Monday, January 11, 2010

Public Affairs Quarterly Paper on Aging and Beneficence

My latest paper "Mind the Gap: Senescence and Beneficence" has been accepted for publication in the journal Public Affairs Quarterly. A sample from the paper:

Over the past four decades philosophers have tackled a broad range of topical issues in applied ethics and political theory. These range from abortion and animal rights , to multiculturalism and the distribution of wealth and income. There now exists a plethora of normative theories (e.g. utilitarian, contractarian, egalitarian, libertarian, etc.) and principles (e.g. priority, sufficiency, inclusion, etc.) that moral and political philosophers can invoke to tackle a diverse range of practical issues. And yet oddly science and science policy remain relatively marginalized topics in moral and political philosophy. Few normative theories take seriously the question “What constitutes just science policy?”.

....To help narrow the gap (hence the title “Mind the Gap”) between science policy and philosophical debates in ethics and distributive justice, I invoke a foundational principle of ethics- beneficence- and apply this principle to the topic of senescence (or biological aging). I address some of the ethical and social issues that arise in the field of biogerontology which studies the complex biological processes of aging in the hopes of extending the human healthspan. Well-ordered science, argue Flory and Kitcher, must inevitably be selective. However, the current “disease-model” approach to health extension, which is the strategy of tackling each specific disease of aging one at a time, is unsatisfactorily selective because it neglects the reality that “age is by far the biggest risk factor for a wide range of clinical conditions that are prevalent today”. Many different kinds of cellular and molecular damage contribute to aging, such as DNA damage (like telomere shortening and chromosome rearrangements), protein damage, oxidation and cell migration and cell death. However, unlike specific diseases of aging, like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, aging research currently receives very little public funding.

....The neglect of science and science policy in contemporary normative ethics and political philosophy is unfortunate because (1) science has vastly improved the health and economic prospects of those alive today ; and (2) some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity this century, like the projected rise of chronic diseases (which will be addressed shortly), will require the development of new knowledge and medical technologies. The genetic revolution of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries raises many new and interesting questions concerning what the demands of morality are when it comes to harnessing the transformative potential of the new biomedical sciences. From gene therapy and stem cell research, to anti-aging pharmaceuticals and cognitive enhancers, advances in the biomedical sciences might permit humans to alter valued phenotypes like health, intelligence and longevity in ways that would have been unimaginable just a decade or two ago.