Leon Kass, Mystic
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SAGE Crossroads posted the transcript of Monday's Leon Kass interview today. I didn't have a chance to listen to the original broadcast, alas, which means I also missed the chance to send pointed questions to the moderator by e-mail.

If you want to take the interview at face value, Leon Kass is a mystic. He is a modern alchemist. The alchemists of old stood atop what little knowledge of chemistry they had and built a speculative religion of hermetic magic, transient wishes, celestial signs and hidden gold. Leon Kass stands atop what little biotechnology we have today (and seems to have a good grasp thereof), building his own structures of fanciful thought, equally disconnected from the real world.

All of Kass' arguments against longer, healthier lives are essentially mystical and devoid of real substance. This, for example, is a fully formed argument for forcing people to die through blocks on medical research or bans on anti-aging therapies:

Time is a gift, but the perception of endless time or of time without bound in fact has the possibility of undermining the degree to which we take time seriously and make it count.

Is that really enough to condemn tens of millions of people to death each and every year? How about this:

Homer in The Iliad and The Odyssey presents human beings who he names as mortals. That is their definition in contrast to the immortals. And the immortals for their agelessness and their beauty live sort of shallow and frivolous lives. Indeed, they depend for their entertainment on watching the mortals who, precisely because they know that their time is limited, and that they go around only once, are inclined to make time matter and to aspire to something great for themselves.

And so the question would be, we are not really talking about immortality, but if it - is there some connection between the limits that we face and the desire for greatness that comes from recognition that we are only here for a short time.

If you push those limits back, if those limits become out of sight, we are not inclined to build cathedrals or write the B Minor Mass, or write Shakespeare's sonnets and things of that sort.

Or this:

Here, I think, I am in a kind of uncomfortable position of saying, look, this is research of enormous promise and considerable danger, not in the way in which bacteriological weaponry is dangerous, but this is dangerous the way Midas' wish is dangerous. It gets you exactly what you want, and you might discover only too late that what you wanted was not exactly what you really needed or desired. What you wished for is not really what you wanted.

You'll notice that, much like the alchemists, Kass' view of reality comes from ancient texts and his own feelings - as opposed to studying the world around him. This, in essence, is the difference between the mystic and scientist. The mystic is immune to the inconveniences of facts, consequences and reality. These sort of airy opinions continue throughout the interview, invoking Seinfeld one minute and making speculative contortions regarding family structure the next. In the Kass worldview, supporters of healthy life extension are apparently "shallow utopians:"

Well, a lot of idealists are shallow. I somehow thought that - that is to say there is a certain - there is a certain utopianism that is based upon the belief that if you somehow remove various kinds of limits, you will be producing simply good things. And not to simply make Huxley's novel the - the Bible of this discussion - by the way, there they didn't have longevity research. They hadn't gotten around to it. So what they had were, in effect, hospices and crematorium in which they recovered the body phosphorous and various sorts of things so there would be no waste. People died in a certain - I don't remember what it was - 60, 70 years.

But Huxley, in a way, shows you what it would look like if you took the modern humanitarian compassionate project to do battle with poverty, war, guilt, anxiety, disease, and realized it. And what you'd get are people of human shape and of stunted humanity. No science. No art. No self- governance. No friendship. No love. No family. It is an exaggeration, but at least raises the question of whether those limits, which come with sorrow, whether those limits are somehow necessary for all the great human things.

And the people who think that you can just tinker with the life span and not worry about its implications for the kinds of beings who will live, I think - they may be right by the way, but it seems to me that to simply say life is good and more is therefore better - if that's as far as your thinking goes, then I would say it's shallow.

Kass' explanation for his position on healthy life extension is an interesting one. In his eyes, he is the balancer, calling for death on a massive scale because no-one else is advocating this position.

No, look. I - this gives me an opportunity to stay I am not a Luddite, I am not a hater of science. I esteem modern science and I regard it as really one of the great monuments to the human intellect, even as I worry about some of the uses of some of the technologies that science is bringing forth.

And if everybody else was worried about it, you would find me as one of its defenders. I am taking up the side that is weaker here, that needs articulation.

I'm dubious with regard to this last claim. Leon Kass is clearly a man who doesn't like the idea of people living longer and healthier lives, even if he can't come up with a coherent factual argument against it. There is nothing wrong with holding that opinion: everyone should have the right to live and think as they choose. These opinions would be fine and well if Leon Kass were someone's dotty old uncle in a small town in middle America. Unfortunately, he is instead the man appointed to build and lead a commission used to justify restrictive US administration policy on medical research. His opinions and pronouncements help to restrict research, ban medicine and, by extension, cost lives - many, many lives. How, we might ask, did this ever come to pass?

