If there’s one thing nearly all people can agree on, it’s that some actions are morally right and others are wrong. But which actions count as right or wrong? That gets a bit more complicated. In some societies, polygamy is normal and proper. In others, taking a second wife can get you imprisoned. Some societies value individual rights and autonomy, while others emphasize collective obligations and hierarchy. In the face of such dazzling differences, how are we supposed to develop a coherent – much less scientific – understanding of “morality?” In a recent paper, a team of researchers at Oxford tried to answer this question by arguing that morality is always about cooperation – and they crunched data from wildly different societies all over the world to make their case.
In vitro gametogenesis (IVG) might offer numerous research and clinical benefits. Some potential clinical applications of IVG, such as allowing opposite‐sex couples experiencing infertility to have genetically related children, have attracted support. Others, such as enabling same‐sex reproduction and solo reproduction, have attracted significantly more criticism. In this paper, we examine how different ethical principles might help us to draw lines and distinguish between ethically desirable and undesirable uses of IVG. We discuss the alleged distinction between therapeutic and non‐therapeutic uses of assisted reproduction in the context of IVG, and show how it is both problematic to apply in practice and theoretically dubious. We then discuss how the ethical principles of reproductive justice and beneficence apply to IVG for opposite‐sex reproduction, same‐sex reproduction, and solo reproduction. We suggest that these principles generate strong reasons for the use of IVG for opposite‐sex and same‐sex reproduction, but not for solo reproduction.
The system, which Liu’s lab has dubbed “prime editing,” can for the first time make virtually any alteration—additions, deletions, swapping any single letter for any other—without severing the DNA double helix. “If Crispr-Cas9 is like scissors and base editors are like pencils, then you can think of prime editors to be like word processors,” Liu told reporters in a press briefing.
Why is that a big deal? Because with such fine-tuned command of the genetic code, prime editing could, according to Liu’s calculations, correct around 89 percent of the mutations that cause heritable human diseases. Working in human cell cultures, his lab has already used prime editors to fix the genetic glitches that cause sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, and Tay-Sachs disease. Those are just three of more than 175 edits the group unveiled today in a scientific article published in the journal Nature.
On Monday, researchers will tell the world’s largest annual meeting of neuroscientists that some scientists working on organoids are “perilously close” to crossing the ethical line, while others may already have done so by creating sentient lumps of brain in the lab.
“If there’s even a possibility of the organoid being sentient, we could be crossing that line,” said Elan Ohayon, the director of the Green Neuroscience Laboratory in San Diego, California. “We don’t want people doing research where there is potential for something to suffer.”
Here we are, living in the “post-truth” era. Every day, the internet inundates us with alternative facts, fake news, doctored film footage, and bizarro anti-science conspiracies. No one seems to agree on what’s really real anymore. How did we, supposedly the most technologically and scientifically advanced civilization in history, get to this point? There are a lot of answers to that question, some of which, I’m sure, must involve fairly potent narcotics. But one of the most useful and informative answers has a lot to do with the social dimensions of cognition. Specifically, it has to do with how people create and then agree on social realities, or what some people call “social constructions.” In turn, the question of social construction drives straight to the heart of the so-called “science wars” – the conflict between postmodernism and science advocates – and evokes the fraught question of how religion relates to these mutual rivals.
This essay won’t invoke your righteous anger at postmodernism, scientism, religion, or any other contemporary bogeyman. I only want to look at how our relationship to “truth” has changed over the past few decades, and to think about what that shift might imply. A lot of people, such as philosopher, public atheist, and Santa Claus impersonator Daniel Dennett, blame our post-truth era on “postmodernism.” Are these critics right? In many ways, I think they are indeed onto something. But I also think that postmodernists have some credible points to make, and science advocates should take seriously what their arguments might imply for real, actual small-s science, as well as for the ideology of scientific progress (big-S Science™). Meanwhile, I think religion, scientism, and postmodernism are tangled in a tensely bound, three-way relationship of shared and opposing convictions and values. I think it’ll be illuminating to explore that triangle.
“Do you have any other kids?” the pathologist asked.
Ms. Wilson paused. Over the past four years, Alzheimer’s disease had stripped the 73-year-old of her ability to drive and tell time and read the morning paper, but it had yet not stolen the memory of her children.
“Nope,” Ms. Wilson replied.
It had started. She’d forgotten Kira’s brother and sister.
The descent into dementia is harrowing under any circumstance, but in Ms. Wilson’s case, every lost word or forgotten name was freighted with significance. That summer, in 2017, she was trying to become one of the first patients in Canada – perhaps the first – to be approved for a medically assisted death for Alzheimer’s disease. But every mental slip made it less likely that Ms. Wilson, a petite former civil servant with a grey pixie haircut and three university degrees, would have the mental capacity to give informed consent for a medically assisted death.
Related post by Jocelyn Downie at the Dalhousie Law Journal: https://blogs.dal.ca/dlj/2019/10/18/it-can-happen-here-maid-and-dementia-in-canada/
Back in the 1980s, a wife-husband philosopher team known as “the Churchlands” provoked the ire of their peers with the heretical claim that the best way to understand the mind was to study the brain. That might sound uncontroversial, but in philosophy it was anything but.
