The Bioethics of Regenerative Medicine – Chapter 10

I stumbled across a book while searching for a topic to write about and found it to be extremely relevant to our discussions in IGEP regarding regenerative medicine.  We’re striving to understand all the different angles of regenerative medicine in addition to the science, which is something I think is important in standing behind what you do.

The book I found is entitled “The Bioethics of Regenerative Medicine” and is a collection of essays discussing the controversial ethical and cultural concerns in regenerative medicine.  I decided to focus on Chapter 10, which is written by Gerald P. McKenny – “The Ethics of Regenerative Medicine: Beyond Humanism and Posthumanism”

Some of the major questions and statements made in this chapter follows.  Please feel free to chime in on these and make your own statements regarding these subjects:

  1. The naturalist vs. normativist view on regenerative medicine being used as enhancement (improving a normal trait) versus treatment for a disease.  Which is it?  Does it matter?
  2. A lot of debate between the two views in #1 are based on whether or not they believe age is a disease.  Should age be considered a disease?  Think of what THAT would do to our insurance coverage!
  3. “Individuals may live longer, thanks to a new bladder or a delay in neural degeneration, but may be unable to forestall degeneration in other functions.”  In other words, you’ve delayed death via kidney or cardiac failure, but the individual still has to deal with secondary issues related to the primary problem, or suffer from other concurrent diseases that may otherwise kill them, which some may say is a diminished quality of life.  Is it?
  4. “…the social and political costs of significant and widespread prolongation of the human life span could be substantial.”  They list costs including: lack of economic and political opportunities for the young, persons and systems entrenched in positions of power for decades, lack of innovation and change, tilting of economic resources and political priorities to older generations, etc.
  5. Humanism vs. Posthumanism – is humanity itself at stake?  The humanist fears that we will lose a part of ourselves which separates us from non-humans (“Factor X,” emotional responses, complexity).  Posthumanists yearn for enhancement and making a better “posthuman” than what we currently have as “human.”  “…what is envisioned is the deliverance of human beings from limitations that are now constitutive of human life as embodied.”
  6. Stem cell and regenerative research focus on extending an individual’s lifespan by solving issues via a piecemeal approach, which often does not address the major underlying cause.  In contrast, other research is aimed at extending the lifespan of humans, altogether, by telomerase and gene-altering strategies.

Personally, I’m a pretty “grey-zone” type of a person; I usually find myself on the fence for most of these debates.   All through vet school, and sometimes now as a pathology resident, I’m told that age is NOT a disease.  I have to admit that hearing “died of natural causes” is now infuriating to me.  I guess I could go back and forth with myself as to whether death is a disease or not.  Ultimately, age is a form of degeneration which becomes irreversible at some point, and diminishes the quality of life.  Why have we accepted it as a normal phenomena that we should just have to deal with?  In terms of research and potential therapies, I’m very pro-regenerative medicine. I don’t think that prolonging someone’s life is going to destroy their emotions, or create some living life-form that is no longer human.  I would think that changing someone from being “human” would require regenerating their entire experience with life, which you just can’t do. I guess you could erase someone’s memory and then start from scratch, but that information and the way the brain is wired, innately, will always be there.  The political and economical issues are very real, I believe.  I’m honestly not a politician or an economist, so I would have no idea how to approach these issues.  That’s were my colleagues in the IGEP get involved!

Mckenny, Gerald P. “The Ethics of Regenerative Medicine: Beyond Humanism and Posthumanism”. in The Bioethics of Regenerative Medicine. ed. King-Tak IP. London: Springer, 2009.

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