All posts filed under: Bioethics

Looking for COVID-19 ‘Miracle Drugs’? We Already Have Them. They’re Called Vaccines

Bret Weinstein, a former professor of biology at Evergreen State College, is best known for being hounded off his own campus in 2017 by a horde of social-justice zombies who themselves seemed to resemble nothing so much as a lab accident gone wrong. Having become a martyr of hyper-progressive ideological mania, Weinstein resigned, sued, won, starred in a documentary about the experience, and embarked upon a new career as a podcaster. Since then, Weinstein has become both a symbol and a voice for millions of Americans, on the Left and Right alike, who are unnerved that a handful of Silicon Valley oligopolists have acquired the power to set the boundaries of acceptable speech, if not formally, then effectively. Weinstein has become an influential public figure, with 350,000 subscribers on YouTube. Many consider his voice a credible one in life-and-death debates about the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, Weinstein has graduated from entertaining theories that might not be right but could do no harm, to theories that cannot be right and are sure to do harm. Because of …

When Sons Become Daughters: It’s Time to Admit That Reflexive ‘Affirmation’ Has Been a Mistake

What follows is the seventh and final instalment of When Sons Become Daughters, a Quillette series that explores how parents react when a son announces he wants to be a girl—and explains why so many of these mothers and fathers believe they can’t discuss their fears and concerns with their own children, therapists, doctors, friends, and relatives. To find out more about how the author collected and reported information, please refer to his introductory essay in this series. “What are your preferred pronouns?” I ask Rene Jax, somewhat in jest. The answer: “Your Imperial Majesty. Look, you call me what you want. I don’t care. My friends say I’m half this and half that.” Rene (a real name, unlike the pseudonyms I’ve generally been using to describe others) is a 60-year-old male-to-female post-operative transsexual who looks both like a woman (hair, clothing, style of glasses) and a man (hands, Adam’s apple, jawline). My question felt farcical to both of us because Rene has written openly about the pathway that led to transition—and then to regret. …

The Hard Problems of Vegetarianism

“We have to speak up on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves,” wrote the famous utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer in Animal Liberation, the book that converted me (and countless others) to vegetarianism more than 10 years ago. You don’t have to buy into Singer’s pain-and-pleasure calculus to find the moral force of his argument compelling: Humans are gratuitously inflicting pain and suffering on intelligent, sentient creatures for no other reason than because they enjoy the taste of their meat, the texture of their skin, or the softness of their fur. They do so even though they know they could, at a small cost to themselves, live without it, and even though they share a virtually universal conviction that it is wrong to cause harm for trivial reasons. And yet, vegans and vegetarians remain a small minority. Almost all of this meat, leather, and fur is being produced in factory farms that deprive animals of most of what would make their lives worth living. Driven by the relentless logic of profit-maximization, we curb the …

The Transhumanist Case for Liberty

Circa 441 BCE, Sophocles set down on papyrus (most likely) his famous “Ode To Man,” a countdown of human masteries: He navigates. He cultivates. He domesticates. He preys on all but is prey to none. He crafts words for thoughts, constructs shelters, and forms states. “He has made himself secure from all but one; in the late wind of death, he cannot stand.” That last line resonates across time and circumstance, faith and culture, the rise and fall of civilizations. What joins us to homo sapiens, past and present, is not merely the fact, but the recognition, that our days are numbered, that our expiration date is real, that we’re careening headlong toward the end of the line. What if it were not so? As I write these lines, scientists, theorists, technicians, entrepreneurs, and even a few kooks are laboring independently toward radical life extension, with an eye on the ultimate prize: the eradication of death. Their approaches vary wildly. From gene-editing, to growing organs for transplant, to 3D-printing nonvascularized tissue, to implanting brain-computer interfaces, …

Diversity, Inclusion, and Academic Freedom: The Case of Gender Biology

Our university recently circulated an email message, the contents of which I found somewhat strange. Or rather, I might have found it strange had I spent the past decade or two in a coma. The message was a carefully worded reflection on how academic freedom can be reconciled with the university’s updated and strengthened policies of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Although it strategically avoided specifics, one might justifiably infer that academic freedom presents some kind of threat to DEI. As I understand it, academic freedom means that what we publish and what we teach need only be judged for relevance and for support by the evidence base. In addition, it now appears that research must be compatible with institutional priorities. Less clear is where exactly these two guiding principles are expected to clash. In an attempt to understand this, I will reflect on a recent experience that may shed some light here. I am a paediatric endocrinologist, with teaching duties in the Department of Paediatrics (cross-appointment in Human Genetics), at McGill University in Montréal. …

