Thursday, April 21, 2005

Spain has become the third country in Europe to legalise gay marriage

This makes me really proud of the country where I live. Of course the new law had a lot of coverage on Spanish television. The legal definitions of "marriage" has been changed accordingly in such a way as to make no references to different sex. The Spanish PM said that he expects strong opposition by Pope Benedict, but in a democracy the choice of the people wins, and indeed polls show that two thirds of Spaniards are in favor of the new law. This, I think, is an important victory for civil rights in Europe.

The Guardian: Spain has become the third country in Europe to legalise gay marriage, with parliament also giving same-sex couples the right to adopt children. Mr Zapatero's Socialists won the support of several small parties as the bill was passed by 183 votes in favour, 136 against, with six abstentions in the 350-seat lower chamber.

"This is a historic day for everybody who believes in equality, justice and rights," said Beatriz Gimeno, president of the country's Federation of Lesbians, Gays and Transexuals.
The phrase "matrimony shall have the same requisites and effects regardless of whether the persons involved are of the same or different sex" should now be added to Spain's law books.

"This is an initiative that brings up to date a question of rights within society," said the justice minister, Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar. "It is a reform that improves people's lives." Belgium and the Netherlands are the only two other European countries that have legalised gay marriage so far.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Ratzinger on genetic enhancement and germline mods through somatic therapy

The election of Josef Ratzinger (party facts - his nicknames are apparently 'God's Rottweiler,' 'John Paul III,' 'The Enforcer,' 'Panzerkardinal (Iron Cardinal),' and 'Cardinal No') to Pope doesn't really represent so much a shift to bioconservatism IMHO, as a hardening and consolidation of the biocon doctrine that Ratzinger and JPII were codifying together over the last couple decades. Augustine Di Noia is Ratzinger's lieutenant, and he has said that bioethics would be at the top of the agenda for a Ratziger Papacy. : "Di Noia, the top aide to Cardinal Ratzinger, said he believes the ethical questions surrounding cloning, fertility technology, embryonic stem cells and other aspects of genetic engineering will be among the most important issues facing the new pope." Link

In fact, di Noia and Ratzinger are already at work on a major new bioethics statement. Link1, Link2

Presumably its conclusions are foreshadowed in the 2002 Vatican document "Human Persons Created in the Image of God" that was crafted under the supervision of di Noia, and approved by Cardinal Ratzinger. One very interesting part of the document is its position on germline genetic modification via somatic gene therapy in vivo sperm (or eggs). The Cardinal/Commission holds out that this might be acceptable, if only used for therapeutic, non-enhancement applications:
"Germ line genetic engineering with a therapeutic goal in man would in itself be acceptable were it not for the fact that is it is hard to imagine how this could be achieved without disproportionate risks especially in the first experimental stage, such as the huge loss of embryos and the incidence of mishaps, and without the use of reproductive techniques. A possible alternative would be the use of gene therapy in the stem cells that produce a man’s sperm, whereby he can beget healthy offspring with his own seed by means of the conjugal act."
My guess is that this will be a pretty big loophole, one that the WTA is committed to protecting.

But the rest of the 2002 document is pretty consistently Catholic biocon:

On enhancement: "Enhancement genetic engineering aims at improving certain specific characteristics. The idea of man as “co-creator” with God could be used to try to justify the management of human evolution by means of such genetic engineering. But this would imply that man has full right of disposal over his own biological nature. Changing the genetic identity of man as a human person through the production of an infrahuman being is radically immoral. The use of genetic modification to yield a superhuman or being with essentially new spiritual faculties is unthinkable, given that the spiritual life principle of man – forming the matter into the body of the human person – is not a product of human hands and is not subject to genetic engineering. The uniqueness of each human person, in part constituted by his biogenetic characteristics and developed through nurture and growth, belongs intrinsically to him and cannot be instrumentalized in order to improve some of these characteristics. A man can only truly improve by realizing more fully the image of God in him by uniting himself to Christ and in imitation of him. Such modifications would in any case violate the freedom of future persons who had no part in decisions that determine his bodily structure and characteristics in a significant and possibly irreversible way."

