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April 01, 2007

Is it wrong to eat humans?

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Several years ago I had a debate, with anonymous net friends, over the question, "Is it wrong to eat humans?" My previous post made me rethink that question.

Of course, eating human beings has been considered a taboo practice in many regions, and it is crystal clear that killing human beings in order to eat them should be completely forbidden.

However, the question I am thinking about is this: "Is it wrong to eat dead humans?," precisely speaking, "Is it wrong to eat a human being that is already dead?" If it is wrong, what is the reason for that?

Do you think this is a devilish idea? Ok, then, let us think about organ transplants from brain dead children. In many countries, the heart, the liver and other organs can be removed from a brain dead child, whose body is warm because the blood is still circulating inside. Removed body parts are transplanted into other people's bodies. Some Japanese critics think that this is equivalent to eating human organs.

You may say that the motives are different. Organ transplants are for the purpose of saving people's lives, but eating human organs are for egoistic reasons such as gourmet cooking and delicacy.

Then, think about the following case. Imagine a man who loves his wife from the bottom of his heart. One day, his wife becomes seriously ill and dies suddenly. He deeply laments over her death, and wishes that at least a part of his loved one's body will continue to exist inside his body, and decides to eat her. (Please remember that the parents whose child becomes brain dead often wish at least a part of the body of their beloved child will continue to exist in someone's body, and argree to organ transplants.)

In this case, is it possible to find a sound reason for persuading him (and us) not to eat his deceased wife's body?

While destruction of the dead bodies is forbidden in many countries, organ transplants (this is the apparent destruction of the dead body) is considered an exception to this rule. Then, what about eating the beloved one's dead body?

Photo: Zushi Coast, Kanagawa

Related post: Is it cruel to kill animals?

  -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

February 20, 2007

Life Extension, Human Rights, and the Rational Refinement of Repugnance, de Grey

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A D N J de Grey criticizes the conservative arguments on life extension in the paper, "Life Extension, Human Rights, and the Rational Refinement of Repugnance," published two years ago, in Journal of Medical Ethics 2005;31:659-663. He stresses that our hesitant attitude towards life extension and age retardation has been deeply influenced by a sort of irrationality, which has been forged by conservative ethicists such as Leon Kass.

He asks whether there are any differences between saving the life of someone and extending one's life span, for example, between curing a young man's leukaemia and postponing the ageing process of an old man, and he concludes that there is no difference between them in terms of ethics. He says as follows:

I must show that it is impossible to argue that we have done anything meaningfully different when curing leukaemia and when postponing ageing. ..... In each circunstance we are giving the beneficiary a greater remaining healthy potential lifespan than they would have if we held back, which is the beginning and end of what we mean when we say we have saved their lives, and also of what we mean when we say we have extended their lives. (p.662)

De grey would be right if we consider it absurd to suppose that there is a "natural process of rise and decline of human development." Even if there is such a natural process, we must say we have already destroyed it ever since we invented medicine and other health promoting activities at the dawn of our civilization. However, at the same time, I would like to add that clinging to age retardation when we get old might look uglier than curing leukaemia when we are young. This might be a similar kind of ugliness we would feel when we saw an old man chasing after young girls. One thing de Grey does not talk about is how to think about our obsession with young and healthy and everlasting life. In other words, he does not ask a question whether adhering to this kind of desire will truly lead us to happiness in the age of materialism and comercialization.

But de Grey rejects this kind of reasoning as self-deception, because it is no more than our unconsciouss strategy to cope with our false belief that our lifespan is theoretically limited. He writes as follows:

It is easy to see why we engage in this breathtaking self-deception: we find it the only effective coping strategy in the face of the ghastliness of ageing, since we remain convinced that ageing is inevitable. Now that ageing is within sight of not being inevitable, our collective hypnosis is no longer a solution but has become part of the problem; it is costing lives. (p.662)

De Grey calls our attention to the fact that he does not say ageing is worse than postponing ageing, however, I must say that the tone of his argument is clearly in favor of age retardation and life extension. He writes, at the end of the paper, that "the cure of ageing will be the greatest achievement of science since it was founded" (p.663).

Conquering ageing and mortality would be an important achievement of science, however, no matter how long we live we must die someday. As the day comes closer, the acceptance of our own death will become a big problem that cannot be solved by science and technology. My frustration with the argument of de Grey and other scholars, who are eager to emphasize the positive aspect of life extention and age retardation, is that they rarely try to talk about the subject of the acceptance of our own death and ageing, which we are going to be faced with sooner or later no matter how far science may progress in the future. What do you think?

