Friday, February 13, 2015

Seven Quick Takes: Bioethics, Makeup, and Destiny's Child


I never changed my location on Pandora after I moved: the zip code is still for a northern Virginia (NoVa) address. This means the ads are Washington-area specific, which can be both funny and irritating at times. In November and December, they ran an ad that sympathized with homes overrun with visiting relatives and reminded listeners "Thank goodness you're in Virginia!" Because in Virginia, everything is going on, all the time. This is less than useful when you're hosting parents in the Deep South. 


Another perennial favorite is for Dominion Fertility, which strives to make IVF and frozen embryos sound heartwarming. One funny thing about pro-life Protestants is that most are pretty chill about IVF, if they know what it is. This confuses me, since the idea of scientifically making babies, discarding those that didn't make it, and freezing the leftovers seems inherently distasteful. Instead of convincing me that it's wrong, you'd have to work into overdrive to convince me that it's morally licit, simply due to the ick factor. In addition, I grew up on futuristic literature, most of which is a big red warning sign saying "Don't Mess with Life Creation and Destruction," so there's that.


This got me thinking: when is our innate moral compass right, and when is it wrong? (I can hear my Catholic readers already typing about natural law. Hold your horses). For instance, babies can tell the difference in ethnicity according to research.  Human history is a long slog of intolerance and war based on outer differences, and many Christians used to defend slavery by appealing to both the Bible and arguments from nature. In other words, we have a "natural" inclination to racial prejudice, but that doesn't make it morally right. So why do I heed the natural distaste for creating human life in a test tube?


One might answer that, in the case of IVF, there are also arguments from reason against its morality. We aren't dependent on our instincts when reason can ascertain the problems with creating individual human beings, losing many, freezing some, and only implanting the few that survive the process. 


It gets stickier when you talk about recent developments in the UK, where Parliament recently approved technology for creating an embryo using three "parents." One of the parents only gives enough DNA to keep certain mitochondrial diseases from occurring in the child, and otherwise the child is simply derived from the genetic materials of its two "main" parents. The U.S. is considering this as well. Besides from the obvious problem of not knowing what genetic effects may occur, especially in future generations, I wonder how this will impact the future of those with disabilities, and of parents of children with disabilities. It's not hard to imagine a world in which parents are denied health insurance because their child has a "preventable" disease, if only they had consented to such pre-birth treatments. It's not hard to imagine when we already live in a country where 1 of 10 babies with Downs Syndrome are aborted.


Meanwhile in Canada, assisted suicide is now legal. My atheist friends are celebrating this development on Facebook as a triumph of science, for the ability to "die with dignity." As someone who has struggled with suicidal ideation, this feels especially horrific. What do we mean when we say that someone died with dignity? Would you say this of someone who killed herself due to bipolar disorder? What about poverty? Being handicapped from the waist down? It's not just about free will: if a cop sees someone about to jump off a bridge, they are taken to the hospital and put in emergency care. In other words, mental health is a bad reason to kill yourself, and you still have worth as a human being. Physical health though? Hmm....


Lost in thoughts of bioethics, I was yanked back to the present by the end of a Beyonce song. After belting out that "I'm a survivor" she transitions to the next song on the track with "And bootylicious." Right, keep representing feminism Beyonce. You go girl, I mean womyn.

** This post has not been approved by Pandora, Dominion Fertility, the state of Virginia, or Destiny's Child.


  1. My brother read a book by Johnathan Haidt, who has an "elephant and rider" theory of social intuitionism. Basically, our intuition is a social construct and it's the "elephant" that we ride on. Our rationality is the rider that leads the elephant. . . . I haven't read it yet myself, and I'm not describing it well here. But when he described it it struck a chord w/ me. I've been thinking about how many things that seem abundantly clear to me only seem so because of the way I was raised. . . . I still believe in objective truth, but I'm less confident about my ability to discern it. . . . One place to start is looking at principles that people across different cultures and time periods agree with. . . . This is not really what you're writing about here but it reminded me . . . . Also, I'm procrastinating putting away laundry. Much more fun to chat about philosophy. :-)

    1. Re: the elephant and rider theory--my thought is, how much do I steer the elephant and how much am I just going along with where he wants to go. .. . Hmm. It made more sense when I first heard about it. I'll read the book and get back to you. :-)

    2. Sounds like a book I need to read! It's hard to know which of our instincts are genetic and which are socially constructed - the whole nature vs. nurture debate. I've read a book that came strongly on the nature side, but it seemed he had a grudge about modern psychology and philosophy. Most of his research was littered with jabs about "elitist academics," and that kind of thing makes me suspicious. I'd rather know why your research is valid, not who you've got beef with.

    3. Incest is generally listed as one of the most common moral laws across cultures and times. It makes sense genetically as well, for obvious reasons.

  2. Have you watched the movie Gattaca? What you talk about in take 5 reminded me a lot of how that movie potrayed the world post genetic selection. You should check it out!