The semester starts anew, and the Bioethics Debates Committee (a partnership between the Biology Council of Majors and Philosophers Anonymous) begins to organize another semester’s worth of B-Ethical debates. While the committee works hard to make the debates possible, we ask you to join us as we contemplate some big questions in the field of bioethics:
As robotic technologies excel and as our knowledge of the brain expands, the ethical questions of brain-computer interfaces become an inevitable subject of serious discussion. Many contemplate how such devices might infringe on rights to privacy or how they might create a Gattaca-style social stratification between those who are enhanced and those who are not.
Biomedical engineers have developed robotic arms and other prosthetics that can be controlled by one’s mind. If we can already create devices that can be controlled by brains, is it reasonable to be concerned about a future of brains being controlled by devices?
Other controversial topics abound in the domain of reproductive rights. To what extent is it ethical for a government to provide access to contraceptives, police its population size, or permit the parent’s selection of genetic traits to be passed down to offspring?
Earlier this week, a law allowing three-parent babies was approved by the House of Commons in the UK. This technique would allow thousands of UK babies to be born free of mitochondrial disease. The United Kingdom will be the first country to allow three-parent babies, provided that the legislation passes through the House of Lords.
Genetic engineering in the future may provide hope to some parents that their children may be born free of disease, but what about diseases and injuries acquired after birth? Some people think that stem cells may pave the future in regards to treatments for countless afflictions, but many religious groups oppose the idea of using embryonic cells in order to enhance the lives of adults.
The public has argued for a long time on the issue of stem cell research, but biologists have recently triumphed forward with induced pluripotent cells (iPCs). These cells originate from adult tissues and are manipulated to behave like embryonic tissues in that they have the ability to differentiate into other cell types. Does the creation of iPCs completely nullify the question of embryonic stem cell research?
Finally, many philosophers and scientists have long entertained the positions of religion and science. Some people claim that one precludes the other as science pursues “evidence-based beliefs” and religion pursues “faith-based beliefs”. They assume that the two domains are antithetical in nature.
However, minister and physics professor Paul Wallace claims that it is possible to reconcile science and religion because the two bodies use “different languages”. Extending this metaphor, Wallace claims that the two can exist together as long as we use “careful translation”. Does Wallace’s claim hold and, moreover, is it unethical for scientists to discourage religious thinking alongside scientific thinking?
Bioethics truly touches many fields: biology, philosophy, health policy, theology, and computer science, to name a few. As such, we expect many students in UMBC to be interested with our debates, and we invite professors, graduate students, physicians, priests, political activists, innovators, scholars, and many other professionals to speak at our debates.
This semester, B-Ethical will host four debates with experts in the fields briefly mentioned earlier. These events are open to the entire campus. You can expect pizza, intriguing conversation, and a way to network with other students and faculty interested in bioethics. All we ask is that you bring your friends and some tough questions. Stay tuned for more information about future debates!