Related post: An old man and me and life

Photo: Kyoto Seika University, Kyoto

  -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

January 26, 2007

John Harris, Immortal Ethics, generational cleansing

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John Harris's paper, "Immortal Ethics," published in Annals of New York Academy of Sciences, 1019, pp.527-534, (2004), is a short essay on the ethics of life extension. He talks about various points concerning this topic, and his discussion is interesting and thought-provoking. Basically, I don't like his extremism and optimism, but this time I enjoyed his philosophical writing.

Harris criticizes the negative views on life extension that Leon Kass and his followers have strongly maintained so far. One thing he shares with the conservatives is the need for the turnover of generations, because if the older generation live for more than a hundred years working actively at the front in their workplace, the younger people would lose their opportunity to act as a leader in their middle age.

Harris writes:

.... and if the generational turnover proved too slow for regeneration of youth and ideas and for the satisfactions of parenting, we might face a future in which the fairest and the most ethical course might be to contemplate a sort of "generational cleansing." (p.532)

Generational cleansing? What does he mean by these words? He explains:

This would involve deciding collectively how long it is reasonable for people to live in each generation and trying to ensure that as many as possible live healthy lives of that length. We then would have to ensure that, having lived a "fair innings," they died at the appropriate time to make way for future generations. (p.532)

What a totalitarian worldview this is! In such a society, those who have lived out their fair innings are expected to voluntarily die or commit suicide. Isn't this a society a conservative philospher would likely imagine? If there is a difference between conservatives and John Harris, it would be that while conservatives hope that this turnover will occur as the result of a natural biological process, Harris (and other liberals) does not. Instead, Harris prefers to attain this turnover by means of an artificial manner, such as suicide or euthanasia.

Reading his argument, I have come to feel that the coming long life society might be filled with an unspoken expectation that older people will voluntarily choose suicide or euthanasia to make way for the young, and this expectation indirectly forces them to actually choose such actions. And similar things should perhaps be observed in today's nursing homes. In this sense, the dark side of life extension already do exist in the society we live in now.

Related post: *Is More Life Always Better? The New Biology of Aging and the Meaning of Life, David Gems
                    *An old man and me and life

Photo: Kyoto Seika University, Kyoto, Japan

  -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

December 24, 2006

Is More Life Always Better? The New Biology of Aging and the Meaning of Life, David Gems

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Today I have read David Gems's paper, "Is More Life Always Better? The New Biology of Aging and the Meaning of Life," Hastings Cneter Report, July-August, 2003. Gems talks about various facets of life extension, biology of aging, and the meaning of life in the age of advanced biotechnology. The year 2003 was the year when Leon Kass's Presidential Report was published (and also the year my Painless Civlization was published in Japanese).

In the first section, he writes the following remark:

... I want to suggest that aging research raises philosophical questions about the shape and purpose of life that bioethics has thus far failed to address. (p.32)

I agree with him on this point. What we need is the philosophy of life in the age of advanced technology. He discusses a number of interesting points, and I believe each of them is indispensable to the discussion of the ethical aspect of life extension, however, I couldn't find a decisive clue to resolve difficult philosophical problems surrounding aging and immortality (but I want to hasten to add that his paper was really interesting and I have studied a lot from his argument).

Basically, he is in favor of life extension. What he fears most is the unfair distribution of life extension technology, especially the possibility that such technology could be monopolized by "the hands of a few undying individuals -- and particularly into the hands of tyrants" (p.38). He says:

Even under tyranny one can at least wait, and hope to outlive one's oppressor. For this reason alone, anti-aging treatments represent a very serious threat to humanity in the long term (p.34).

Then he examines the objections to life extension. Many people say that if we become immortal we will be bored with our life, but Gems doubts this assumption. He says he can imagine people who can continue to "enjoy endless repetition of the same experience" (p.35).

This argument made me think that people who are able to adapt to immortal society would be those who can enjoy endless repetition of the same experience, and those who cannot enjoy it might be automatically eliminated from such a society in the form of various types of suicide. Of course, it may be possible to alter someone's personality, by future genetic technology, into a new one which makes him/her fond of repetition. But isn't this nothing but a dystopia?

