Written by Dr Chris Gyngell
Last year, the first truly novel synthetic life form was created. The Minimal Cell created by the Venter Lab, contains the smallest genome of any known independent organism. While the first synthetic microbe was created in 2010, that was simply a like for like synthetic copy of the genome of an existing bacterium. Nothing like the Minimal Cell exists in nature.
This great advance in synthetic biology comes at a time where natural life forms are being manipulated in ways never seen before. The CRISPR gene editing system has been used to create hulk-like dogs, malaria proof mosquitoes, drought resistant wheat and hornless cows. The list of CRISPR-altered animals grows by the month. Continue reading
Zero Degrees of Empathy author Simon Baron-Cohen, philosopher Peter Dews and Oxford Transhumanist Anders Sandberg dispute how to be good.
We think empathising with others is the route to a better world. But studies show that empathy encourages us to help one named child over ten anonymous others. Is morality perhaps not about empathy at all? Does the moral way to act have more to do with thinking than feeling, or is empathy a vital force for good?
The New York Times just ran a fairly lengthy article that reported the use of psilocybin, a hallucinogenic drug, in a controlled experiment aimed at reducing anxiety and depression in cancer patients. (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/01/health/hallucinogenic-mushrooms-psilocybin-cancer-anxiety-depression.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news)
A few days earlier the New York Times ran a story on trials using MDMA (i.e., ecstasy) to treat post traumatic stress disorder. (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/29/us/ptsd-mdma-ecstasy.html)
Why are these stories news? Continue reading
Written by Anders Sandberg
This post was originally published on Andert II
A girl dying of cancer wanted to use cryonic preservation to have a chance at being revived in the future. While supported by her mother the father disagreed; in a recent high court ruling, the judge found that she could be cryopreserved.
As the judge noted, the verdict was not a statement on the validity of cryonics itself, but about how to make decisions about prospective orders. In many ways the case would presumably have gone the same way if there had been a disagreement about whether the daughter could have catholic last rites. However, cryonics makes things fresh and exciting (I have been in the media all day thanks to this).
What is the ethics of parents disagreeing about the cryosuspension of their child? Continue reading
Guest Post: Mind the accountability gap: On the ethics of shared autonomy between humans and intelligent medical devices
Guest Post by Philipp Kellmeyer
Imagine you had epilepsy and, despite taking a daily cocktail of several anti-epileptic drugs, still suffered several seizures per week, some minor, some resulting in bruises and other injuries. The source of your epileptic seizures lies in a brain region that is important for language. Therefore, your neurologist told you, epilepsy surgery – removing brain tissue that has been identified as the source of seizures in continuous monitoring with intracranial electroencephalography (iEEG) – is not viable in your case because it would lead to permanent damage to your language ability.
There is however, says your neurologist, an innovative clinical trial under way that might reduce the frequency and severity of your seizures. In this trial, a new device is implanted in your head that contains an electrode array for recording your brain activity directly from the brain surface and for applying small electric shocks to interrupt an impending seizure.
The electrode array connects wirelessly to a small computer that analyses the information from the electrodes to assess your seizure risk at any given moment in order to decide when to administer an electric shock. The neurologist informs you that trials with similar devices have achieved a reduction in the frequency of severe seizures in 50% of patients so that there would be a good chance that you benefit from taking part in the trial.
Now, imagine you decided to participate in the trial and it turns out that the device comes with two options: In one setting, you get no feedback on your current seizure risk by the device and the decision when to administer an electric shock to prevent an impending seizure is taken solely by the device.
This keeps you completely out of the loop in terms of being able to modify your behaviour according to your seizure risk and – in a sense – relegates some autonomy of decision-making to the intelligent medical device inside your head.
In the other setting, the system comes with a “traffic light” that signals your current risk level for a seizure, with green indicating a low, yellow a medium, and red a high probability of a seizure. In case of an evolving seizure, the device may additionally warn you with an alarm tone. In this scenario, you are kept in the loop and you retain your capacity to modify your behavior accordingly, for example to step from a ladder or stop riding a bike when you are “in the red.”
Written by Dr Christopher Gyngell
This article originally appeared on the OMS website
The Nuffield Council of Bioethics released a report last Friday outlining the key ethical issues raised by genome editing technologies.
Genome editing (GE) is a powerful, and extremely rapidly developing technology. It uses engineered enzymes to make precise, controlled modification to DNA. It has the potential to radically transform many industries, including medicine, agriculture and ecology. Despite only being developed in the past few years’, GE has already been used to create malaria-fighting mosquitoes, drought resistant wheat, hornless cows and cancer killing immune cells. The potential applications of GE in a decade are difficult to imagine. It raises a wide range of ethical issues that require careful scrutiny. Continue reading
Written by Charles Dupras and Vardit Ravitsky
Bioethics Programs, School of Public Health, University of Montreal
Environmental epigenetics is a rising field of scientific research that has been receiving much attention. It explores how exposure to various physical and social environments (e.g. pollution or social adversity) affects gene expression and, eventually, our health. Environmental epigenetics can sometimes explain why some of us carry increased risks of developing specific diseases. It provides activists a powerful vocabulary to promote environmental awareness and social justice. This new vocabulary, which allows us to discuss the consequences of disparities at the molecular level, has been enthusiastically mobilized as an effective way of stimulating political will for promoting public health preventive strategies. Continue reading
This article was originally published in First Things.
Women’s-only hours at swimming pools are nothing new. Many secular institutions have long hosted separate swim hours for women and girls who, for reasons of faith or personal preference, desire to swim without the presence of men. The list includes Barnard College, Harvard University, Yale University, and swim clubs, JCCs, and YMCAs across the country. Recently, women’s-only swimming hours have become a topic of debate, especially in New York, where promoters of liberal secularist ideology (including the editorial page of the New York Times) are campaigning against women’s-only hours at a public swimming pool on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. They claim that women’s-only swimming hours, even for a small portion of the day, must be abolished in the interest of “general fairness and equal access” and to avoid “discrimination” in favor of certain religions. Continue reading
The Oxford Union.
The Motion: This House Believes the Manipulation of Human DNA is an Ethical Necessity.
The Speakers: Julian Savulescu closed the case for the Proposition, as the fifth speaker of six in the debate.
Professor Julian Savulescu has recently published an article on the treatment of Human-Pig Chimera in the online Aeon Magazine. To read the full article and join in the conversation please follow this link: http://bit.ly/29NUj1c Professor Savulescu has written on this topic in the Practical Ethics in the News blog previously: http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2016/06/organ-mules/.