Standing on the Shoulders of Ogres

There is neither merit nor justice in the posthumous dishonouring of the eminent biologists Francis Galton, who coined the phrase “nature or nurture,” and Ronald Fisher, who advised that “correlation is not causation.” In a recent article in the Journal of Physical Anthropology, Adam Rutherford, author of How to Argue with a Racist, provides reasons for supporting the recent “de-naming” of Galton and Fisher by various institutions. These reasons are historically inaccurate and morally dubious. Standing on the shoulders of bastards: I wrote a paper about cancel culture, accusations of the erasure of history, on how we deal with great scientists who also held outmoded and baleful views. https://t.co/PKr1KNP3xO pic.twitter.com/gQ9u100R4M — Dr Adam Rutherford (@AdamRutherford) December 18, 2020 The crimes of Galton and Fisher, as vaguely framed by Rutherford, seem to be conducting research on eugenics (inventing “pseudoscience”) and making recommendations about eugenic policy. Rutherford tars Galton with the Nazi brush even though he died 32 years before Hitler came to power in 1933. He argues that eugenics was a causal factor in the emergence of …

Patient Safety and the Medical Omerta

September 17th, 2020 will mark the second anniversary of the World Health Organisation’s World Patient Safety Day, a sign of the progress made in highlighting the risks of iatrogenesis—harm caused by medical negligence or error. The loosely defined patient safety movement grew from the work of the American paediatric surgeon Lucian Leape, and the publication of the 1999 Institute of Medicine paper ‘To Err is Human,’ both of which succeeded in drawing attention to the risk of being inadvertently killed or otherwise mistreated by healthcare providers. The patient safety movement has subsequently called for better detection and investigation of error, and while official UK data estimates up to 12,000 deaths from medical error per year, the voice of the medical profession in these matters has been conspicuously quiet. Inquiryitis Here in the UK, there has been no shortage of healthcare scandals within the publicly funded National Health Service (NHS). The history of public inquiries into the NHS reminds us of the inherent power imbalance between healthcare providers and the public. However, over 130 such inquiries have …

The Myth of Harmonious Indigenous Conservationism

It seems like a long time ago. But only six months ago, pundits had convinced themselves that the great morality tale of our time was playing out in an obscure part of British Columbia. Following on an internal political fight within the Wet’suwet’en First Nation over a local pipeline project, one columnist wrote that “the Indigenous people of Earth have become the conscience of humanity. In this dire season, it is time to listen to them.” In fact, the elected leadership of the Wet’suwet’en had chosen to participate in the controverted pipeline project. The nationwide protests against the pipeline that followed were, in fact, sparked by unelected “hereditary” chiefs who long have received government signing bonuses. It’s unclear how this qualifies them for the exalted status of humanity’s conscience. Yet the whole weeks-long saga, which featured urban protestors appearing alongside their Indigenous counterparts at road and rail barricades throughout Canada, tapped into a strongly held noble-savage belief system within progressive circles. Various formulations of this mythology have become encoded in public land acknowledgments, college courses, …

Moving Away from Meat Means Welcoming the New ‘Flexitarians’

Author and animal-rights activist Jonathan Safran Foer recently argued in a New York Times essay that the COVID-19 pandemic represents a turning point in society’s attitude to eating meat. “Animal agriculture is now recognized as a leading cause of global warming,” writes Foer. “A quarter of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 say they are vegetarians or vegans, which is perhaps one reason sales of plant-based ‘meats’ have skyrocketed… Our hand has been reaching for the doorknob for the last few years. Covid-19 has kicked open the door.” I agree the pandemic presents the best opportunity in a generation for animal-rights advocates to win over skeptics. But if and when vegetarian and vegan diets become truly mainstream, it will not be for the reasons Foer emphasizes. Foer provides three main rationales for rejecting meat: (1) “We cannot protect our environment while continuing to eat meat regularly,” (2) we can live “longer, healthier lives” without animal protein, and (3) many forms of animal farming are both cruel and unhygienic. These are valid arguments that …

Human Challenge Trials—A Coronavirus Taboo

The idea is as simple as it is apparently repulsive: allow human challenge trials (HCTs) under which “low risk” and healthy young adult volunteers in double-blind studies would be given trial vaccines (or a placebo) and then intentionally exposed to the novel coronavirus. This would accelerate the assessment of the trial vaccine’s safety and efficacy and more generally expand our understanding of this virus in a controlled setting. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 70 vaccines are currently under development, five of which are already moving to clinical trials. Notwithstanding these Herculean efforts, the earliest we can realistically expect a readily available vaccine is in 12 to 18 months. This is in large part due to constraints imposed by traditional vaccine validation methods, which rely on large test groups and chance exposure to the virus by participants to assess the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. HCTs, using a relatively small low-risk group of volunteer participants, could potentially accelerate the release of a safe and effective vaccine by many months. While conducting coronavirus HCTs …