The nature of mind and consciousness had been one of the biggest and trickiest issues in philosophy for a century. Neuroscience was developing fast, but most philosophers resisted claims that it was solving the philosophical problems of mind. Scientists who trod on philosophers’ toes were accused of “scientism”: the belief that the only true explanations are scientific explanations and that once you had described the science of a phenomenon there was nothing left to say. Those rare philosophers like the Churchlands, who shared many of the enthusiasms and interest of these scientists, were even more despised. A voice in the head of Patricia Churchland told her how to deal with these often vicious critics: “outlast the bastards.”
Euthanasia is justified in cases where a person is suffering from an irreversible condition and “intolerable” pain, Italy’s constitutional court has ruled in a landmark decision.
The court said that, in certain circumstances, anyone who "facilitates the suicidal intention... of a patient kept alive by life-support treatments and suffering from an irreversible pathology" should not be punished.
The ruling was strongly criticised by the Catholic Church but applauded by right-to-die activists and some politicians.
In its judgment, the court said that assisted dying should be allowed if a patient had an irreversible condition which caused him or her severe physical and psychological suffering.
It seems indisputable that there are holes. For example, there are keyholes, black holes and sinkholes; and there are holes in things such as sieves, golf courses and doughnuts. We come into the world through holes, and when we die many of us will be put into specially dug holes. But what are these holes and what are they made of? One of the big philosophical questions about holes is whether they are actually things themselves or, as the German-Jewish writer Kurt Tucholsky suggested in ‘The Social Psychology of Holes’ (1931), whether they are just ‘where something isn’t’. To help us investigate this issue, let us first dissect the anatomy of the hole.
The question of what sets humans apart from other animals is one of the oldest philosophical puzzles. A popular answer is that only humans can understand that others also have minds like their own.
But new research suggests that ravens - birds singled out by many cultures as a symbol of intelligence and wisdom - share at least some of the human ability to think abstractly about other minds, adapting their behavior by attributing their own perceptions to others.
The study, "Ravens Attribute Visual Access to Unseen Competitors," was published Feb. 2 in Nature Communications. It found that ravens guarded caches of food against discovery in response to the sounds of other ravens if a nearby peephole was open, even if they did not see another bird. They did not show the same concern when the peephole was closed, despite the auditory cues.
The findings shed new light on science's understanding of Theory of Mind, the ability to attribute mental states - including vision - to others, said Cameron Buckner, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Houston. Buckner is an author of the paper, along with Thomas Bugnyar and Stephan A. Reber, cognitive biologists at the University of Vienna.
The modern successor to the Hippocratic oath, called the Declaration of Geneva, was updated and approved by the World Medical Association in 2017. The pledge states that “The health and well-being of my patient will be my first consideration” and “I will not use my medical knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat.”1 Can a physician work in US immigration detention facilities while upholding this pledge?
For the first time, scientists have detected brain waves similar to those of a pre-term baby in miniature, lab-grown brains.
The results, published Thursday in the journal Cell Stem Cell, have big implications for the medical field. Access to human brains are a consistent barrier to studying conditions like Alzheimer’s, autism, or schizophrenia; for obvious reasons, infant brains are even more difficult to obtain. So models that are grown from stem cells like these mini-brains (known to scientists as “cortical organoids”) may offer a solution.
We learn from our personal interaction with the world, and our memories of those experiences help guide our behaviors. Experience and memory are inexorably linked, or at least they seemed to be before a recent reporton the formation of completely artificial memories. Using laboratory animals, investigators reverse engineered a specific natural memory by mapped the brain circuits underlying its formation. They then “trained” another animal by stimulating brain cells in the pattern of the natural memory. Doing so created an artificial memory that was retained and recalled in a manner indistinguishable from a natural one.
Memories are essential to the sense of identity that emerges from the narrative of personal experience. This study is remarkable because it demonstrates that by manipulating specific circuits in the brain, memories can be separated from that narrative and formed in the complete absence of real experience. The work shows that brain circuits that normally respond to specific experiences can be artificially stimulated and linked together in an artificial memory. That memory can be elicited by the appropriate sensory cues in the real environment. The research provides some fundamental understanding of how memories are formed in the brain and is part of a burgeoning science of memory manipulation that includes the transfer, prosthetic enhancement and erasure of memory. These efforts could have a tremendous impact on a wide range of individuals, from those struggling with memory impairments to those enduring traumatic memories, and they also have broad social and ethical implications.
Alternative link in case of paywall:
Marieme and Ndeye each have a sticker on their faces: a butterfly for Ndeye, and a green smiley face for her twin sister. They giggle as they take them off and stick them back on; then Ndeye decides it’s their dad’s turn, placing the smiley face over his right eye.
“Ndeye is the lively one, she likes attention, and Marieme is a quieter personality – calm and thoughtful,” said Ibrahima Ndiaye, the twins’ father. “Ndeye is fire and Marieme is ice.”
