Julian Savulescu on power naps and other bioethical issues

The controversial Julian Savulescu, an Australian-trained doctor and bioethicist who now teaches at Oxford University in the UK, is one of the leading voices in bioethics today. He recently lectured at the University of Granada in Spain on one of his favourite topics, human enhancement. He also was interviewed by the applied ethics journal Dilemata. Here are excerpts which give the flavour of his approach to bioethics.

On Peter Singer: “What is attractive about Peter’s proposals are that they firmly rooted in uncontroversial values – like the moral significance of well-being and equality – and he applies logic ruthlessly to the inconsistency of existing values and ethics. He also lives up to his own principles. There are a few places where I disagree with him, but all things considered, he is the greatest living practical ethicist or philosopher.”

On free-market eugenics: “The eugenics movement of last century was coercive – it forced people to be sterilised or be killed. It was not for the benefit of the individuals it was practised upon but to realise often racist, social Darwinist ideals of society. I believe enhancement and genetic selection should be offered to people, for the benefit of them or their children (not primarily society), that its goal should be enhancing their well-being (not some state goal), and they should be free to refuse those interventions.”

On transhumanism: “I agree with many of their arguments and I like the transhumanists I know – they are very nice people. But I don’t like groups and crowds. I used to hate going to the football and being a part of the crowd. I couldn’t stand being in the choir at school and I refused to sing hymns. I don’t like mass events and clubs. Transhumanism has a kind of group-think or quasi-religious quality that does not suit well my nature. I prefer to stand outside it and make my own arguments. But their hearts (and minds) are in the right place. We agree on most things.”

On the inevitability of legal euthanasia: “There is an emerging rational consensus and endorsement of euthanasia around Europe. That is one of victories for rational bioethics. Eventually, every civilised secular state will offer euthanasia. I did my doctorate on this topic 15 years ago. I thought the arguments were exhausted then and that change must rapidly come. I am staggered at how slow it has been. There are no good arguments against euthanasia but most countries still resist. ”

On power naps: “In my experience, once learnt, the short siesta is the perfect cognitive enhancer. The problem is that many cultures, such as English culture, are not set up to facilitate the siesta. And we do not teach or encourage people to siesta. This is hugely disabling. If there were a drug which rivalled the siesta in terms of safety and efficacy, I would take it. And it should be encouraged, just as siesta should be encouraged. But at present, no drugs come close to siesta.”

~ Dilemata, 3, 2010

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