‘Tis the season of fulminant fruitiness

Newspapers have their “silly season” of shock-horror absurdities in the slow news summer months. How about bioethics journals? When two very loopy articles surface in peer-reviewed journals in as many weeks, it’s clearly February and March.

First there was an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics asserting the moral permissibility of infanticide. Now an American, a Swede and a Briton have written an article in Environment, Ethics and Policy which suggests that we should consider genetically engineering children to combat climate change. People who are smaller, shorter and eat less meat will help reduce both their own carbon footprint and bovine flatulence (a significant contributor to greenhouse gases).

For more details, see the article below or on BioEdge. However, isn’t it time to investigate the source of these common-sense defying conjectures? After all, a rich fantasy life is not necessarily part of a bioethicist’s job description. Most of them chip away at the coal face, clarifying the conundrums that crop up every day of a doctor’s life. Only a few of them have actually slipped their moorings from the real world.

My theory is the bioethical silly season is fuelled by utilitarianism. If you examine the academic credentials of all five academics involved in these recent papers, all of them had links with Oxford and/or Monash University in Melbourne, both redoubts of utilitarianism.

You might think that utilitarianism, the greatest good for the greatest number, appeals mainly to bean-counters. True, but there is a mystical side to utilitarianism, as well. Since utilitarians don’t believe in human nature, but only in a sliding scale of consciousness, they are free to redefine what human beings are. More modest practitioners, like Peter Singer, exclude babies and the comatose. The ambitious ones, like Oxford’s Julian Savulescu, dream of enhancing humanity with drugs and genetic engineering. If the boundaries are not set by human nature, the sky is obviously going to be the limit. Some even fantasise about achieving immortality by uploading their brains onto computers. 

Any other ideas? There must be some logical explanation for this efflorescence of fruitiness.



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