The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

July 2, 2008



The drive to end human exceptionalism:  “We are seeking to break the species barrier – we are just the point of the spear.”


Spain to Grant Some Human Rights to Apes



“Spain’s parliament approved a measure Wednesday to extend some human rights to gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans, becoming the first country to explicitly acknowledge the legal rights of nonhumans.


“The parliament’s environmental committee approved a resolution that commits the country to the Declaration on Great Apes, which states that nonhuman apes are entitled to the rights of life, liberty, and protection from torture.


“The declaration, developed in 1993 by a group of primatologists, ethicists, and psychologists known as the Great Ape Project, demands ‘the extension of the community of equals to include all great apes.’ According to the declaration, apes may not be killed except under ‘strictly defined circumstances,’ such as self-defense. They may not be imprisoned without due legal process, and they may not be subjected to the ‘deliberate infliction of severe pain,’ even if doing so is said to benefit others.


“Reuters reports that the resolution is expected to become law, and will likely take effect within one year....”


The Christian Science Monitor – June 27, 2008




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Is the Methuselah project becoming mainstream science?


The Fight to End Aging Gains Legitimacy, Funding

by Alexis Madrigal



Courtesy of Bruce Klein

Aubrey de Grey’s years of perseverance have literally started to pay off.

“Gandhi once said, describing his critics, ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.’


“After declaring, essentially out of nowhere, that he had a program to end the disease of aging, renegade biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey knows how the first three steps of Gandhi’s progression feel. Now he’s focused on the fourth.


“‘I’ve been at Gandhi stage three for maybe a couple of years,’ de Grey said. ‘If you’re trying to make waves, certainly in science, there’s a lot of people who are going to have insufficient vision to bother to understand what you’re trying to say.’


“This weekend, his organization, The Methuselah Foundation, is sponsoring its first U.S. conference on the emerging interdisciplinary field that de Grey has helped kick start. (Its first day, Friday, will be free and open to the public.) The conference, ‘Aging: The Disease - The Cure - The Implications,’ held at UCLA, is an indication of how far de Grey has come in mainstreaming his ideas....”


Wired – June 26, 2008


What would be the consequences of being immortal?


Becoming Immortal

by Bryan Appleyard



Within a few decades, we might reasonably expect to have extended life to 150 years or more – the first human to live to 1,000 may have already been born. But, does death give meaning to our lives? Where do we go from here?


How to Live Forever or Die Trying

Credit: Simon and Schuster

“Developments in a number of scientific disciplines suggest that we may soon be able to increase life expectancies from the 70- to 80-year range already seen in the richest countries to well over 100 and, perhaps, to over 1,000. We shall, in one sense, have made ourselves immortal.


“We shall not be immortal in the sense that we cannot die; plainly we could still be killed in a car accident or by a cosmic event such as an asteroid striking the Earth. But we could not be killed by disease or age, our bodies would be immune to infection, dysfunction or the ravages of time. We would be medically immortal.


“Some say this will happen quickly within, perhaps, 30 years with the first clear signs that we are on the right track appearing within the next decade. Others think we are at least a century or two away from attaining medical immortality. Some consider it completely unattainable. But the majority of scientists and thinkers in this area now consider life extension and even medical immortality possible and likely....”


Editor’s Note:  This article is an edited extract from How to Live Forever or Die Trying by Brian Appleyard, published by Simon and Schuster.


Cosmos Online – June 3, 2008


Recent reports raise doubts about just how much the new medicines can do to alleviate PTSD...


America’s Medicated Army

by Mark Thompson



Illustration by Lon Tweeten and D.W. Pine for TIME

“Seven months after Sergeant Christopher LeJeune started scouting Baghdad’s dangerous roads—acting as bait to lure insurgents into the open so his Army unit could kill them—he found himself growing increasingly despondent. ‘We’d been doing some heavy missions, and things were starting to bother me,’ LeJeune says. His unit had been protecting Iraqi police stations targeted by rocket-propelled grenades, hunting down mortars hidden in dark Baghdad basements and cleaning up its own messes. He recalls the order his unit got after a nighttime firefight to roll back out and collect the enemy dead. When LeJeune and his buddies arrived, they discovered that some of the bodies were still alive. ‘You don’t always know who the bad guys are,’ he says. ‘When you search someone’s house, you have it built up in your mind that these guys are terrorists, but when you go in, there’s little bitty tiny shoes and toys on the floor—things like that started affecting me a lot more than I thought they would.’