In the second half of his paper, Gems talks about age polyethism and the importance of the type of life plan. This is an interesting thought experiment. His last words are:

Thus, extension of lifespan might not simply be more of the same, but rather, it could create a larger foundation upon which a life of greater scope, possibility, and achievement may be constructed. (p.38)

Well, I have to say again that I am not a bioconservative, and I am not a Christian. I am agnostic and I want to support women's right to abortion. But I don't agree with the argument that life extension has no ethical or philosophical problems. I understand that I will have to articulate the reason why I think so. Please give me (plenty of) time to think. Anyway, I enjoyed Gems's paper. His discussion was really interesting and helpful.

Related post: *"The Burden and Blessing of Mortality" Hans Jonas
                    *John Harris, Immortal Ethics, generational cleansing

Photo: Toyo'oka, Hyogo, Japan

  -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

December 19, 2006

"The Burden and Blessing of Mortality" Hans Jonas

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Hans Jonas's paper, "The Burden and Blessing of Mortality" was published in Hastings Center Report in 1992, a year previous to his death, 1993. This is the "swan song" of Hans Jonas. Jonas tries to insist that death is both painful and mercy to us mortals. His old fashioned English was not easy to read through for a non-native speaker like me, but I was deeply moved by his speculation and his style.

He distinguishes two facts: "we can die" and "we must die," and he says that the former is the burden and the latter is the blessing. We can easily understand that the former is a burden to us mortals, but why is the latter a blessing?

In the first half of his paper, he discusses the importance of metabolism for organisms. This part is a resume of his philosophy of organism. In this paper, he writes, "Life says yes to itself" because life maitains itself by continued metabolism (p.36). His philosophy of life is really interesting and queer. He is probably one of the most important philosophers in the 20th century.

In the latter half of his paper, he talks about why radical life extension is problematic to humans. Firstly, it interferes "the ever-repeated turnover of generations." He borrows the term "natality" from Hannah Arendt and says as follows:

It denotes the fact that we all have been born, which means that each of us had a beginning when others already had long been there, and this endures that there will always be such that see the world for the first time, see things with new eyes, wonder where others are dulled by habit, start out from where they had arrived. Youth with its fumbling and follies, its eagerness and questioning is the eternal hope of mankind. (p.39)

Secondly, radical life extension is not desirable for an individual. Even if our vital functions continued unimpaired, "there are limits to what our brains can store and keep adding to." Hence extended life will be either life without the past memories, or living only in the past without a real present (p.40).

Hans Jonas does not clearly state why mortality is blessing for us, but I feel he wanted to say that only "death" can prevent us from experiencing such miserable life described above, hence death appears as a blessing to us mortals which are apt to follow the temptation to live as long as possible even if their life is actually miserable.

Reading Jonas, I have come to think that one of the most important topics in the age of life extension would be how to pursue a sort of death, or suicide, without despair, that is to say, that with self-affirmation from the bottom of one's heart. This is not what Jonas wanted to say, but I believe he must have thought about it in a corner of his mind when he wrote this paper just before his death.

Related post: Is More Life Always Better? The New Biology of Aging and the Meaning of Life, David Gems

Photo: White stork, Toyo'oka, Hyogo, Japan

  -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

November 13, 2006

Value of life extension and immortality

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Today I read the paper, "Immortality, Human Nature, the Value of Life and the Value of Life Extension" by Steven Horrobin, in Bioethics vol.20,no.6, 2006, pp.279-292. Horrobin discusses whether the future life extension technology is morally acceptable. The conservatives tend to deny extreme life extension because it is against human nature and the will of God (Christian God). The liberals are not so clear about such technology. Some are hesitant but others are in favor of it. Leon Kass discussed it in his Beyond Therapy (2003). In his book he rejected the optimistic view about extreme life extension, and persuaded us to taste the meaning of life within one's limited life span.

This is a very interesting topic because it makes us think deeply about philosophy of life questions, such as what is the meaning of life, what is the goal of life, what is life without regret, and so on. These are just the questions I have been tackling in the field of "life studies" or "philosophy of life".

Horrobin, too, tries to give an answer to this difficult question. He criticizes the conservative view, and defends the liberal view, especially the view of life based on the "personhood argument." He expands the standard personhood argument to include one's wishes, hopes, emotions, etc. as necessary elements of the concept of "person." Then he states as follows:

In this way, it would appear that there can be no arbitrary upper limit on the good of the extension of life to a person. (p.291)

And he stresses that a person always desires to continue to be a person.

