Matthew Rallison is a sixth-form student who is visiting the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics for his work experience placement.
Sir Terry Pratchett’s documentary, “Choosing to die” and the recent deaths of Ann McPherson and Jack Kevorkian (inventor of the Mercitron) have recently raised the debate of the legalisation of euthanasia, alongside criticism of the BBC’s bias favour towards the subject.
The latter of these issues is, to an extent, accurate as the programme echoes Pratchett’s support of euthanasia. Yet the conclusion of the programme, for me, offered personal reflection, rather than an affirmation that euthanasia (or assisted suicide) is morally correct. Watching, on screen, the death of Peter Smedley was not a compelling argument but humbling. Peter was unassuming as he fell out of consciousness. “A good death,” as Pratchett describes it. The scene offered a powerful impression of human dignity and spirit, rather than promoting death, or suicide. It supported virtue in life (or in leaving it). I reject the ex-Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir Ali’s claim that it the programme depicted “glorified suicide.” It did not.
Matthew L Baum
Round 1: Baltimore
I first heard of the Malleus Maleficarum, or The Hammer of Witches, last year when I visited Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, MD, USA. A doctor for whom I have great respect introduced me to the dark leather-bound tome, which he pulled off of his bookshelf. Apparently, this aptly named book was used back in the day (published mid-1400s) by witch-hunters as a diagnostic manual of sorts to identify witches. Because all the witch-hunters used the same criteria as outlined in The Hammer to tell who was a witch, they all –more or less- identified the same people as witches. Consequently the cities, towns, and villages all enjoyed a time of highly precise witch wrangling. This was fine and good until people realized that there was a staggering problem with the validity of these diagnoses. Textbook examples (or Hammer-book examples) these unfortunates may have been, but veritable wielders of the dark arts they were not. The markers of witchcraft these hunters agreed upon, though precise and reliable, simply were not valid.
On Sunday, scientists at the Harvard Dana-Farber Cancer Institute announced that they had succeeded in reversing age-related decline in mice, using genetic engineering techniques. The scientists created transgenic mice with a gene for telomerase expression that could be switched on and off with a chemical signal.
Written by Roman Gaehwiler
Reconstructive plastic surgery to correct ravages of disease and injuries as well as gross physical abnormalities constitutes a core medical practice. Reconstructive procedures, however, lie along a continuum, without any clear boundary between therapeutic reconstructive surgery for diagnosable problem and purely cosmetic surgery.
by Alexandre Erler
Technologies meant to help extend the human lifespan, such as cryonics, or the procedures investigated by gerontologist Aubrey de Grey under the name “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence”, are increasingly an object of discussion, including in the popular press. A recent example of this is John Walsh’s piece in The Independent earlier this month. He is one of several authors who find it worth telling us that they wouldn’t want to live forever, even if they could. At times his article appears to aim merely at being entertaining and polemical, yet his central idea has been put forward by respected philosophers such as Bernard Williams, in his famous essay The Markopulos case: reflections on the tedium of immortality. In short, the idea is that living forever would just be atrociously boring.
Should we draw normative conclusions from such pieces about the development and use of life extension technologies, regarding them as superfluous or even downright undesirable? I want to argue for a negative answer to that question.
In the news today – scientists have identified a cluster of longevity genes. From the Daily Mail
A genetic test which tells whether you will make it to your century has been developed by scientists.
The computer program will give individuals their odds of reaching the age of 100 – and tell them whether their chances are higher or lower than average.
Its inventors, from the respected Boston University in the U.S., say it will allow those not blessed with the cocktail of 'centenarian genes' to make changes to their lifestyle to maximise the time they have.
Professor Julian Savulescu, an Oxford University ethicist, said: 'I believe it is highly in your interests to have this information because even if there is nothing you can do about it, it can help you plan your life.
What do you think? Is it a good thing to know if you are predisposed (or not) to long life?
What if this discovery led to many of us being able to live to 100? Would that be a good thing?
other reports: New York Times
There is no end to human suffering. There is a distinct end to the amount of money that governments will spend on reducing it. Someone has to make decisions about healthcare resource allocation. I am very glad it’s not me.
Many tools are used in the decision-making process. Not many emerge well from a viva with a philosopher.
Individual clinicians use intuition, experience, NICE
guidelines, the fear of hospital accountants and, no doubt, prejudice and the
tossed coin. But policy makers do not have the luxury of being able to account
only to their consciences and the local man in a suit. They have to say something in the minutes about the
reason for funding procedure X but not procedure Y. The real reason might be:
‘My grandma, whom I loved very much, had procedure X, and it did her good’, but
they can’t say that.
The Telegraphs proclaims that Anti-ageing drugs 'will fuel euthanasia'. The origin of the story was a lecture by Dr David Gems at UCL. He pointed out that if people were to live much longer healthy lives more would choose to end them themselves, and that centralized control of birthrates might become necessary. Francis Fukuyama argued at a conference in Aarhus last week that life extension also implies problems with age graded hierarchies and generational turnover. Some people, like Fukuyama, find these potential social consequences serious enough that life extension research should be discouraged. But are they strong enough?
This has been a good week for life extension research, with the Nature paper Rapamycin fed late in life extends lifespan in genetically heterogeneous mice by Harrison et al. (free News and Views) showing that the drug boosts lifespan in middle aged mice, and Science countering with Caloric Restriction Delays Disease Onset and Mortality in Rhesus Monkeys by Colman et al. showing that in a 20-year longitudinal study rhesus monkeys do seem to benefit from caloric restriction (CR). CR involves keeping the energy intake low, but not so low that it induces starvation.
Not everybody seems to like the experiment. The Swedish major newspaper Dagens Nyheter had an article by Per Snaprud
that appeared to criticise the monkey experiment on ethical grounds. He
quotes Mats Spångberg, chief veterinarian at the Swedish Institute for
Infectious Disease Control, who doubts the experiment would have been
approved in Sweden. The only use of monkeys in Swedish research is AIDS
vaccine research. The article concludes by stating that the virus kills
2 million people every year, 270,000 of whose are children.
But ageing kills 100,000 people worldwide each day directly or indirectly. 100% of humans and monkeys are "infected".