Thursday, June 25, 2009

The bioethics concern - Third Reith Lecture

Michael Sandel's third of BBC's Reith Lectures 2009 had me thoroughly excited. Those who have followed this blog over a long period may recall my search into the field of bioethics, looking for a way to bring together the need for cures and for scientific research with the intuitive qualms with us meddling with the building blocks of nature. It never got beyond that dilemma.

Sandel, however, succeeded in his third lecture, Genetics and Morality, to analyze the ethical qualm, this nagging intuition, into its rational components. I was so excited while listening, trains of thought kept springing up, making things clear in my age old search (I have been troubled since 1989 with this), yet making me lose track of the podcast. I have listened to it three times now and still not covered it all. Fortunately there is a transcript (Genetics and Morality - in rtf).

Sandel's method is to strip the intuition from its fears and see if there is something left. So, suppose meddling with genetics is not dangerous for our health, suppose allowing a free market force to be at work does not lead to reduced genetic diversity, suppose the benefits are available for all and elevate the weak and the poor, suppose we can handle the greater responsibility that comes with having greater influence on life, what still seems to be the problem? Applied to having children it looks like we reduce children to commodities. We can design them, order them as we like, we can fully repair whatever looks to be imperfection. This is a loveless meritocracy. We will have lost the quality to work with what we get, to appreciate the contingencies of nature. We will have submitted to a morality in which human being is not good enough unless it meets an ever rising set of standards.

We will abort the child with legs of uneven length, because we wanted a football star. And we will kill Garrincha, a man with several birth defects to become one of the best players next to Pele.

More Reith:
Morality in Politics,
Morality and the Market,
Michael Sandel - Philosophy Bites.

More Bioethics:
Regenerative Medicine - Stanford,
Straight Talk about Stem Cell Research,
The Ethics of Stem Cell Research,
Human rights and the body,
Life and bio-engineering - podcast review,
Bioethics without Christ, please,
A useful map into Bio-Ethics,
Stem Cell Research: Science, Ethics, and Prospects,
Stem Cells - Biology and Politics.

Two old and one New Books In History

It works out well to review three episodes of New Books In History at a time. It keeps me up with the latest and also allows me to slowly catch up with the fascinating backlog.

The oldest edition I picked out of the feed was an interview with Donald Worster about his biography of John Muir, founder of several national parks in the US. Apart from being introduced in the fascinating life of Muir, the Scottish Calvinist with a passion for nature who was ahead of his time with ideas about nature preservation, we also meet Donald Worster who is one of the leading names in Environmental History. As such we have heard him also on the Environmental History Podcast.

Carl Bon Tempo is Marshall Poe's guest to talk about his research on the reception of refugees into the US during the Cold War. The point to take from here is, that no matter how the sentiment in the US was towards specific refugees, the sluggish bureaucracy set the pace.

Giles MacDonogh was the latest guest on the show and he has done research into the atrocities committed by the allies during the occupation of Germany. For me this was only half new. Ever since I read In Europa by Geert Mak, I knew many details of the rapes by Red Army soldiers, but I was not aware of similar occurrences in the British, French and American Zones.

More NBIH:
The latest in New Books in History,
Three recommendations,
American Exceptionalism,
The Great War in short,
How Rome Fell.