“So LeJeune visited a military doctor in Iraq, who, after a quick session, diagnosed depression. The doctor sent him back to war armed with the antidepressant Zoloft and the antianxiety drug clonazepam. ‘It’s not easy for soldiers to admit the problems that they’re having over there for a variety of reasons,’ LeJeune says. ‘If they do admit it, then the only solution given is pills.’...”


Time/CNN – June5, 2008


“It’s actually staggering the number of students reportedly using Ritalin who don’t have a diagnosis of ADHD...”


Brave New Mind: Smart Drugs and the Ethics of Neuro-enhancement



“On April 1st this year, yes you get the picture, a new ‘World Anti Brain Doping Authority’ was launched to respond to concerns that growing numbers of scientists were popping pills that give them intellectual edge over their colleagues. April Fools jokes aside, this issue is a crucial one, as you are about to hear. We are entering an era of cosmetic pharmacology, or neuro-enhancement, with kids already trading the ADHD medication Ritalin in the playground and healthy heads popping drugs designed for serious sleep disorders just to help them stay alert, be weller than well—smarter than smart....”


ABC Radio National – June 14, 2008


In her teens, she turned against ‘the charity mentality’ and ‘pity-based tactics’ for helping the disabled...


Harriet Johnson, 50, Activist for Disabled, Is Dead

by Dennis Hevesi



John R. Polito, 2007

Harriet McBryde Johnson

“Harriet McBryde Johnson, a feisty champion of the rights of the disabled who came to prominence after she challenged a Princeton professor’s contention that severely disabled newborns could ethically be euthanized, died on Wednesday at her home in Charleston, S.C. She was 50.


“No cause has been determined, her sister, Beth Johnson, said, while pointing out that her sister had been born with a degenerative neuromuscular disease. ‘She never wanted to know exactly what the diagnosis was,’ Beth Johnson said.


“The condition did not stop Harriet Johnson from earning a law degree, representing the disabled in court, lobbying legislators and writing books and articles that argued, as she did in The New York Times Magazine in February 2003, ‘The presence or absence of a disability doesn’t predict quality of life.’...”


The New York Times – June 7, 2008


“How can he put so much value on animal life and so little value on human life?”


Unspeakable Conversations

by Harriet McBryde Johnson



“He insists he doesn’t want to kill me. He simply thinks it would have been better, all things considered, to have given my parents the option of killing the baby I once was, and to let other parents kill similar babies as they come along and thereby avoid the suffering that comes with lives like mine and satisfy the reasonable preferences of parents for a different kind of child. It has nothing to do with me. I should not feel threatened.


“Whenever I try to wrap my head around his tight string of syllogisms, my brain gets so fried it’s... almost fun. Mercy! It’s like ‘Alice in Wonderland.’...”


Editor’s Note:  In this article, Harriet Johnson recounted her debate with philosopher Peter Singer at Princeton in 2002.


The New York Times – February 16, 2003


Enforcing the state-prescribed limit for waistlines...


Japan, Seeking Trim Waists, Measures Millions



Slimming Japan

Slimming Japan

“Japan, a country not known for its overweight people, has undertaken one of the most ambitious campaigns ever by a nation to slim down its citizenry.


“Summoned by the city of Amagasaki one recent morning, Minoru Nogiri, 45, a flower shop owner, found himself lining up to have his waistline measured. With no visible paunch, he seemed to run little risk of being classified as overweight, or metabo, the preferred word in Japan these days.


“But because the new state-prescribed limit for male waistlines is a strict 33.5 inches, he had anxiously measured himself at home a couple of days earlier. ‘I’m on the border,’ he said.


