that would lift the country’s ban on cloning human embryos for stem cell research. (International Herald Tribune)

Australia: IVF baby deaths are twice the natural rate

One in 50 babies born through IVF in Australia is stillborn or dies within a month of birth — twice the rate of babies conceived naturally, new figures have revealed. (The West Australian)

November 29, 2006

Transhumanists and “Human Dignity”

Oxford professor Nick Bostrom, one of the leading lights of the transhumanist movement, has a new paper out (“In Defense of Post Human Dignity”) in which he argues that there is no need to fear the post human future if we all agree that all forms of post humanity have equal dignity. Here is how he puts it:

Transhumanists . . . see human and posthuman dignity as compatible and complementary. They insist that dignity, in its modern sense, consists in what we are and what we have the potential to become, not in our pedigree or our causal origin. What we are is not a function solely of our DNA but also of our technological and social context. Human nature in this broader sense is dynamic, partially human-made, and improvable. Our current extended phenotypes (and the lives that we lead) are markedly different from those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. We read and write; we wear clothes; we live in cities; we earn money and buy food from the supermarket; we call people on the telephone, watch television, read newspapers, drive cars, file taxes, vote in national elections; women give birth in hospitals; life-expectancy is three times longer than in the Pleistocene; we know that the Earth is round and that stars are large gas clouds lit from inside by nuclear fusion, and that the universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old and enormously big. In the eyes of a hunter-gatherer, we might already appear ‘posthuman’. Yet these radical extensions of human capabilities–some of them biological, others external–have not divested us of moral status or dehumanized us in the sense of making us generally unworthy and base. Similarly, should we or our descendants one day succeed in becoming what relative to current standards we may refer to as posthuman, this need not entail a loss dignity either.

Nicely written, but inapt. There is no fundamental difference between the ancestors Bostrom references and ourselves. They were us, fully human despite their far lower levels of technology. Indeed, their achievement of taming fire is just as impressive as our making it to the moon. And I would match the cave drawings in France with the greatest art in the Louvre.

But let’s not get into that for now. My primary problem with transhumanism is the arrogant presumption that parents should be able to design their offspring to order, as if children were a Dell computer or a pedigree dog. What a concept. Parenting would become about fulfilling the parents’ yearnings through their child rather than (ideally) accepting the child that comes, whoever he or she is, with unconditional love and assisting our child to mature and develop into the person they want to be.

I know, I know. Parents make their children take piano lessons, and some argue that genetically altering them to be musical is little different. But genetic alterations would be set in stone, as it were, and would pass down the generations. A kid can always quit piano lessons and start to work on cars. Would one ever be able to escape the yearnings set in motion by raw biology caused by genetic engineering or other transhumanist enhancements?

The bottom line is this: Transhumanism exhibits a combination of solipsism and obsession with control, bad enough when it involves oneself, but definitely wrong, in my book, when imposed on another. Or to put it another way, if Charlie modified his features to look like Catman, I would feel badly for him, but Charlie would only be affecting himself. But Charlie should not be allowed to manufacture Kitten Boy, because he had an affinity for cats. That would not be parenting, but slave mastering.

Some of my other comments about transhumanism, can be found here and here.

Neuroethics on 60 Minutes

Lesley Stahl reports on a controversial treatment using the pill Propranolol to help suppress traumatic memories. Video (4:07).

Scientists harness brain mysteries

A young woman, confined to a wheelchair, is told to think about moving another wheelchair in front of her, first to the left and then forward. (MSNBC)

Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells Morphed into Lung Tissue

This is wonderful news and demonstrates the great potential for morally uncontentious stem cell research. But don’t expect the media or politicians to notice. There is campaign money in them thar embryonic stem cell hills. Big Biotech has spent many tens of millions in propagandizing the country and it’s payback time!

Transplant Centers Penalized

Hoping to send a warning to organ transplant centers nationwide, the federal government said Tuesday that it would pull funding from two heart programs that failed to meet its minimum performance standards. A third center agreed to forgo federal money under pressure. (Los Angeles Times)

Spanish Woman Prompts Euthanasia Debate

Inmaculada Echevarria has spent much of her life watching muscular dystrophy ruin her body. She’s been in a hospital bed for 20 years, her movements are now reduced to wiggling her fingers and toes and she wants to die. (Newsday)

United Arab Emirates: Pvt blood cord centres may be banned

he Ministry of Health (MoH) is considering a ban on private blood cord centres in the country following criticism by experts and demands from various quarters that sensitive issues should be handled only by the government. (Khaleej Times)

Democrats Plan to Revive Stem Cell Bill

The same embryonic stem cell bill that prompted President Bush’s only veto is headed to his desk again, this time from Democrats who have it atop their agenda when they take control of Congress in January. (Los Angeles Times)

Science Committee Issues Hwang Report

Simply trusting that scientists are telling the truth is not enough when it comes to vetting blockbuster research. That appears to be the bottom line of an independent committee that reported today that Science could have more aggressively examined two papers on stem cells that turned out to be fake. (ScienceNOW)

Steps Urged to Prevent Fraud in Science Journals

Fraudulent stem cell reports that shook the scientific world could have been prevented by extra review procedures, according to a panel appointed by the journal that published the claims. (New York Times)

South Korea: “Cloning pioneer” want to manipulate human cells again

The disgraced cloning “pioneer”, South Korean Hwang Woo-suk, hopes to “resume human embryonic stem cell research as soon as possible” despite serious scandals surrounding his work and the revoking of his licence as national researcher. This was confirmed yesterday by his lawyer Lee Geon-haeng. ( )

UK: Stem cell research under threat

Britain’s position as the world leader in stem cell technology is in serious jeopardy because of a lack of funding, one of the country’s leading scientists said yesterday. (Telegraph)

Nanotechnology Facing Patent Roadblocks

While the nanotechnology sector is having no problems creating new companies and finding new employees, it is running into problems with the U.S. Patent Office. Because it can take up to four years to process patent applications, nanotechnology entrepreneurs and researchers now worry that product developing funds can be stifled by Patent Office issues. (DailyTech)

November 28, 2006

A “Genetic Bill of Rights”

A Genetic Bill of Rights–From Lori Andrews, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, who chaired the federal ethics advisory committee to the Human Genome Project.

* You should have the right to refuse genetic testing and not to disclose genetic information, except in criminal cases in which there is individualized suspicion.

* You should not be discriminated against by insurers, employers, schools, courts, mortgage lenders or other institutions based on genetic tests.

* If you undergo genetic testing, you should have the right to control who receives the results.

* Your genes should not be used in research without your consent, even if your tissue sample has been made anonymous.

* Your genes should not be patented.

Makes sense to me. Yet, apparently 20% of our genes are owned by companies holding patents, which is having a chilling effect in medical testing.


The Bioethics Poll
Should individuals and/or institutions be allowed to patent human genes?
Yes, with some qualifications

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Which area of research should more money be invested in:
Animal-Human Hybrids
Gene Therapy
Reproductive Technology
Stem Cell Research
"Therapeutic" Cloning
None of the above

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