Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Involuntary human experimentation

A chilling example of secular medical ethics. Josef Mengele would be proud:
PT: One of the aspects of your philosophy that is most galling to some people is that you don't view human life as sacred. According to you, since a person in a vegetative coma is a being without self-awareness, he or she should be accorded fewer rights than a fully-aware chimpanzee. Needless to say, you've enraged a bunch of religious and disabled folk.
PS: But you really have to question human superiority What justifies the things we do to animals? What justifies keeping a person in a vegetative coma alive? There are two basic views that support cruelty to animals: either you accept the Aristotelian view that the universe has a purpose and the less rational are here to serve the more rational, or you believe the Judeo-Christian view that God has given us dominion over the world. But once you get away from those two worldviews, there just isn't a basis for drawing a sharp moral boundary between us and them.
PT: But you are still drawing a boundary. Why draw one at all? Aren't you still guilty of human arrogance in saying apes deserve human rights, when other animals don't? Who are we to decide?
PS: That's absolutely true, and what we really have is an infinite range of gradations of awareness. But if you are trying to shape policy, you need to draw lines somewhere.
PT: Let's take a specific case. Research on chimpanzees led to the hepatitis B vaccine, which has saved many human lives. Let's pretend it's the moment before that research is to begin. Would you stop it?
PS: I'm not comfortable with any invasive research on chimps. I would ask, Is there no other way? And I think there are other ways. I would say, What about getting the consent of relatives of people in vegetative states?
PT: That would cause a riot!
PS: Well, if you could really confidently determine that this person will never recover consciousness, it's a lot better to use them than a chimp. I agree, it doesn't go over well, and people throw up their hands in shock and horror. But I'd like them to explain why it's better to lock a fully-conscious, self-aware chimp in a seven-foot cage in solitary confinement than to experiment with someone lying unconscious in a hospital ward.


  1. What about humans that have a measurable IQ below a certain point? Can we use them for medical research? If not, why not? What is the underlying principle that guides us in how to conduct ethical research?

    1. In fact, we should reverse Singer's logic. Only patients or test-subjects in a position to give informed consent should be subject to medical experimentation. For instance, desperate patients who consent to experimental treatment because conventional treatment is futile.

  2. It's been said by others before, were Singer's views taken consistently, then if an extra-terrestrial civilization with an average I.Q. of 4000 were to to appear on earth there'd be nothing wrong with them treating humans like cattle. Since we don't rise to their level of sentience. Think of the Twilight Zone episode that had an alien book titled "To Serve Man" : https://youtu.be/NIufLRpJYnI