Their behaviour – and their differences – are typical for three-year-old twins, but Marieme and Ndeye are not typical at all. The sisters are conjoined: they have separate brains, hearts and lungs, but share a liver, bladder and digestive system, and have three kidneys between them.
Ndiaye brought his daughters from Senegal to Great Ormond Street hospital (GOSH) in London at the age of eight months after a desperate search for medical help. Over the past two and a half years, he and the hospital have wrestled with an agonising decision about whether to go ahead with a surgical separation that Marieme would not survive, but that could give Ndeye a chance of a reasonable life. Without a separation, both will almost certainly die.
Mathematicians, computer engineers and scientists in related fields should take a Hippocratic oath to protect the public from powerful new technologies under development in laboratories and tech firms, a leading researcher has said.
The ethical pledge would commit scientists to think deeply about the possible applications of their work and compel them to pursue only those that, at the least, do no harm to society.
Hannah Fry, an associate professor in the mathematics of cities at University College London, said an equivalent of the doctor’s oath was crucial given that mathematicians and computer engineers were building the tech thatwould shape society’s future.
You might be aware that chimpanzees can recognize themselves in a mirror, communicate through sign language, pursue goals creatively and form long-lasting friendships. You might also think that these are the kinds of things that a person can do. However, you might not think of chimpanzees as persons.
The Nonhuman Rights Project does. Since 2013, the group has been working on behalf of two chimpanzees, Kiko and Tommy, currently being held in cages by their “owners” without the company of other chimpanzees. It is asking the courts to rule that Kiko and Tommy have the right to bodily liberty and to order their immediate release into a sanctuary where they can live out the rest of their lives with other chimpanzees.
The problem is that under current United States law, one is either a “person” or a “thing.” There is no third option. If you are a person, you have the capacity for rights, including the right to habeas corpus relief, which protects you from unlawful confinement. If you are a thing, you do not have the capacity for rights. And unfortunately, even though they are sensitive, intelligent, social beings, Kiko and Tommy are considered things under the law.
At a recent conference on belief and unbelief hosted by the journal Salmagundi, the novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson confessed to knowing some good people who are atheists, but lamented that she has yet to hear “the good Atheist position articulated.” She explained, “I cannot engage with an atheism that does not express itself.”
She who hath ears to hear, let her hear. One of the most beautifully succinct expressions of secular faith in our bounded life on earth was provided not long after Christ supposedly conquered death, by Pliny the Elder, who called down “a plague on this mad idea that life is renewed by death!” Pliny argued that belief in an afterlife removes “Nature’s particular boon,” the great blessing of death, and merely makes dying more anguished by adding anxiety about the future to the familiar grief of departure. How much easier, he continues, “for each person to trust in himself,” and for us to assume that death will offer exactly the same “freedom from care” that we experienced before we were born: oblivion.
A Japanese stem-cell scientist is the first to receive government support to create animal embryos that contain human cells and transplant them into surrogate animals since a ban on the practice was overturned earlier this year.
Hiromitsu Nakauchi, who leads teams at the University of Tokyo and Stanford University in California, plans to grow human cells in mouse and rat embryos and then transplant those embryos into surrogate animals. Nakauchi's ultimate goal is to produce animals with organs made of human cells that can, eventually, be transplanted into people.
Until March, Japan explicitly forbid the growth of animal embryos containing human cells beyond 14 days or the transplant of such embryos into a surrogate uterus. That month Japan’s education and science ministry issued new guidelines allowing the creation of human-animal embryos that can be transplanted into surrogate animals and brought to term.
Fahad Diwan logs in and fills out the details of a person facing a bail hearing. Date of birth. Current charges. Pending charges. Past convictions.
Once his SmartBail program is done, he says, an algorithm trained on a mountain of data will be able to assess whether that suspect is a good candidate for pretrial release. Unlikely to be a flight risk. Unlikely to commit offences. Likely to comply with the conditions of release.
Suspects in custody are “legally innocent people,” said Diwan, 30, who hopes to one day put his software to use in Ontario’s bail courts. “We just want to find a way to make the system better, faster, economical.”
Proponents of this kind of program say machine learning would save time and money by quickly identifying people who should be released, speeding up bail hearings, reducing the number of people in jails and freeing up courts to focus on defendants who should have a full, contested hearing. All that with less bias and without affecting the crime rate.
In this episode, Kathryn Sussman talks with Dr. Andrew Fenton and Dr. Letitia Meynell, authors and associate professors of Philosophy at Dalhousie University in Halifax. We learn from them about the ethics behind animal captivity in zoos and the relationship that such institutions create between humans and other animal species. They also reflect upon the ethical ways of displaying animals, particularly exotic animals such as polar bears in zoos far from their natural habitat, and the justifications of doing that.
The experts unravel the differences between zoos and sanctuaries as depending on who the exhibits are built for – human visitors or the animals themselves. They also explain how zoo professionals and zoo associations are now starting to aim towards a transformation, focusing onto the animals’ well-being, giving them a life worth living where their basic needs are met.