We cannot effectively will ourselves not to be a person, since that will itself requires us to be a person. Try to imagine a person setting a particular date beyond which she will be free of all desires. Such a picture strikes one as absurd. (p.291)

His conclusion is:

So it does not seem reasonable that a person may even set a limit to the good of their own future extension in time. So long as we are persons, therefore, life extension will be a value without limitation. (pp.291-292)

Well, his argument is really interesting, but I don't think his argument is successful. It is logically possible for a person to desire not to be a person, and it is also possible for a person to desire to set a limit beyond which she will be free of all desires. In ancient Japan, some Buddhist monks tried to reduce their desires to reach the state of enlightenment (satori) by giving up eating food under the ground, and finally died and became mummies (sokushin butsu). They were believed to get into the state of enlightment, and highly respected. Weren't these monks persons when they decided?

My point is that a person can desire to leave the desire to live longer, and this is just what modern people forget in our materialistic society. I am not Christian, or Buddhist, or conservative, but I think like this. What do you think?

Related Posts:
 *Eternity, immortality, and desire to live longer
 *Retardation of aging and fear of death

PS: Some staff members of the Center for Genetics and Society have establied their blog, Biopolitical Times. Why don't you visit and check out?

Photo: Tokyo Tower and Zojoji temple

  -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

February 18, 2006

Fundamental sense of security, disappearence of conviction of love

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The paper, "Painless Civilization and Fundamental Sense of Security: A Philosophical Challenge in the Age of Human Biotechnology" has just been published in the web journal, Polylog. I discussed some philosophical problems raised by recent&future human biotechnology, and then I proposed four concepts, such as "problem of disempowerment", "fundamental sense of security", "disappearence of <conviction of love>", and "painless civilization."

This paper is a kind of a summary of my recent studies on life studies and bioethics, so if you are interested in Morioka's philosophy, I would recommend reading this paper first, then you can get an outline of my recent thoughts. Most topics in this paper have been discussed in my former Japanese books, such as Painless Civilization and Life Studies Approaches to Bioethics, hence, by reading this paper you might be able to get a glimpse of the discussion in those Japanese books.

The following is the summary of the paper:

This paper discusses some philosophical problems lurking behind the issues of human biotechnology, particularly prenatal screening. Firstly, prenatal screening technology disempowers existing disabled people.

The second problem is that it systematically deprives us of the »fundamental sense of security.« This is a sense of security that allows us to believe that we will never be looked upon by anyone with such unspoken words as, »I wish you were never born« or »I wish you would disappear from the world.«

Thirdly, we argue that the loss of the fundamental sense of security is connected with the disappearance of »conviction of love« in the age of human biotechnology.

And finally, all these issues are examined from the viewpoint of »painless civilization.« Our society is filled with a variety of »preventive reduction of pain,« of which prenatal screening is a good example. By preventively reducing pain and suffering, we lose the chance to transform the basic structure of our way of thinking and being; as a result, we are deprived of opportunities to know precious truths indispensable to our meaningful life.

Hence, it is concluded that what is most needed is an academic research on »philosophy of life.« (Web)

I believe the concepts of "fundamental sense of security" and "preventive reduction of pain" will probably become key terms when discussing philosophical problems that will be caused by high-tech medicine, such as "preinplantation genetic diagnosis" and "genetic enhancement." And I think these concepts will cover not only medical ethics but also the problem of, for example, a surveillance society that uses security cameras to prevent unforeseen crimes. Because contemporary society is deeply influenced by "painless civilization," we can find similar problems everywhere in our society. This is what I have repeatedly stressed in my papers and books.

In the conclusion section of this paper I talked about the importance of "philosophy of life." I am planning to start the "philosophy of life project" in a year or two with my colleagues. I am going to write an outline of the project soon on this blog.

