Thursday, December 16, 2004

BBC "If..." on cloning, violence and drug legalisation

Solutions to problems which have been with us for decades - or are unique to the new millennium. Sometimes the pace of change can be mind-boggling. To keep up we have to respond quickly.
The second series of IF begins on Thursday, 16 December, 2004, on BBC Two. This second series of IF aims to involve you in the options that lie ahead for you, and for your children. The future, of course, is not here. So IF tries to bring that to life through drama. We imagine how the world might be in 10 or 15 years' time. But before we can begin we need information and opinion. We spend weeks reading, talking to experts and compiling briefing documents before we tackle the drama.
The first film If... Cloning Could Cure Us explores the potential of cloning and stem cell therapy. To give this courtroom drama real substance and moral complexity, we approached our research on several fronts: scientific, ethical, legal and political.
The second film, If... We Could Stop The Violence, might seem like wishful thinking. But it reflects the views of cutting edge scientists who believe that the propensity for violent crime is genetic.
The third film If... Drugs Were Legal examines the existing problems with drug prohibition and hears the arguments in favour of legalisation.
Feedback from viewers and interested citizens is encouraged: in Embryonic stem cell therapy: have your say, you can post your opinion on "Does this type of research and potential treatment herald a medical revolution, which will save countless lives? Or is it just one step too far in an ethical minefield?". Thoughts and opinions on the issues raised by the programme will be published on the BBC site.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

More Takes on Transhumanism from Newitz

RU Sirius, who recently interviewed me and Max More, decided to drop a line to Annalee Newitz after she vented spleen on Extropian politics, and spewed on transhumanists in the process. His interview with her is in his latest NeoFiles:
NEOFILES: I was a little surprised by your take on transhumanism. Sure, the sensibilities that seem to accompany a lot of this is sort of Heinleinian “Amazing Stories” ubergeek; not particularly sly or post-punk. But I would expect you to be more aligned with James Hughes and his lefty-oriented “Democratic Transhumanism” (he links to you) than to just sort of nay-say longevity, bio-enhancement, and all these areas of intrigue, given your previous radical pro-tech “biopunk” writings.

It seems to me that once you say “yeah”! to biopunk — decentralized, independent noodling with life forms … biology (presumably including our own) … you’re about 99.9% of the way to a transhumanist perspective (and in some ways, beyond it). I mean, we’re talking TRANS here, right? TRANShumanity, TRANSexuality (that’s all about self enhancement too. So why is this one’s challenge to biological destiny hip and trendy and the other one gauche?) Recontextualizations, reconfigurations, moving into zones of uncertainty where positive mutation might occur: this is all in the spirit of the “Cyborg Manifesto,” no?

ANNALEE NEWITZ: OK, I see what you’re saying. I am very much in favor of independent noodling with life forms, body enhancement, home-brewed bio labs, etc. I would defend people's right to mess with their biology for the same reasons I defend geeks’ right to take apart their Xboxes or our right to explore consciousness with drugs.

Positive mutation is a terrific goal. However, I don't think that noodling with bio and tech is anything more than fun and experimentation. The problem I have with transhumanism and extropianism is that they seem to have replaced religion with biotech — spiritual transcendence is physical transcendence. I’m just not down with the transcendence-as-meaning-of-life thing....

the “living forever” aspect of transhumanism is similar to the idea of heaven. And there’s nothing like an idea of heaven to keep people from focusing on what needs to be done here and now to fix this shitty-ass planet. Plus, why focus on living forever when you could be focusing on stopping the spread of disease, global capitalism, and ecological destruction? It seems selfish and shortsighted. I just think whenever you dangle something as delectable as immortality in front of people that it’s sort of a bribe to get them to stop thinking about what really matters: society as a whole...

I’d rather make life better for people who live into their 70s. Curing death is only going to be cool when everybody is living a cool life.
Keep noodling Annalee. I don't think you really have your position figured out. We're talking about people who want keep everybody from having radical life extending medicine versus people who want it for themselves versus people who want it for everybody. I think you are probably in the last group, and that group is transhumanist whether they call themselves that or not. We'll wait.

UK Bioethicist John Harris defends reproductive cloning

Emily Jackson, professor of law at Queen Mary, University of London, has reviewed British bioethicist John Harris’ book On Cloning. Harris is also the author of the pro-enhancement Superman and Wonderwoman.
John Harris, for anyone unfamiliar with his distinctive approach to bioethics, is one of the most original and thought-provoking analysts of the ethical issues raised by new medical technologies. In this short book he collects his thoughts - some of which will be familiar to those who have encountered his previous forays into this ethical minefield - on human cloning.

John Harris is in favour of both sorts of cloning, and in this book his defence of cloning is rigorous, robust and uncompromising. He dismisses his opponents’ views as “empty rhetoric”: they are irrational and therefore wrong…

Most objections to reproductive cloning tend to consist in the claim that the welfare of any cloned child would be compromised. There is, however, a central problem with opposition to any use of reproductive technology on child-welfare grounds, namely that without it the resulting child would not have been born at all. It would be very difficult to successfully argue that a cloned child would have a life so bad that it would be better for them never to exist. Certainly, a little ambiguity in one’s family relationships is unlikely to be so bad that one would prefer not to have been born. Moreover, Harris claims that the most reliable predictor of bad outcomes for children is poverty, and since the harms from cloning are speculative, and the bad effects of poverty well known, “there would seem to be stronger arguments to outlaw procreation among the poor than there are to prevent cloning.”

..Harris points out that individuals who have an enormously increased risk of passing on a genetic disease to their child are not prevented from reproducing. Instead, Harris argues, their interest in having a child who is genetically related to them is permitted to trump child welfare concerns. And the same, he suggests, should be true of cloning: “acceptance of natural reproduction entails acceptance of reproductive cloning, at least from the perspective of the safety and efficiency of the practice."

Monday, December 13, 2004

Study: Racial equity would have saved five times as many lives as technology

According to a summary in the American Medical News a report published in the December issue of the American Journal of Public Health, "The Health Impact of Resolving Racial Disparities: An Analysis of U.S. Mortality Data," finds that
resolving racial disparities in health care could save fives times as many lives as the number saved by technological advances made in improving drugs, devices and medical procedures. Comparing mortality data of whites and African-Americans between 1991 and 2000, (the researchers found)...technological medical advances averted 176,633 deaths between 1991 and 2000, while eliminating racial health care disparities could have averted 886,202 deaths.