Sunday, November 18, 2007

Just Because Someone Wants Something, Does That Mean Doctors Should Do It?

The cultural ethic of "choice ubber alles" is growing increasingly radical. We have seen previously, that a few bioethicists have advocated that doctors be permitted to cut off healthy limbs of people suffering from Body Identity Integrity Disorder (BIID), also known as "amputee wannabe." People with the mental illness want to have one or more limbs amputated in order to be authentically themselves. There's even a WEB site and an association seemingly dedicated to opening up the possibility of doctors cutting off healthy limbs of people obsessed with becoming amputees.

Now, doctors are suggesting that to avoid disease (or perhaps for other reasons), cloning and IVF procedures could be done so that a child had three biological parents.

From the story in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Controversial legislation due to be debated by politicians this week sets out ways to allow test-tube babies to be created from the biological material from three parents.

The laws would allow an embryo to be created from the nucleus of one woman's egg, her partner's sperm and another woman's mitochondria, the material surrounding an egg's nucleus and which promotes cell growth. The Independent on Sunday said if the controversial legislation was approved, babies created using the cloning technique could be born within the next decade...

There is much to say about this. First, just because a couple wants a baby and can't have one without risking disease or to satisfy the desires of couples who both want to be the biological parents of offspring, but who could not otherwise be, doesn't mean doctors should engage in extreme manipulation of gametes in the creation of embryos to accommodate them. Our sense of entitlement in the West to have whatever we want based on our desires alone, seems to know no bounds.

Second, and more urgently: Perfecting and applying this technique would amount to unethical human experimentation--and not only at the nascent stages. We know there is a slight adverse affect to health outcomes in regular IVF procreation. And that merely involves sperm meeting egg. We know that SCNT-cloning leads to terrible problems in animals born from the technique. Who knows what the consequences might be to the born child by having been stitched together, as it were, from three parents? Or indeed, potentially to the health of the birth mother?

Back when IVF was being developed, some warned that it would lead us to believe that we not only have the right to a baby, but to manufacture and manipulate our offspring so that he or she is the baby we want. Those voices were not Luddite, they were prophetic.



At November 18, 2007 , Blogger Lincoln said...

Wesley, what should be the bounds to our desires?

At November 18, 2007 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

That's a very good question, Lincoln. I think it is actually at least two questions.

First: When does desire move from the healthy and into the neurotic and obsessive?

Second: At what point should doctors and society say that regardless of desires, this "choice" is too destructive to society and/or individuals to be permitted.

I certainly think that doctors should not accede to obsessions that require physical harm to be done to the patient, as in BIID.

I don't believe that we should mess around with embryos, either through genetically engineering to enhance or to make it so that certain persons can be biologically related. That isn't choice, that is imposition on another.

At November 18, 2007 , Blogger T E Fine said...

Ironically, I used to write sci-fi stories about kids who had three biological parents (though usually it was two fathers and a mother - I liked to write "heir goes looking for his lost father" stories).

It's weird - at 17 I was all for cloning and gengineering and creating "Moreaus" because part of me thought anything that created new life was great, and part of me scoffed at the idea that we could ever pull any of this off.

And now we're doing it. Freaky.

At November 18, 2007 , Blogger Lincoln said...

Wesley, can you rephrase your response in such a way that it does not appeal to your own desires?

At November 18, 2007 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

Linclon: You should ask that question in the mirror.

It has nothing to do with my personal desires, except perhaps in a microcosm. It has to do with what kind of a society do we, not just me, want to live in.

In a transhumanist radical libertarian society, people can have their limbs lopped off and can pursue morphilogocal imperatives--whatever makes them feel liberated and enhanced.

Liberatarianism, in my mind, is a polite word for social Darwinism.

We have a right as a society to preserve the common good--or we cease to be a society. I mean there has to be some commonality or there is no society--and pursuing transhumanist alterations does not a society make. In a society, none of us is totally free, we have responsibilities to each other, and we try to maximize individual liberty in dynamic tension with these limiting forces.

In other words, we all have to try and work these things out.

As to embryo manipulation, once it passes beyond clearly therapeutic, that is tyranny.

At November 19, 2007 , Blogger Lincoln said...

Wesley, you are making too many assumptions regarding both Transhumanists generally and me individually. Transhumanists are not inherently or generally radical libertarians (a euphemism for anarchists). Indeed, one well-known Transhumanist you frequently criticize, James Hughes, explicitly disagrees with Libertarianism. He and many other Transhumanists are liberal democrats, and many others (like me) are moderate libertarians. It would be convenient for your criticisms if all Transhumanists were indiscriminate anarchists, but we simply are not. Even the anarchist Transhumanists are, in my experience, more reasonable than you acknowledge. Most Transhumanists are reasonable persons that have made the unusual observation that technology has become and most likely will continue to be a principal driver of human evolution, recognize both risks and opportunities in that observation, and embrace the notion that we are better suited to direct our evolution than are the forces of biological evolution. Some Transhumanists certainly don't give a damn about the competing interests in our community; most do.

On that note, I agree that morality depends on community -- morality (whether formalized into law or otherwise) is to the community as will and desire are to the individual and its anatomy. Unless I am willing to engage in relativism, I should attempt to consider others' wills and desires when deliberating morally. I also agree that community depends on commonality. However, I disagree that Transhumanism is incompatible with commonality. To the contrary, I anticipate that our technology will continue to increase both commonality and diversity, as it has been doing for millenia. Our task, then, is to mitigate the risks of lawlessness and oppression, building both better individuals and better communities. All power can be used both for good and evil. The technologies usually associated with Transhumanism will prove no different, I am sure.

At November 20, 2007 , Blogger said...

Good discussion that goes along with the conscience debate that seems to the them at my blog, lately.

The limits should probably be based on the individuals' right to life and liberty as in, "Is it permissible for a person to infringe on his own rights?" and "Does the desired event risk life and liberty of others?" The real basis for "First, do no harm."

There are questions that need to be asked, and they border on the post about New Zealand's limits on immigrants.

1. Nothing should be allowed that is designed to intentionally kill a human being. (The Nuremberg Code says "except, perhaps, in those experiments where the experimental physicians also serve as subjects,” but I don't believe that we're allowed to infringe our own right to life and liberty.)

2. Will society be asked act to make special accommodations for the the intentionally mutilated (or the obese, the smoker, the Jehovah's Witness or vaccine denier, etc.)? (How much of my life, liberty and property do you claim?)

3. Will the rights of certain individuals be infringed upon by a demand for an action from someone else that is repugnant to the one being forced to act? (Traditional ethics that society may restrain, but not compel, action except in limited situations such as parents' duty to their children, doctors' and lawyers' duties to their patients and clients).

Thanks for the subject of today's post at my blog, Wesley.


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