Wednesday, January 14, 2009

disturbing article on Medical technology


I can give no commentary other than to say I was disturbed by this story in Slate about the possibilities for parents that want to prevent diseases in their children before they are conceived. I agree with the author.

Any thoughts after reading it?

Will Saletan says:
I'm happy for this woman and this baby. We all want to protect our descendants from disease. But let's not protect them from conscience or the truth.

4 comments:

jen said...

1) I reject his first argument regarding the disregard for human embryos. If this argument could hold then every human female would be guilty of murder every time an egg was expelled with their monthly period. A cluster of cells is a cluster of cells. It is not life.
2a) People use the word "spectre" when they have actually faced illness like cancer. People also use allegory like fighting a battle or war, being consumed or eaten alive, being slowly tortured, and facing a biblical plague. Even doctors do that, because it's what their patients are feeling. When we face a trial that is beyond our control, we give it strange names. If this family has in fact faced cancer in the past, and has told themselves, and possibly even God or the Devil, that they would do anything to never have another family member die of breast cancer, I would believe that they'd grasp at any straw they can.
2b) The author uses statistics quoted from news articles which are erroneous and misleading. Statistics must be understood from the paradigm of positive and negative predictive values. A low percent does not mean that there is a low chance of getting a disease. For example: if you have a 25% of getting a disease, 1 in 4 people will get the disease. Those are not great odds. But even that does not adequately frame the issue. If you were a parent, where do you draw the line in protecting your child?
3) This may be the only valid argument. Technology carries ethical and moral responsibility when it is applied. There will be implied responsibility not only for the parents, but for physicians as well, and then to society. If society can pay for technology to make more productive, healthy citizens, do we have an obligation to pay for that test for every parent who wants it?
4) This argument is nearly as weak as 2a. It relies on another scare tactic, and the author commits the sin of using words as dramatic as he accuses the announcement, i.e. "eugenics," is that really less alarmist than "spectre"? Eugenics is the name of a pseudo-science that was invented by American scientists and then used by German scientists to justify the Final Solution in WWII. It carries with it so much baggage that I nearly laughed out loud when I saw the author stoop to such a level. He even uses the word "cleanse" as if that word might actually equate this technology to ethnic cleansing.
5) As for the statement "Let's not protect them from conscience or truth", conscience is learned, and truth is subjective. Each individual, each parent, each community, each society must make their own social rules. Individuals who disagree with the choices of these parents should speak up, write commentaries like this author, and tell their physicians or government representatives what they would like to see are the boundaries of the application of science. And science should take responsibility to govern itself as well. And trust me, they were paying attention long before Mr. Saletan ever knew this was happening...

UK clinicians to screen embryos for BRCA mutations.
Tilstone C - Lancet Oncol - 01-JUN-2005; 6(6): 358
If you want to read this article, I can email you a copy.

Rick said...

I am but a mere layperson.

However, if you think I can understand it, I would like more info on the subject. While I am sure you are right on all accounts (especially since debating you on this issue would be like a guy with a bb gun in a duel with a woman bearing a semi-automatic or AK 47)), I would say that I still don't like some of the language from the report which is what I thought he was focusing on. But, I am funny about language. Everyone knows that.

The only place I would take issue is #5 because I thought Saletan was doing exactly what you think people that disagree should be doing. I think it is good for journalists to bring subjects to the front that we don't talk about so discussion can be advanced. But, I could be missing something (not the first time).

I don't think he may be communicating as well as he should. I did not take it from his article that he would call these embryos a life. That is is not his style (at least that is what I gather from reading his book- considered a very good resource on abortion and other things he writes). But, knowing this about the author probably colors my reading of this article.

Thanks for taking the time... at 3:30 in the morning. What the hell are doing up after all those tests? You should be sleeping.

Miss you.

Rick said...

this is what Saletan has said in the past regarding embryos, which you may disagree with (however, that is not a bad thing, right?).

"I'm a pro-choice moralist. I don't want the government telling people what to do with their pregnancies or their spare embryos. But that freedom doesn't eliminate moral obligation; it intensifies it. Each of us has to decide how to respect life in all its complexity. To me, embryos aren't people, but they're the beginnings of people. They aren't to be created, killed, or frozen lightly."

Thought that quote could give insight into his leanings. Most journalists are not so forthcoming (but he rights on these subjects all the time. They are his passion for which he is controversial).

jen said...

No you're right, the author did exactly what I think he should do, and "laypersons" should do, which is speak up for what she/he believes in. I simply reject 80% of this guy's argument as ethically invalid. Now, one may easily argue that it is still MORALLY valid, and that is a matter of social boundaries. Morality is movable depending on the belief system.

I am surprised by the quote you posted from the same author because his own language was just as morally judging as the language he was complaining about. If he has a problem with the word "spectre" being used to justify one person's moral perspective, he should not be using words like "cleansing" to justify HIS moral perspective. That is not an argument, it's committing the same mistake.

The language of the statement is DEFINITELY ethically questionable, and from some perspectives morally objectionable. As a philosopher I just don't like HIS arguments, I'd approach the statement differently because moral arguments are easily deconstructed by people outside of the belief system.

But take note: there is MY bias: as a philosopher I was trained to believe that ethical arguments cross more boundaries and are less subjective. But that is my belief system, not his, and I get that.

And I posted at 3:30 because I was completely unable to sleep (slept in that morning, did not sleep at all that night), so I was totally bored and looking for something to occupy my brain, 'cuz I didn't want to study 'cuz that would be just lame :P

My pacifist heart is sad that you equate my debating style to a woman with an AK47.

I'll email you that BMJ article, and I miss you guys too.