Disability by Design?

What is meant by ‘disability’ is subject for considerable debate, as little agreement exists on how the concept ought to be defined. Moral intuitions about disability in ‘ableist’ societies suggest that having a disability is something undesirable, as being disabled significantly reduces the individual’s quality of life* and social opportunities (Note: I am not aware, at this time, of experimental research which has explored the moral intuitions regarding disability. Perhaps an interesting area of exploration for the X-Phi folk…).

Progress in reproductive genetic biotechnology, such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), has made it possible for prospective parents to select against particular genetic traits causing disability or disease in the offspring. For example, a parent who is a carrier of dominant mutations on HTT – the Huntington’s gene – and does not want to pass down an affected gene to his or her progeny can use PGD in tandem with other approaches such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to increase the likelihood that unaffected embryos are the only embryos implanted back into the woman’s uterus. Potential use of the biotechnology to intentionally select against ‘negative’ traits (such as future disability) or select for ‘positive’ non-medical traits (e.g., gender, eye or hair colour, height, intelligence), has caused outcry from slippery-slope skeptics concerning  fears over “designer babies” and “the new eugenics.” Although these arguments are worthy of reflection and consideration, I won’t attend to them in this post.

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Blogging Canadian Bioethics: Kelowna 2010

The 21st Annual Canadian Bioethics Society Conference will be taking place this year in Kelowna, British Columbia from June 9th – 12th. The theme of this year’s conference is “Voices of Communities”.

Like last year, I will be blogging live from the conference. However this year I won’t go at it alone, as I’ve managed to coerce a few other UBC Neuroethics folk to contribute to conference blog posts. These include Joanne Reimer and Elana Brief, who both will be presenting papers. Joanne will be discussing her study, Spinal Cord Injury and the Clinical Translation of Stem Cells: Stakeholder Perspectives, June 11 at 10:30 am. Elana will be presenting Protecting or Silencing: The Benefits and Harms of Community Anonymity, the same afternoon at 2:00 pm. Check the official program for room designations. Research Coordinator Emily Borgelt will also post her reflections on sessions during the conference.

For those interested, the Canadian Neuroethics Interest Group will be held Friday, June 12th at 7:30 am in the Selkirk room. Yes. That is a.m. as in ante meridiem as in morning. Early morning. See you there!

Conference Webpage: http://en.cbskelowna2010.ca/

Image source: CBS Kelowna

Neuroethics, qu’est que c’est?

I’ll admit that it may seem odd, or perhaps even unnecessary, to begin a post on a neuroethics blog to query the meaning of neuroethics. Although barely into its 8th year as an academicized field of study, the area of inquiry called “neuroethics” has developed a professional society, an academic journal devoted to issues that fall within the bioethics-neuroscience scope, another bearing its namesake, books (e.g., here, here, here, and here), and a few blogs (e.g., here & here) — including this one. Although the Dana Foundation’s “Neuroethics: Mapping the Field” conference is often credited as jump-starting neuroethics, it appears others have being ‘doing neuro-ethics’ well before the conference took shape (see, for instance, Gillett and also Churchland).

In an influential paper, Adina Roskies attempted to define neuroethics by demarcating the “ethics of neuroscience” from the “neuroscience of ethics”(Roskies does note, however, that these two aims can be pursued independently but also tend to affect one another). Roskies original account described the ethics of neuroscience as being somewhat akin to what has been a traditional focus of bioethics research, namely, the ethics of something, e.g., conducting neuroscience research with humans, the ethics of neurotechnology (e.g. deep-brain stimulation) and guidelines for research and clinical practice. The neuroscience of ethics focuses on how philosophical notions of free will, identity and other aspects of moral cognition can be explored through understanding how the brain works. Perhaps a simplistic explanation, since the paper was published in 2002 Roskies’ conception has had an impact on how neuroethics has taken shape. Continue reading