See related post: Prenatal diagnosis, sense of security, and bioethics (March 28, 2006)

Photo: The entrance of National Museum of Art, Osaka

Related external links: http://ambivablog.typepad.com/ambivablog/2005/04/painless_civili.html
http://theanchoressonline.com/2005/05/24/painless-life-painless-death-painless-civilization/
http://www.stephaniejokent.com/blog/archives/000980.html

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

February 09, 2006

Neuroethics, Gazzaniga, Ethical Brain

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I read Michael Gazzaniga's The Ethical Brain (2005) in Japanese translation, and I wrote a book review for a news agency, which will be published in newspapers later in this month. This is one of the first books that deal with the issues of "neuroethics." Neuroethics is a fairly new word, which was created in 2003 to discuss ethical problems raised by the observation and manipulation of the human brain by using drugs, silicon tips, fMRI, and other high-tech devices. Specialists predicate that in the future we will be able to see through a person's inner emotions and ideas from outside his/her brain, but isn't this violation of one's privacy? Or should it be acceptable in order to detect terrorists? What about the enhancement of memory and IQ of a child? It might be possible to do that by giving certain drugs to the child, or by operating certain parts of the child's brain.

It is disappointed that Gazzaniga does not fully discuss the above "neuroethical" questions. Most pages are about current topics on brain science and psychology, particularly topics of human cognition. But his discussion is interesting, especially the interpretation of data acquired from his experiments on patients with the split brain (The split brain has been one of the main topics of Gazzaniga's brain research). From his research, he concludes that the left hemisphere is the locus of the function of creating meaning. And he says that the frontal lobe is activated when buddhist monks are meditating, and the temporal lobe is activated when one is having a vivid religious experience, including out-of-body experiences. He suggests that the combination of these brain functions have helped create various forms of religions around the world.

Gazzaniga says that in a similar manner, our moral judgment might be able to be predicted by looking inside one's brain and detecting the activated areas of the brain. It is discovered that a certain area is activated when one makes a judgment on a certain moral question.

It is interesting to foresee how many areas of humanities will be replaced by future interdisciplinary brain sciences. In the near future, we will have to understand the brain function more and more in order to understand our inner activities. Probably psychology (including Freudian ones) will be merged into brain science sooner or later. Then, what about philosophy, ethics, and religious studies? There will be harsh debates over some fundamental concepts of philosophy and ethics between philosophers and brain scientists. (We can see some early examples even now.) I think one of the challenges of philosophy is to point out the theoretical limitation of brain science, that is to say, what brain science cannot understand theoretically.

Last year a research group on neuroethics was established by biologist Osamu Sakura, associate professor at the University of Tokyo. I have not attended their meetings yet, but this year I want to join their conference and see what they are discussing. Neuroethics is a really interesting topic, however, we have not fully known what we should discuss in the name of neuroethics. And I am curious to know what life studies can contribute to neuroethics.

Photo: The entrance of National Museum of Art, Osaka

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

January 15, 2006

Sense of happiness and mood-brightening drug (Prozac etc)

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The President's Council led by Leon Kass discusses the topic of "happy souls" in their report Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness (2003). This discussion constitutes, probably, the most significant part of this report. I am not sure who wrote this part. I presume that Kass himself wrote it, but other council members might have written or added something.

They talk about the drugs that can delete unpleasant memories, or can provide us with happy feelings. While the former drug has not been developed yet, the latter one already exists, namely, such "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)" as Prozac, Paxil, etc.

Concerning memory-blunting drugs, Report concludes:

To have only happy memories would be a blessing—and a curse. Nothing would trouble us, but we would be probably be shallow people... In the end, to have only happy memories is not to be happy in a truly human way. It is simply to be free of misery—an understandable desire given the many troubles of life, but a low aspiration for those who seek a truly human happiness. (p.234)

And concerning mood-brightening drugs, Report distinguishes "the sense or feeling of well-being" from "well-being itself," and then concludes that acquiring the former does not necessarily lead to the latter, because these two are completely different from each other. Report admits that this kind of drug sometimes give depressed people the power and courage to live & survive, however:

While such drugs often make things better—they often help individuals achieve some measure of the happiness they desire—taking such drugs may also leave many of the same individuals wondering whether their newfound happiness is fully their own—and in this sense, fully real. ... It is even more pertinent, and more disquieting, should one come to feel happy for no good reason at all, or happy even when there remains much in one's life to be truly unhappy about. (p.255)

I think they have succeeded in pointing out an important philosophical question, that is, "What is the difference between 'the sense of happiness' and 'happiness itself'?" And they seem to conclude that happiness itself needs the (long and winding) "process" through which we can finally reach the state of happiness where we can enjoy the sense of happiness. Intuitively, I believe their idea is right, but I am not satisfied with their explanation in their report.

