Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Most undignified

What is dignity?

Like many things, we find it hard to define, although we can effortlessly name a whole slew of things that are undignified. Like sneezing with a mouthful of coffee and having it shoot out one's nose. Or ordering a kebab at 2.30 AM and trying to sound nonchalant when even the pronunciation of basic consonants is beyond one's grasp.

Or as Harvard psychologist, Steven Pinker, suggests: getting out of a small car.

(I'd have to agree with that analysis. I own a small car, and had I not left my dignity at a Christmas party some time in the early 2000s, then I'd perhaps have bought a larger car by now.)

Pinker raises this point in reference to a recently-released report by the U.S. President's Council on Bioethics, called Human Dignity and Bioethics. This 555 page behemoth contains a series of essays informing the president on ethics and issues pertaining to biomedical innovation.

And as Pinker points out in a lengthy but compelling article in the centre-left journal The New Republic, it's rubbish - and even worse, it's vacuous and religiously-motivated rubbish that threatens to stifle a crucially important debate in science and ethics before it even has a chance to get off the ground.

This article is essential reading for anyone interested in bioethics and related matters, like stem cell research, therapeutic cloning and longevity research.


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