Challenges to Human Dignity in Secular Bioethics 14th AFCMA Congress 2008 Human Dignity in Medicine Catholic Diocese Center, Hong Kong Fr. Joseph Tham, L.C. B.Sc., B. Phil., B.Theo., M.D., M. Bioethics, Ph.D.
Science (empirical data) is the only source of knowledge
Progress is infinite
No limits to research, technological imperative
Stem-Cell Hypocrisy: “ The Christian right’s wrongheaded invocation of religion to restrict stem-cell research ranks up there with the medieval sanctioning of Galileo because his scientific views conflicted with church doctrine.” – Newsweek 5/27/2005
As far as the scientific enterprise can determine. . . [h]uman capabilities appear to differ in degree, not in kind, from those found among the higher animals.
Humanity's rich repertoire of thoughts, feelings, aspirations, and hopes seems to arise from electrochemical brain processes, not from an immaterial soul that operates in ways no instrument can discover. . .
Views of human nature rooted in humanity's tribal past ought not to be our primary criterion for making moral decisions about cloning. . . .
The potential benefits of cloning may be so immense that it would be a tragedy if ancient theological scruples should lead to a Luddite rejection of cloning. --Francis Crick and E. O. Wilson
Switzerland’s constitution amendment established the intrinsic dignity of individual plants, based on the many similarities they share with us at the molecular and cellular levels.
Vegetation has an inherent value and that it is immoral to arbitrarily harm plants by, say, "decapitation of wildflowers at the roadside without rational reason."
Dr. Keller recently sought government permission to do a field trial of genetically modified wheat that has been bred to resist a fungus. He first had to debate the finer points of plant dignity with university ethicists. Then, in a written application to the government, he tried to explain why the planned trial wouldn't "disturb the vital functions or lifestyle" of the plants. He eventually got the green light.
Ecuador’s constitution, “ Nature or Pachamama [the Goddess Earth], where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.” Every virus, bacterium, insect, tree & weed has constitutional rights
Paul Taylor: all living beings have moral worth (dignity). “We can think of the good of an individual nonhuman organism as consisting in the full development of its biological powers. Its good is realized to the extent that it is strong and healthy.”
Alan Gregg: “The world has cancer and the cancer is man”
Self-directed evolution to some better form of life and overcome present limitations.
Why not seize this power? Why not control what has been left to chance in the past? Indeed, we control all other aspects of our children’s lives and identities through powerful social and environmental influences and, in some cases, with the use of powerful drugs like Ritalin and Prozac. On what basis can we reject positive genetic influences on a person’s essence when we accept the rights of parents to benefit their children in every other way? --Lee Silver, geneticist
By cloning, constructive genetic engineering, bio-engineer or bio-design para-humans or “modified men”—as chimeras (part animal) or cyborg-androids (part prostheses).
I would vote for cloning top-grade soldiers and scientists , or for supplying them through other genetic means, if they were needed to offset an elitist or tyrannical power plot by other cloners—a truly science-fiction situation, but imaginable.
I suspect I would favor making and using man-machine hybrids rather than genetically designed people for dull, unrewarding or dangerous roles needed nonetheless for the community’s welfare—perhaps the testing of suspected pollution areas or the investigation of threatening volcanoes or snow-slides
Testes and ovaries are social by nature and it would appear ethically that they should be controlled in the social interest
Hybrids could also be designed by sexual reproduction, as between apes and human. If interspecific coitus is too distasteful, then laboratory fertilization and implant could do it. If women are unwilling to gestate hybrids animal females could. Actually, the artificial womb would bypass all such repugnancies.
Unfortunately for that theory, brain science has shown that the mind is what the brain does. The supposedly immaterial soul can be bisected with a knife, altered by chemicals, turned on or off by electricity, and extinguished by a sharp blow or a lack of oxygen. Centuries ago it was unwise to ground morality on the dogma that the earth sat at the center of the universe. It is just as unwise today to ground it on dogmas about souls endowed by God.
Morality is a product of learning and convention, like toilet training, social justice may be modified—revised, augmented, deepened.
Morality has evolved from animal behaviors to more complex human ones.
Darwin, “A tribe including many members who, from possessing in high degree the spirit of patriotism, obedience, courage and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another and to sacrifice themselves for the common good would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection.”
Ethics is rooted in social instincts supplied by our genes
No universal morality, multiculturalism = moral relativism
Hobbes’ Leviathan: The Value or worth of a man , is, as of other things, his price; that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his Power; and therefore it is not absolute; but a thing dependent on the need and judgment of another …. The publique worth of a man, which is the Value set on him by the Commonwealth, is that which men commonly call dignity.
“ Since neither the neonate nor the fish is a person, killing these beings is not morally as negative as killing a person.”
“ In modern era of liberal abortion laws, most of those not opposed to abortion have drawn a sharp line at birth. If, as I have argued that line does not mark a sudden change in the status of the foetus, then there appear to be only two possibilities: oppose abortion or allow infanticide. In our book Should the Baby Live , we suggested that a period of 28 days after birth might be allowed before an infant is accepted as having the same right to life as others. This is clearly well before the infant could have a sense of its own existence over time, and would allow a couple to decide that it is better not to continue with a life that has begun very badly.”
Among philosophers and bioethicists, the view that I was to defend is by no means extraordinary; if it has not quite reached the level of orthodoxy, it, or at least something akin to it, is widely held, and by some of the most respected scholars in the fields of both bioethics and applied ethics.
Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford, Tufts, Texas, etc.
ACTIVELY ending a life can sometimes be more humane than waiting for a person to die, and in the desperate cases where death does not come of its own accord to end unendurable suffering, the morally right thing to do is to summon it.
Hilde Lindemann - Marian Verkerk, “ Ending the Life of a Newborn: The Groningen Protocol”, Hastings Center Report 1 (2008), 42-51.
My demand upon the philosopher is known, that he take his stand beyond good and evil and leave the illusion of moral judgment beneath himself. This demand follows from an insight which I was the first to formulate: that there are altogether no moral facts. Moral judgments agree with religious ones in believing in realities which are not realities. Morality is merely an interpretation of certain phenomena—more precisely, a misinterpretation. Moral judgments, like religious ones, belong to a stage of ignorance at which the very concept of the real, and the distinction between what is real and imaginary, are still lacking: thus “truth”, at this stage, designates all sorts of things which we today call “imaginings”. Moral judgments are therefore never to be taken literally: so understood, they always contain mere absurdity . -- Nietzsche
The meaning, content, and foundations of human dignity are never explicitly defined.
Political consensus, not a philosophical or moral treatise on human nature and the rights and dignities attending human nature
It is difficult to define what human dignity is. It is not an organ to be discovered in our body, it is not an empirical notion, but without it we would be unable to answer the simple question: what is wrong with slavery?—Leszek Kolakowski
Mastery of human nature and human troubles through technology can issue in a world peopled by creatures of human shape but of shrunken humanity—engaged in trivial pursuits; lacking science, art, religion, and self-government; missing love, friendship, or any true human attachments; and getting their jollies from high-tech amusements and a bottle of soma. --Leon Kass
We reduce things to mere Nature in order that we may “conquer” them. We are always conquering Nature , because “Nature” is the name for what we have, to some extent, conquered... As long as this process stops short of the final stage we may well hold that the gain outweighs the loss. But as soon as we take the final step of reducing our own species to the level of mere Nature , the whole process is stultified, for this time the being who stood to gain and the being who has been sacrificed are one and the same .