What if someone says, "I don't need any process. What I need is the sense of happiness, and that's all. Period," then what Kass would reply to that person? Is his answer, "You are a shallow person"?

I don't mean to offend Kass and his colleagues. What I want to do is to think about this important philosophical question more deeply. We need "philosophy of life."

Photo: A house near my apartment, Osaka

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

January 08, 2006

Eternity, immortality, and desire to live longer

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Leon Kass talks about his philosophy of death and aging in his book, Life, Liberty and the Defence of Dignity (2002). He discusses the future possibility of progress in medical technology that may provide us with long life, for example, a longevity of 200 or 300 years or more. He asks whether such longevity, or immortality actually makes us happy, and he answers negatively. He writes as follows:

I aspire to speak truth to my desires by showing that the finitude of human life is a blessing for every human individual, whether he knows it or not. (p.264)

He urges us to think of an immortal being and says:

Moreover, such an immortal someone else, in my view, will be less well off than we mortals are now, thanks indeed to our mortality. (p.265)

And he seems to distinguish between "immortality on earth" and "eternity."

The decisive inference is clear: none of these longings can be answered by polonging earthly life. Not even an unlimited amount of "more of the same" will satisfy our deepest aspirations. ... Mere continuance will not buy fulfillment. Worse, its pursuit threatens -- already threatens -- human happiness by distracting us from the goals toward which our souls naturally point. (p.270)

It is clear that he discusses this topic from the perspective of the Judeo-Christian tradition, however, the core of what he wanted to say reaches my mind directly (though I am agnostic). I think one implication of his words is that we cannot acquire "eternity" in the pursuit of "immortality." Eternity cannot be acquired in an extension of an immortal life. This is one of the most important philosophical questions, I believe, that should be discussed in the field of bioethics or "philosophy of life" in the 21st century. Of course, I don't agree with his opinion about abortion and the value of the family, but nevertheless, I am still very attracted to Kass's philosophy on life and death.

At the same time, I am not satisfied with Kass's philosophy. He seems to underestimate our desire to become healthy and live longer if some existing medication or operation provides us with them. This kind of desire must be shared by Leon Kass himself. We have to think about the nature of this kind of desire and our contemporary social system that incessantly stimulates our desire to live longer, become healthy, and avoid pain & suffering as much as possible. This is exactly what I tried to do in my book Painless Civlization. Kass's works should be complemented, I believe, with the perspective of painless civilization.

(Continues on the next entry...)

Related post: Value of life extension and immortality

Photo: A building near my apartment, Osaka

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

January 04, 2006

Importance of philosophy of life

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Happy New Year!! I spent most of the new year holidays writing a couple of papers in Japanese, but I have to write two more papers this month. Last month I read some books on genetic enhancement and its impact on future society and individuals. Reading them I have come to think that we need a new "philosophy of life," in which we are able to talk about "wisdom" and a "new way of thinking" relating to our own life, death, and humanity.

So this year I am going to talk about the importance of "philosophy of life" on this blog, and in other conferences, journals, etc. many times. And I will try to add more translations of my works with the help of my friends. (By the way, the translation of Preface of The Insensitive Man was slightly revised).

Anyway, I hope there will be no more wars in the world this year.

Photo: New Year lights in Osaka.

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

December 16, 2005

Jürgen Habermas, The Future of Human Nature

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It is getting colder and colder in Japan. Today I read Die Zukunft der menschlichen Nature: Auf dem Weg zu einer Liberalen Eugenik?, 2001 (The Future of Human Nature) by Jürgen Habermas in Japanese translation. The Japanese translation was made directly from original German. The translated text is not so easy to read because the reader have to know the outline of Habermas's philosophy to date, but the content is very interesting, hence you can enjoy his description if you like philosophical books. (He is famous for his theory of communicative action.)

The subject of this book includes ethics of biomedical technology and liberal eugenics, which is similar to the topics of the report of US president's council on bioethics published in 2003 (See my comments on this report, Dec.6 and Nov.28). Habermas says that the manipulation of fertilized eggs might modify our self-recognition as a species, and as a result, the basis of the norm that is indispensable for social integration might be fundamentally destroyed. This creates a sense of "dizzy" that we feel when the foundation beneath our feet, which have been considered to be immovable, suddenly falls down. He also uses the word, "feeling of vomiting."

