Lately my projects have centered on China, Covid-19, or Fetal Tissue Research. Sometimes they overlap, like my three-part series on Covid-19 origins, which gets into why the lab leak theory has re-surfaced, gain-of-function studies, and the NIH’s role in funding research in China. Another overlap was part of a preconference workshop I co-led on the ethics of using fetal tissue for research purposes. My colleagues discussed Covid-19 vaccines, including those vaccines that are made from immortal cell lines originally derived from fetal tissue (likely from abortions, although the origins of cell lines from the 1950s are less clear). See my article on Coronavirus Vaccine Ethics for more.
My latest column in Salvo Magazine is now out: “Being a Person.” I look at O. Carter Snead’s book What It Means to Be Human: A Case for the Body in Public Bioethics (Harvard University Press, 2020). Snead was also a speaker at The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity’s Conference that occurred June 24-26. He argues that the pervading worldview in the United States—expressive individualism—may guide our public policy, but it is inadequate for addressing what it means to live as an embodied human being. At various points in life, such as the beginning and end of life, we are weak, vulnerable, and dependent on others. Also, throughout our lives, we live on a continuum of disability, meaning that throughout our lives we are at times dependent on nurses, caregivers, and friends.
I experienced this first-hand while dealing with cancer treatment last year. I had to depend on many people who thankfully were willing to sacrifice time and resources to help me as I recovered. Then, in February of this year, Texas had a freak ice storm. We were among those without electricity or water for several days. Thankfully, a friend with electricity, water, and a spare bedroom (and a backup generator) let us stay at her place until the snow thawed. It was a tangible lesson of our bodily fragility—temperatures dipped below 0 degrees Fahrenheit—and our dependence on others.
Carter Snead was one of the speakers at the CBHD conference. Our theme was “Bioethics and the Body.” Several of the sessions challenged the culture’s notions of disability and the “cult of normalcy.” Others grappled with gnosticism, neuro enhancement, and Western medicine’s view of the body as a machine. Many of the conference attendees posted on the forums about the irony that we are attending a conference about the body over Zoom.
I’ve worked with CBHD for about eight years and have been attending their annual conferences for even longer. Last year was the first time the conference was held over Zoom, and unfortunately this year had to be virtual too. As much as I hate navigating airports, rental cars, or hotels, I missed being there in person. I missed the lovely campus, the conversations between sessions, and the book tables. I even missed conference coffee. Yes, the virtual platform allowed people from all over the world to attend, but the convenience came at a cost.
Last year taught us many things, but perhaps the biggest lesson was embodiment, and all that it entails. Our bodies are more fragile than we care to admit, and our physical presence is more important than we knew.
Below, you will find some of my latest articles and relevant readings.
Afflicted Living: The Pandemic’s Deep Impact on the Elderly Salvo #56, Spring 2021 (by subscription)
Being a Person: Expressive Individualism Ignores a Full Human Experience Salvo #57, Summer 2021 (available for free for a limited time)
Coronavirus Vaccine Ethics CBHD (last updated March 2021)
Are Adenovirus Vaccines (such as Johnson & Johnson’s) Ethical and Safe? Bioethics Podcast (03/18/21), read by Bryan A. Just
Apple’s Supply Chain Includes Forced Labor in China Mind Matters News, 05/17/21
Why the Chinese Communist Party Feels It Must Destroy Religion Mind Matters News, 05/23/21
Lab Leak Theory Vindicated: What That Means for Fighting COVID-19 Mind Matters News, 06/10/21
What Is Gain-of-Function Research and Why Is it Risky? Mind Matters News, 06/11/21
U.S. Moritorium(ish) on Gain-of-Function Research Mind Matters News, 06/14/21
Book (Fiction): The Machine Stops by E. M. Forester (1909)
Book (non-fiction): We Have Been Harmonized by Kai Strittmatter (2020)
Book (fiction): Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (1980)
Video/Podcast: Story, Culture & the Common Good an Online Conversation with Marilynne Robinson (2021)
Article: “The Fading of Forgiveness” by Timothy Keller Comment, May 6, 2021
Website: Breaking Ground, a Project of Comment Magazine
From the Archives
“Manipulating Science News” MercatorNet, February 10, 2017
The clumsy system of public gatherings had been long since abandoned; neither Vashti nor her audience stirred from their rooms. Seated in her armchair she spoke, while they in their armchairs heard her, fairly well, and saw her, fairly well.E.M. Forester, The Machine Stops