Credit - Image from Article: Designer babies: Chinese company working on technology to allow parents to pick 'smartest' embryos (January 25, 2014 by Jonathan Benson) \
The Future of Humankind: Bioethics, Political Rights and Global Cultures
The Future of Humankind is a topic that transcends national and cultural boundaries and should be discussed from a global perspective since it affects every human being (no matter what country, gender, race or ethnicity they represent).
For instance, the recent development of CRISPR technology makes genetic editing much more affordable and accessible: this is why, as a society we can no longer ignore this urgent topic, but we need to discuss bioethics from a global perspective, in relation to the future of the human species. This topic should be approached globally, with the understanding that different political views, cultural heritages and economic disparities are resulting in different answers and approaches.
More clearly, human genetic enhancement has found much resistance in countries such as the US, where issues such as safety and ethical concerns are raised by institutions and political activists. Bans on germline genetic modification (those that are are passed on to future generations) are in effect throughout Europe, Canada and Australia, while other countries, such as China and India have laxer restrictions, often in the form of guidelines rather than regulations.
This course will approach the forefront of the bioethical discussion, from different political and social perspectives. The first part of the course will provide students the historical, analytical and scientific tools to understand the field of Bioethics; the second part of the course will focus on different bioethical approaches, in relation to political rights and global cultures; the third part of the course will engage the students actively in the debate.
In the context of Science and Technology Studies, topics such as human enhancement will be addressed in relation to biotechnological innovation and its potentials for the future of humankind, in line with the cyborg and transhuman turn; it will also be analyzed within the context of a history of discrimination and the possibility for genetic discrimination (the “Gattaca” argument), in relation to the current discussion on the right to genetic privacy. The topic of radical life extension will be discussed in relation to the problem of overpopulation, environmental degradation and scarcity of resources on planet Earth, characterizing the geological era of the Anthropocene. The issue of designer babies will be considered in parallel with disability activism and economic disparities, when related to biological and intellectual enhancement (Who will have access to these technologies? Who will be disadvantaged by them?); as well as with sexual and racial politics, when choosing particular cosmetic enhancements (Which traits will be favored and why?). . The goal of this course is to offer a comprehensive overview on Bioethics and the political and social significance of the current advancements in the field of biotechnology, highlighting the exciting possibilities offered by them, but also pointing out the risks and problems raised by them, in the context of political rights and global ethics. Students' voices will be given high consideration, not only as committed global citizens interested in making a change in this world, but also as part of the human race, whose evolution is becoming a pressing topic for discussion on political rights and global justice.
This course is divided in the following sections:
1. Introduction to Bioethics This section includes, among other topics: an introduction to Evolutionary Biology, the History of Eugenics, the Birth of Bioethics and of Bio-Politics.
Example - Topic: Learning from History The Nuremberg Code (1947), a set of ten ethical principles for human experimentation, will be presented as a response to the horrors of Nazism and the subsequent Nuremberg trials at the end of the Second World War.
Further reference: George J. Annas and Michael A. Grodin (eds.) (1992) The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code: Human Rights in Human Experimentation.
2. Contemporary Bioethics This section includes, among other topics: a reflection on different political perspectives (i.e. Bio-Conservatives versus Bio-Liberals); different social and cultural perspectives on bioethics (i.e. Cultural Pluralism versus Cultural Imperialism; Transculturalism and the Idea of Shared Values versus Value Relativism). Example - Topic: The Nana - Lulu controversy The first genetically-engineered humans (2018)
Example - Topic: The Politics of Surrogacy Traditional Surrogacy (that is, the egg donor is also the actual surrogate for the embryo) and Gestational Surrogacy offer an interesting debate for the intersection of class, gender and race politics in the 21st Century.
Further reference: Cooper, Melinda (2008) Life as Surplus: Biotechnology and Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era
3. Bioethical Discussions This section includes, among other topics:
Designer babies: A reflection about human genetic engineering and its potentials for the future of humankind will be accompanied by a discussion on its limits from an economic, gendered and racial standpoint. Movie debate: "Gattaca" (Niccol 1997) -> The science-fiction case of a society based on genetic inequalities and genetic discrimination.
Bio-solidarity: The ethical debate on the human rights and dignity of "savior siblings" (babies born and conceived to provide biological material - such as organs or cell transplants - to a sibling affected with a fatal illness). Movie debate: "Never Let Me Go" (Romanek 2010) -> The science-fiction case of a society where clones are used as organ donors.
Bio-capitalism and Gene Patenting: What is at stake with gene-patenting? We will reflect on different issues, such as the public health concern; the risk of monopoly (in diagnostics, for instance) and the peril of blocking therapeutics and research. TED Talk debate: "Should You Be Able to Patent a Human Gene?" (Simoncelli 2016) -> The actual case of Myriad Genetics, breast cancer and patents on naturally occurring DNA sequences in different jurisdictions.
Reference Text - Sample
Kuhse H. / Singer, P. (2012) A Companion to Bioethics (second edition)
Readings - Samples
This course will use an interdisciplinary approach. Readings from a political, philosophical and economic perspective will be accompanied with movies, documentaries and debates.
Section 1: History
Darwin, Charles (1859) On the Origins of Species
Foucault, Michel (2004) The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979
Section 2: Bio-Conservatives vs Bio-Liberals Bio-Conservatives:
Habermas, Jürgen (2003) The Future of Human Nature
Fukuyama, Francis (2012) “Agency or Inevitability? Will Human Beings Control Their Technological Future?”
Bostrom, Nick (2008) “Ethical Issues in Human Enhancement”
Savulescu, Julian (2013) "Genetic interventions and the ethics of enhancement of human beings"
Section 3: Critical Perspectives: Economic Disparities, Sexual and Racial Politics
Cooper, Melinda (2008) Life as Surplus: Biotechnology and Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era
Jackson, Myles (2015) The Genealogy of a Gene, Patents, HIV/AIDS, and Race