The most serious problem of genetic enhancement will be that the intention of the parent(s) inevitably sneaks into their child, and as a result, the child is deprived of exploring his/her own integrated life as the real subject of his/her life. This seems to be Habermas's tentative conclusion concerning this difficult problem.

Habermas's discussion looks similar to Leon Kass's report and books on bioethics. And their philosophy is different from American "liberal bioethics." I am very interested in how philosophers outside Euro-American area think about this topic. I have tried to think in a different way from liberal bioethics (See Disability Movement and Inner Eugenic Thought, and other papers written in Japanese, and my Painless Civilization). Of course, we have a lot of liberal bioethicists and scientists in Japan, and frankly speaking, they may be the majority here. What about Korea and China, where the word "eugenic" does not necessarily have a negative nuance?

I think what is needed is "philosophy of life," and research on "philosophy of life" in various areas and countries, and to extract wisdom from philosophical discussion on life, death, and nature in contemporary society. I am going to talk about this in the future entry.

Anyway, it is interesting that Habermas, well-known European philosopher, criticized "liberal eugenics" in terms of his theory of communicative action. 20 years ago, I never imagined Habermas would talk about bioethics and gene manipulation in his book.

Photo: Doutonbori, Osaka

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

December 06, 2005

Retardation of aging and fear of death

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In the previous entry I talked about the book, Leon kass's (+President's Council on Bioethics) Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness. In the United States, this book might be seen as propaganda from conservative right-wing ethicists backed up by Christian churches. However, in Japan, this book will be welcomed by various researchers and activists regardless of their own religious backgrounds, because in Japan, Christians account for not more than 1 % of the whole population.

In this book they discuss the retardation of aging as well as other topics. In the future it might become possible to delay the aging process by manipulating our genes or other chemical substances in our body. What if we can live more than 200 years, or a thousand years without serious illnesses? Futurologists and some bioethicists tend to think that there will be no problem to live longer with the help of advanced technology. But the authers of this book do not necessarily think so. Probably most people would choose to live longer with advanced technology and/or medication, but in exchange for it, they will have to face very difficult problems they have never anticipated.

Paradoxically, one of the big problems we have to tackle in such a society will be the growth of fear of death. For, their long life is supported by their intentional activities of delaying aging by using various technologies and medication, and as a result, they are forced to see their own death everyday in an indirect manner. In this sense, the life of people in such a society will be totally covered with the shadow of death, in other words, uneasiness, fear, and melancholy resulting from the fate of human existence. They also say that we will be segregated from the sense of nature, time, and maturation, without which we cannot live our lives meaningfully and deeply.

Of course this doesn't constitute a sufficient condition for *stopping* the progress of such technology. However, thinking about the negative aspects of such technology is very important. What is more important is to think deeply about the meaning of the progress and the fate of our civilization. This is what I have repeatedly stressed in this bog. (Related page: Painless Civilization)

Anyway, I want to object to the idea that the progress of science automatically provide us with fulfilment and happiness, or the idea that those who object to the progress of science must be religious fundamentalists. We have to see both sides of technology and civilization.

I wanted to quote some sentences from the book, but I couldn't because I didn't have the original English edition yet.

Related post: Value of life extension and immortality

Photo: Doutonbori, Osaka

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

November 28, 2005

Leon Kass, Beyond Therapy

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I read the Japanese translation of Leon kass's (+President's Council on Bioethics) Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness, and wrote a book review for a monthly magazine. This is a really interesting book. This report, probably deeply influenced by the philosophy of Leon Kass, casts doubt on some advanced medical technologies which seek to enhance the ability of a baby, extend longevity, or make people happier by medication.

This is a report of the President's Council on Bioethics. The President of the United States is George W. Bush. Hence, this report may be considered as the propaganda of American conservative bioethics. For instance, a reviewer at Amazon.com writes as follows:

This book is just Leon Kass's latest treatise on all the possible (but not necessarily probable) negative aspects of biological research and progress. Leon Kass was appointed by George W. Bush as his "Bioethics" committee board chairman - and Leon quickly filled the board with other right-wing christian fundamentalists. (Amazon)

It might be interesting to broaden our horizons to see the situation in Japan. In Japan, conservative ideas about advanced medical technologies have been supported mainly by left-wing parties. On the contrary, conservative parties have supported the progress of science and technology relating to human life. For example, the Liberal Democratic Party, the biggest conservative party, supported the research on human ES cells and some human cloning technologies, and the Democratic party of Japan, the biggest opposition party, tried to restrict them as much as possible.