On a right to bodily autonomy and self-determination: "The right fully to dispose of the body would imply that the person may use the body as a means to an end he himself has chosen: i.e., that he may replace its parts, modify or terminate it. In other words, a person could determine the finality or teleological value of the body. A right to dispose of something extends only to objects with a merely instrumental value, but not to objects which are good in themselves, i.e., ends in themselves. The human person, being created in the image of God, is himself such a good."

On contraception, sterilization and reproductive technology: "The mutual gift of man and woman to one another on the level of sexual intimacy is rendered incomplete through contraception or sterilization. Furthermore, if a technique is used that does not assist the conjugal act in attaining its goal, but replaces it, and the conception is then effected through the intervention of a third party, then the child does not originate from the conjugal act which is the authentic expression of the mutual gift of the parents."

On life extension and anti-aging: "Disposing of death is in reality the most radical way of disposing of life."

Glenn McGee also points out that the new Pope is on record as arguing that he is not only opposed to use of embryonic stem cells, but that if an adult stem cell is regressed so that it is "totipotent" (can become anything) he would consider that also an embryo. Hear that biocon plumpers for adult stem cells? If they really work, they are a mortal sin.

Mandating Prenatal Propaganda to Protect Disabled Feti

A question from the wta-politics list asked "What do people onlist think of the proposed Prenatally Diagnosed Condition Awareness Act?" as discussed in a recent George F. Will piece "Eugenics by Abortion"?

My thoughts: The intent of the bill, like mandatory waiting-cum-information-before-abortion bills that have been passed in various state legislatures, is to mandate the content of a medical consult. Defenders portray it as a strengthening of informed consent, but critics see mandatory waiting/education as a violation of the autonomy of the medical encounter and an attempt to restrict reproductive choice by politically mandating information hostile to abortion.

So the question comes down to whether you really believe that average parents, faced with a diagnosis of Downs syndrome or whatever, end up making such an ill-informed choice that the risk of meddling is outweighed by the improvement in parental choice-making.

I think not. In fact I think most parents are too heavily swayed by pro-natalist and Christian propaganda that they have to accept every conceptus no matter how it turns out. If I could write the content of prenatal counseling I would not bring in disabled folks to accuse the parents of murderous intent or the local pastor to counsel the need to accept God's mysterious plan, but rather studies that show the lifelong economic and psychological effect on the parents of severely disabled kids, not to mention on the disabled kids themselves.

I would also give them a copy of Julian Savulescu's article on "procreative beneficence" which makes the rather obvious argument that parents have an obligation to choose among their potential progeny the ones that will have the most opportunities in life.

In the abstract the right to medical autonomy does have to be balanced against other social goods and rights. If there was evidence that 80% of mothers were drinking heavily, refused to stop, and that their doctors weren't talking to them about it because they were all in the pocket of the liquor lobby, then I would be for a mandatory "Tell Moms-to-Be Not to Drink" law.

But there is no evidence of social harms arising from prenatal testing/abortion decision-making, except the alleged widespread discrimination disabled feti, and my position is that you can't discriminate against feti. If feti are legal persons that can be discriminated against, then why do their containers get to kill them?

Which is why the whole intent of the bill is really "fetal protection" and not protecting people with disabilities, about whom Brownback doesn't really give a crap. For instance, he voted against a bill to outlaw hate crimes against the disabled because it also would have outlawed them against LGBT folks.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Journal of Evolution and Technology 14(1) April 2005

In this issue:

Nick Bostrom "A History of Transhumanist Thought"

Robert Pepperell "Posthumans and Extended Experience"

K. Mark Smith "Saving Humanity?: Counter-arguing Posthuman Enhancement"

Robert A. Freitas Jr. "Microbivores: Artificial Mechanical Phagocytes using Digest and Discharge Protocol"

John Schloendorn "Negative Data from the Psychological Frontline"

Frank Forman "Transhumanism's Vital Center: Review of James Hughes' Citizen Cyborg"

Submissions are welcome at any time. Please refer to the authors' guide.

Call for Papers for Future Theme Issues


06/01/05 Visions of Utopia (Popular Culture)

09/01/05 Global Health & Sustainable Development

12/01/05 Human Rights

James Hughes Ph.D.
Editor, Journal of Evolution and Technology
Executive Director, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies