Bioethics seminar and book launch: Prof Søren Holm and Dr Silvia Camporesi (19/01/15)

We are delighted to invite you all to a seminar by Professor Søren Holm on The seven deadly sins of bioethics – how bioethical argument can go disastrously wrong​, followed by the launch of Dr Silvia Camporesi‘s new book, From Bench to Bedside, to Track & Field: the Context of Enhancement and its Ethical Relevance​, recently published for the UC Medical Humanities Series, with a foreword by Professor Holm.

camporesi_cover_6x9-202x300When: Monday January 19th, 2pm to 4.30pm
Where: Room SW1.17, East Wing, Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS
RSVP here

Søren Holm is a prominent bioethicist and philosopher of medicine. He is Professor of Bioethics at the Centre for Social Ethics and Policy, part of the School of Law at the University of Manchester and at the Centre for Medical Ethics at the University of Oslo.

Abstract: The seven deadly sins of bioethics – how bioethical argument can go disastrously wrong
Søren Holm has entered grumpy middle age and in this talk he will use his long experience as an academic bioethicist and journal editor to Silvia Book Launch 1identify some of the way in which bioethical argument can go disastrously wrong. He will identify the seven deadly sins of bioethics, but will only discuss five of them in detail, partly because some of the deadly sins do not really require any in depth discussion. The bioethical equivalent of the canonical sin of ‘sloth’, i.e. lazy referencing is, for instance hardly worth any discussion, despite being extremely prevalent. The sins that will be identified, analysed and discussed are ‘simplification and reduction’, ‘unlifted bracketing’, ‘it ain’t necessarily so arguments’, ‘the irresistible attraction of the hole in one argument’, and ‘the grand leap of the whale up the Niagara falls’. In Silvia Book Launch 3so far as it is possible, the seminar will use examples drawn from the literature on human enhancement.

Professor Brian Hurwitz will be chairing the seminar, which will be followed by the presentation of Dr Camporesi’s book on the ethics of genetic technologies.

Tea and coffe, cookies and wines will follow.

Gene doping and anti-gene doping techniques: a racing game in the upcoming London Olympics.

Gene doping is not science fiction. There are real challenges of such kind for the upcoming Olympics in London next year. What do we mean when we talk about ‘gene doping’? Already the word is deeply value-laden, as it implies a negative connotation and that there are grounds for banning it from competition. If we aimed at a more neutral definition, we could define ‘gene doping’ as the non-therapeutic use of genes, genetic elements, or cells that have the capacity to enhance athletic performance. Gene doping employs therefore the same techniques used for gene therapy, i.e. the delivery to a cell of a gene through a carrier (usually a modified virus), with the difference that while gene therapy has the purpose of compensating an absent or abnormally functioning gene, gene doping aims either at reinforcing the muscular system (plausible targets would be myostatin and other growth factors), or at increasing the number of red cells by boosting up erythropoietin (Epo), therefore increasing the oxygen carrying capacity of the cells of the athlete. The first document gene doping case, a product called Repoxygen was administered to supposedly oblivious track & field athletes by coach Thomas Springstein in Germany, 2008, and employed exactly these gene transfer techniques to boost up erythropoietin in the athletes.
The World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) has included gene doping techniques in the blacklist of prohibited substances since 2003, but it is only since 2008 and the Repoxygen case that gene doping has moved from the science fiction realm to reality. Foreseeing a massive use of gene doping techniques in the upcoming Olympic games in London in 2012, WADA has invested nearly 2 million $ to support research laboratories to develop methods for gene doping detection. Several are the challenges for gene doping detection. To start with, the protein produced through gene doping will not be different in sequence or structure from the endogenously produced one. In addition, anti-doping techniques aimed at identifying the “markers” of the viral vectors deployed have low probability of success, as the viral vectors may be measurable only shortly after administration, lowering therefore the probabilities of spotting gene doping. Finally, detection would often require tissue sampling, as the administration of the vector would be performed directly into the muscular target tissue, but obviously muscle biopsies are not an option for the athlete, therefore excluding this mode of detection. Alternative modes of detection called “transcriptional profiling” aimed at detecting changes in protein levels compared to the physiologically measured basal level of the athlete would require simultaneous and repeated measuring of around 1,000 proteins. WADA Director David Howman reported saying to the Telegraph in 2010 that he was pretty sure that gene doping strategies will be able to be detected, but his optimism seems overly-confident, as while WADA-accredited anti-doping laboratories, such as the Drug Control Centre unit directed by Dan Cowan in London, are putting efforts to come up with strategies to detect gene doping, at the same time other other laboratories are putting together efforts in coming up with strategies. It is a racing game, and very competitive indeed.

Methodology in Philosophical Bioethics: a special issue of the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics

The issue of the second quarter of 2011 of the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics presents an original focus on methodological issues in philosophical bioethics. Guest editor is John Coggon, Research Fellow at the Institute for Science, Ethics, and Innovation, School of Law at the University of Manchester, and -at the time of writing- a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, working in issues relating to public health law and ethics.
In his editorial, Coggon writes that, as bioethics is a “field of disparate disciplines”, it is not always clear what role the philosopher plays in the wider scheme”. As a consequence, there can be difficulty in finding sound resolution between the competing perspectives, with the result of an “apparent deadlock, with theorists seemingly able only to talk across each other”. Therefore the need of a special issue devoted to analyzing the different available methodologies in philosophical bioethics. Different authors take different -sometimes even very different!- stances on this point, as it becomes evident from the contribution of the special issue. Many of the articles take as a starting point of their analysis the book “Rationality and the genetic challenge: making people better?” by Matti Häyry (Cambridge University Press 2010), also at the Institute for Science, Ethics, and Innovation in Manchester.
Among the contributors, Søren Holm, (Professor of Bioethics and Director of the Centre for Social Ethics and Policy, School of Law, University of Manchester) argues that bioethics is, as is moral philosophy in general, a field spanning a range of different philosophical approaches, normative standpoints, methods and styles of analysis, metaphysics, and ontologies. Holm also argues that the categorization of individual philosophers or specific arguments into a relatively small number of categories (something very common nowadays in bioethics, of which the book by Häyry is an example) can be an useful tool to introduce some kind of “order” in an otherwise “messy” (my qualification) field.
The book by Häyry does so by identifying three ways to deal with what he considers the challenges of “genethics”, namely pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) , the possibility to design children, savior siblings, reproductive cloning, human embryonic stem cell (hES) research, gene therapies, and considerable life extension techniques, which he refers to heuristically as neo-consequentialism, neo-virtue ethics, and neo-deontology. Putting aside the question of whether such labeling is correct (the contributions to the issue by John Coggon and by John Harris tackle this issue), Häyry’s main claim is that it is not possible to conclude with philosophical tools which of three frameworks is the most appropriate for assessing the ethical justifiability of a new biotechnological practice. According to Häyry, philosophical tools fail in doing so, as the three frameworks defined as above differ in the fundamental values and principles they employ. So Häyry seems to say that what is left for the philosopher in bioethics is to assess the internal coherence of each position, but then to step back and assume what he calls a non-confrontational “polite bystander view” which recognizes the existence of many divergent rationalities, all of which are simultaneously valid on the premise of internal coherence.
In my own contribution to the special issue (“Genetic Enhancement in Sports: The Role of Reason and Private Rationalities in the Public Arena“, coauthored with Paolo Maugeri of the European School of Molecular Medicine), we tested the approach outlined by Häyry by applying it to an eighth genetic challenge, namely, a variation of the genetic enhancement challenge discussed by Häyry as it applies to sports: gene doping. Should genetic enhancement in sports should be conceived as an eighth wonder or an eighth cardinal sin? And how useful is Häyry’s nonconfrontational approach for dealing with this kind of issues?
In our paper we argued that the genetic challenges described by Häyry’ are “public questions requiring public answers” and in this regard Häyry’s nonconfrontational approach is neither exhaustive nor satisfactory. To prove our point we chose to nail it down to the very timely eight “genetic challenge” of gene doping in professional track & field, which will be a very practical issue to deal with at the upcoming London 2012 Olympics games. Using the case of genetic enhancement in sports as our case study, we tested Häyry’s claim about the polite bystander view of the philosopher in the bioethical arena and argued that, on the contrary, philosophers are not, and definitely should not, remain out of assessing the rationality of the available alternative approaches. Quite on the contrary, philosophers should undertake the necessary confrontation required when a moral position underpins a practical decision, as the decisions concerning the permissibility of genetic enhancement in professional sports, or the permissibility of other biotechnological interventions, are. Even if moral disagreement will persist, this is not a good reason for philosophers to watch and stand by. Rather, it is a good reason for philosophers to enter into the arena of political philosophy and to come up with tools of deliberative democracy to deal with the moral disagreement. But we will leave this realm for the next post.