Hence, in Japan, it might be said that the role of "right-wing Christian fundamentalists" in the US has been played by left-wing bioethicists and politicians. This is a really interesting phenomenon. However, at the same time, (this may sound strange to US readers), concerning abortion, Japanese right-wing parties wish to restrict it, and Japanese left-wing parties try to protect women's right to abortion.

I suppose I am categorized as a left-wing bioethicist because I support women's right to abortin but I don't support the endless progress of biomedical technology. (Of course I don't think abortion is a "good" thing. See my paper). This report doesn't talk about abortion. Instead they talk repeatedly about the preciousness of a limited human life and persuade us to accept our own life as an indispensable and irreplaceable gift. This is just what left-wing thinkers have said in Japan against the government policy to promote technology and industry concerning biotechnology and advanced medicine.

If US Christian bioethicists care little about our ideas about abortion, they will learn a lot from Japanese left-wing discussions on bioethics. And even some of left-wing discussions on abortion may be interesting because they can find a unique idea about human desire and evil (See the above paper).

Anyway, this report might become a turning point in the history of US bioethics. I am a kind of left-wing thinker, and I oppose to President Bush's conservatism and foreign policy, but I do respect the authors who wrote this report.

I will talk about the content of this report in the next entry.

Photo: Doutonbori, Osaka

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

September 13, 2005

Bioethics

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In the latter half of the paper, "Cross-cultural Approaches to the Philosophy of Life in the Contemporary World, which was uploaded a week ago, I discussed the outline of "life studies." This was the first paper in which the concept of "life studies" was discussed. I talked about the reason why I coined the term "life studies" in the late 1980s. One of the big reasons was the frustration I felt toward the discipline, "bioethics." I started my academic career as a researcher in bioethics, but I felt strong frustration with bioethics from the beginning. (The subtitle of my first book that was published in 1988, was "Beyond Bioethics".)

I would like to present “life studies” as a forum or project in which people who are frustrated with bioethics and other disciplines get together to discuss life, death, nature, scientific technology, and contemporary civilization, although life studies itself is still in an early stage of development. (p.192)

And concerning the aim of "life studies," I wrote as follows:

The ultimate goals of life studies would be: 1) to live and die our limited life “without regret,” and 2) to create a society in which everyone can live and die his/her limited life “without regret.” In order to come closer to these goals, we have to think about the meaning of life and the essence of our civilization seriously, and we have to communicate with each other to learn different ideas. (p.194)

This paper was written based on the paper I uploaded to our website in 2000. Since then, I have published two major books on life studies in 2001 and 2003, and my thoughts on life studies have been expanded and deepened. In this sense, the description of "life studies" in this paper is a little outdated. A new verison of the definition of life studies can be found on the page What is Life Studies, but I am afraid to say it is outdated as well. I plan to write a newest version within this year, and translate it next year and publish somewhere. This will become the most conprehensive and clear explanation of "life studies" I have ever written.

Life studies began as an alternative to bioethics, however, it is now growing into a more holistic & interdisciplinary study, in which bioethics plays an indispensable but not necessarily central roll among other disciplines and approaches.

Photo: Night at Kyoto

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org

January 27, 2005

Relay of life

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Last Saturday we invited Professor Ann Mongoven (See Jan.5 and 20) to Osaka University, and we had a conference on comparative bioethics on brain death and organ transplantation. It was an informal meeting but very exciting and fruitful.

Mongoven talked about the metaphor of "gift of life", which is widely used in the USA, and that of "relay of life", which is prevalent in Japan. She asked us from when, and why, this term has been used. I couldn't answer her question because I have never thought about it, but I guess that the concept of "relay of life" might have some connection with Japanese image of "life" that is often used in connection with the image of "interrelatedness" of each life. (See my paper "Concept of Inochi (life)".

It was intersting that just on the night of the conference day, Japanese ABC TV broadcasted a drama about the living donor liver transplant, and the subtitle of that drama included the words "relay of life". In Japan there has been very few transplants from brain dead donors, but instead, lots of liver transplants from living donors. taka talked about living donor liver transplant in Japan and his theory of "narrative consent". This was also very interesting.

Photo: Escalator

 -- M.Morioka www.lifestudies.org