“Under a national law that came into effect two months ago, companies and local governments must now measure the waistlines of Japanese people between the ages of 40 and 74 as part of their annual checkups....”


The New York Times – June 13, 2008


Is medicine being transformed into a “body shop where technicians for hire perform”?


Your Cervix Is Normal, Now Let’s Talk About Botox® for Those Frown Lines...


Is it ethical for Physicians to add cosmetic procedures to their core practice?



“In the last few years, an increasing number of General Practitioners, Family Practitioners and OB-GYNs in the United States, Canada, and Australia have added revenue-enhancing cosmetic procedures to their core practice. Because 91 percent of cosmetic procedures are performed on women, OB-GYNs have a ready-made client base—but is the integrity of the physician-patient relationship, the practice of medicine, and ultimately the care of patients compromised when physicians offer cosmetic procedures and products that don’t increase the health and welfare of their patients?


“‘We are physicians who limit our practice to women,’ writes David Levine, MD in the Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynecology, an OB-GYN and outspoken proponent of the practice, ‘and these same women are responsible for the bulk of the $6 billion per year spent on cosmetic treatments, it seems natural for us to consider offering these treatments.’


“Levine’s argument seems logical on the surface, but in medicine, what makes sense financially is not always what makes sense ethically. We must face the fact that there are deep ethical implications of the rapidly increasing trend of General Practitioners (GPs) Family Practitioners (FPs) and OB-GYNs adding revenue-enhancing cosmetic procedures and products such as skin rejuvenation, Botox®, Radiesse®, liposuction, breast augmentation, and mesotherapy to their core practice.


“This quandary is situated in the context of a broader debate on the moral distinction between what constitutes appropriate medical treatment and what constitutes treatment that is non-curative....”


Women’s Bioethics Project – July 2008


Worth considering...


From Sin and Folly

by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.



“...Predictably, fashions in folly reflect the characteristic sins of the age—in our own case, impatience, hedonism, narcissism, flight from accountability, and the deifying of the self and its choices. ‘Corrupted modernity’ chafes under restraint and accountability, says Thomas C. Oden: it displays a kind of ‘adolescent refusal of parenting.’ If we know the characteristic sins of the age, we can guess its foolish and fashionable assumptions—that morality is simply a matter of personal taste, that all silences need to be filled up with human chatter or background music, that 760 percent of the American people are victims, that it is better to feel than to think, that rights are more important than responsibilities, that even for children the right to choose supersedes all other rights, that real liberty can be enjoyed without virtue, that self-reproach is for fogies, that God is a chum or even a gofer whose job is to make us rich or happy or religiously excited, that it is more satisfying to be envied than respected, that it is better for politicians and preachers to be cheerful than truthful, that Christian worship fails unless it is fun.


“How do we recover from bad judgment of this kind? We have to go back to basics....


“[This is] true for all would-be conquerors of folly. Where unteachableness, presumption, general bad judgment, and lack of discernment are concerned, the prescription is to gain wisdom. And ‘the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom’ (Proverbs 9:10). Wisdom begins with awe. As C. S. Lewis knew when he characterized Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, God is good, but God is not safe. God is ‘good and terrible at the same time.’ That is why only a foolish person would describe a meeting with God as ‘fun.’


“God-fearing people have a dreadful love for God, an awe-filled love that knows God is not mocked, that we reap whatever we sow, that God is not to be fooled with, scorned, or ignored but trusted, loved, and obeyed. Everything wise and righteous is built on this unshakable foundation. ‘Fear and love must go together,’ said Newman; ‘always fear, always love, to your dying day.’ God-fearing people know that God’s first project in the world is not to make us happy and that we will gain happiness only after we have renounced our right to it. ‘For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it’ (Mark 8:35). As Frederick Buechner reminds us, when Jesus says these words, he is not telling us how, morally speaking, life ought to be; he is telling us how life is.”


“Sin and Folly” is chapter 7 in Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995).




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Copyright © 2008