I think it is unfortunate that Morton Kondrake let Kass slide on the ugly consequences of his positions, and whether he would support the enforcement of aging and death through legislation and force. At no point was Kass successfully cornered this issue, nor did he give straight answer on that and related topics.

KONDRACKE: So you are not against using the power of the government to stop something that you find odious. But in this case, you would - you would let it go forward or you would encourage it? You would increase funding for it? What - what would you do as to aging research?

KASS: Well, to use the arm of government and its power to proscribe, that's a very crude instrument. I think it's useful in only a couple of areas. I am in favor of legislating against assisted suicide and euthanasia, for example, so that we set certain kinds of boundaries within which then prudence and judgment can proceed.

I am also in favor of setting certain kinds of limits against certain outlying reproductive practices - cloning would be the primary one amongst them - partly because I want to shift the burden of persuasion to those innovators who would like to violate certain normal human taboos and boundaries in this area.

For the most part, though, this is an area where bans are too crude. Where the beneficial uses and the dangerous uses are sort of so intertwined that the best you can hope for is something like some mixture of professional self regulation, some ways of - some possibly government regulatory activities that say, for example, with respect to sex selection technologies, yes, it's okay to use those when you are selecting for sex-linked genetic diseases, but no, it's not a good idea to use them for ordinary sex preferences, even for family balancing.

[...]

And we are still early enough in the game, I think, that at least a certain amount of public discussion might be in order. And we might try to hope to separate those interventions that deal with the degenerations that are not necessarily life prolonging. I mean, if one could do something about Alzheimer's, if one could do something about chronic arthritis, if one could do something about general muscular weakness and not, somehow, increase the life expectancy to 150 years, I would be delighted.

By my reading of that exchange, Kass would - if he personally had the power - cheerfully ban research and medicine that extended the healthy life span. There was no talk of the millions of avoidable, preventable deaths that would result from the enforcement of such a policy, however. I think that this is a problem both here and in the wider conversation over bioethics, stem cell medicine, therapeutic cloning and healthy life extension. People talk about restricting research and banning fields of medicine, their conversations untouched by the terrible human costs of the policies under discussion.

Comments

I recommend that you send your comment "Leon Kass, Mystic" as fax or letter to your representative and senators in support of argument to either abolish the bioethics council or to get Leon Kass removed as head of this council.

Reason, I also ask your permission to copy this in its entirety and send it to my represenatives as well. Please respond to my email.

Posted by: Kurt at April 15, 2004 9:41 AM

Reason states:

"Leon Kass is clearly a man who doesn't like the idea of people living longer and healthier lives, even if he can't come up with a coherent factual argument against it."

Turning the tables on the theme, Kass could wittingly argue that "living longer kills people" - eventually. And that we must be prudent in preventing people from killing themselves.

The paradox is that we will, in fact, kill our "human" self by living long enough to evolve into posthumans. Kass, as a biological fundamentalist, does argue this suicide point unwittingly.

Natasha Vita-More

Posted by: Natasha Vita-More at April 15, 2004 11:18 AM

Kurt, good idea - any who reads this should feel free to make use of this text in part or whole as a letter to your representatives.

Natasha, I've never seen evolution into posthuman states as analogous to death. Do you die - in any sense, metaphorically, or otherwise - when you add a brain-computer interface to yourself, as people are now starting to experiment with? No, Kass is arguing for plain old human death and suffering, enforced on a massive scale.

Posted by: Reason at April 15, 2004 2:07 PM

Reason:

Cheers on your comments.

Did it seem to you that Kass was half-hearted in these arguments? Maybe it didn't come across as much in the transcript, but he seemed a little low key for such an important discussion. It's as if he believes what he is saying, but knows he's on the wrong side of history. Like he thinks he's fighting some noble lost cause.

Somehow I don't find much romance in the fight to take away another's right to live. The best future is the exact reverse of that little story of mine:

http://www.speculist.com/archives/000702.html

Kass extremist beliefs should not be reflected in a national policy of death, but he has the right to die himself if he wants to.

Posted by: Stephen Gordon at April 15, 2004 2:34 PM

If Kass feels he is playing on the losing side of an argument he isn't the only one. His team, although vocal, are certain to be few in number.

I have yet to come across someone who champions the cause and need of recycling human beings quite as vociferously as he does. Certainly, there are many many people who voice concerns, and with good reason, over the changes that extended lifespans must necessarily bring to society, but I have not spoken with anyone who advocates that death and suffering are a *necessity* to human happiness. When I describe the reasoning of Kass to almost anyone, a look of confusion and distaste is the first response.

Kass is definitely out in left field with his views.

