All posts filed under: Bioethics

Choosing a Good Death

As a doctor working in palliative care, I treat people who have a terminal illness, in a healthcare system that favours more, rather than less, clinical intervention. Of course, when you go to a hospital, you expect investigations and treatments. You expect the right balance to be struck between finding out if something is wrong, and hopefully not having to return for test after test, procedure after procedure, to the point where your ailment takes over your entire life. Medicine’s goal is, after all, to extend life, and patients will often sacrifice life quality today for the chance of gaining time or feeling better later. Healthcare professionals are rightfully trained to treat first and ask questions later. But what about the last years of life, when, with the benefit of hindsight, too much time appears to have been spent in hospitals and in clinical areas? Opportunities for holidays and weekends away or family dinners are exchanged for the multiple scars of clinical intrusions visible all over a frail body: cuts, bruises, cannulae, tubes. This is …

How Prophetic Was Gattaca?

Dystopian science fiction films often have the veneer of plausibility. For example, the premise of an overpopulated world (Soylent Green), or a deep freeze earth (The Day After Tomorrow), or an infertility epidemic (Children of Men), generate voyeuristic horror but rarely possess the credibility to elicit anxiety of a real world, highly probable outcome. The 1997 film Gattaca, written and directed by Andrew Niccol, is an exception. Technology has now caught up with Niccol’s dystopian vision of a society where every member is categorized and determined by their genetic origin. Last year a Chinese bioengineer announced the germline editing and live birth of twin girls using CRISPR technology. In the world of Gattaca, preimplantation screening and genetic engineering have generated a culture of discrimination based on genomic scores. The story’s hero, Vincent (Ethan Hawke), has the bad luck of being conceived the old-fashioned way, his genome left to the crapshoot of meiosis. His genome is read to his parents at birth: neurological condition: 60 percent; probability of manic depression: 42 percent; probability of heart disease: …

‘The Guarded Gate’ Review: Elites and Their Eugenics Projects

A review of The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants out of America by Daniel Okrent, Scribner, 496 pages (May, 2019). ….our people refuse to apply to human beings such elementary knowledge as every successful farmer is obliged to apply to his own stock breeding. Any group of farmers who permitted their best stock not to breed, and let all the increase come from the worst stock, would be treated as fit inmates for an asylum. Yet we fail to understand that such conduct is rational compared to the conduct of a nation which permits unlimited breeding from the worst stocks, physically and morally… —T. Roosevelt to C. B. Davenport, January 3, 1913 How are we to understand the widespread enthusiasm for eugenics in the U.S. a century ago? Some scholars like Nicholas Pastore have argued that hereditarianism in general and support for eugenics in particular is more commonly found on the political right, whereas others like John Tierney argue that eugenics is …

Rethinking Abortion Advocacy

Last Tuesday, the Governor of Alabama signed the most restrictive anti-abortion bill in America into law. The new law bans abortions even in the case of rape and makes performing an abortion a Class A felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison. Despite the low probability of this law going into effect, it has provoked a slew of commentary from both sides of the aisle. To call it “commentary,” however, suggests that people are engaging in thoughtful attempts to persuade one another. In reality, the abortion debate has had all the intellectual rigor and emotional maturity of a pissing contest. In an effort to be part of the solution, I’d like to explain why I’m pro-choice. Without doubt, my position will put me at odds with pro-lifers. But it will also put me at odds with many pro-choicers. Indeed, part of the reason I feel motivated to defend my position is because of how unpersuasive I find the central argument of the pro-choice movement. It’s painful to watch a movement use bad reasons …