Thus I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief that as science continues to uncover ways to relieve human suffering, the basic desire to live instilled in the vast majority of us will burn bright and leave no corner for Kass to shine his shadow.

It is only too bad that such a 'force of darkness' exists in a position capable of restraining the technological might of what is rapidly becoming the formerly great science of the United States. That the discoveries Kass seeks to prevent are going to happen is a forgone conclusion, the question is, which American's will have access to them? Only those who can afford the airline ticket and the overseas medical care?

Posted by: Kevin Perrott at April 15, 2004 10:05 PM

Kass's position is mystical, but it's also cowardly. This is the same sort of fearful thinking behind "if Man were meant to fly, God would have given him wings."

This is the idea that if we step out of God's preordained path just a little, He will smack us back into our place.

Whoever is given the authority by society to decide what God's preordained path is - Kass would like to be in the running - has some power to slow progress.

I agree with Kevin that Kass can't stop progress. If man were meant to stay on the ground God would have made him stupid. But delay is deadly in this field.

If society becomes comfortable being told that we don't need life extension, it's wrong to want it, etc.; then why couldn't this develop into the idea that life extension is not for everyone. That only certain enlightened people should have it.

I don't think it will go that way. But it's a possibility that we should be aware of and avoid.

Here's a couple of my "favorite" quotes from the interview:

"The question—there is no question but that the gift(of more) time of the sort that you and I have been blessed with as a result of the changes of the 20 th Century, that that gift of extra time is a great blessing...but"

Does it really matter what Kass said after the "but?" I'm happy about the extra time I've been given, but sorry kids, no more time for you! You shouldn't expect to have a longer life than me! Why not? Because I'm not comfortable with it.

"I mean, if one could do something about Alzheimer's, if one could do something about chronic arthritis, if one could do something about general muscular weakness and not, somehow, increase the life expectancy to 150 years, I would be delighted."

I can't even comment on this second quote - my jaw is on the floor.

Posted by: Stephen Gordon at April 16, 2004 8:24 AM

A bit late in this discussion, but for posterity...:

First, on Kass's use of mythology and literature for metaphors. Kass appeals to ancient and some not-so-ancient texts to make a point that the shortness of life is a blessing, as it allows us to live our limited lives more fully, to make the most of everyday, so to speak.

Well, if I were an ancient Greek philosopher, and I were trying to console myself and others about the fact that life is too short, wouldn't it be great to find fault with being immortal? To view our mortality as a blessing? Just because an ancient Greek philosopher wrote about the problems of being immortal, it doesn't mean that he got it right.

For that matter, a blind person can eulogize the benefits of being blind: increased capacity in the other senses, an alternative view of the world (no pun intended), differences in relationships with others, etc. I'm not saying that such a person is wrong, but it doesn't mean that I should poke out my eyes, or pray for my children to be born blind.

A deaf person, a paraplegic, or a even just a poor person, could be viewed as being better off in some way or another. Consider the sheer volume of stories that demonize the rich and make virtual royalty of the poor.

Would one use such arguments against treating the blind, the deaf, the disabled, and the poor? Would one use such arguments to prevent those people from bettering themselves? Imagine a government saying, "So what if you're poor? It's a blessing! You're kinder, and you appreciate family and friends more because you're not caught up in the material things of the world. Enjoy your blessed financial state. In fact, we're going to pass more laws requiring you to stay poor, and to prevent you from ever bettering your current state." Well, some might argue that that's what the government is doing anyway, so perhaps a statement like that would at least be honest.

The point is, history is replete with examples of writers and philosophers euphamizing people with limitations. While this is sometimes done to show that these limitations are good, it is usually done to suggest that such limitations do not make life less important or enjoyable.

Yet somehow, this appeal to literature is supposed to make Kass's argument more legitimate, because he appealed to pretty metaphors. It doesn't work for trying to enforce permanent blindness, deafness, etc., but we the public are supposed to believe that this is a valid argument for enforcing death.

I think if there is anything to be taken away from the vast collection of literature that shows the positive side of conditions that are otherwise viewed as limitations, it should be this: though we would not want those conditions for ourselves, we as humanity benefit from the diversity that these conditions bring. Society as a whole would not benefit from the majority of us being blind, but certainly we as a society benefit from the small minority who are blind. We should realize that these people are not just a burden, but that they can enrich our lives with their spirit and their desire to live in spite of the cards fate has dealt them. Consider that a world full of quadraplegics would certainly be a dreary one, but we as a society are blessed by people like Christopher Reeve. His courage inspires us, and his strong influence in pushing research to find cures for his condition will benefit all of us.

Perhaps I'm getting a little off on a tangent, but an appeal to ancient texts seems to support transhumanists more than it supports bio-luddites.

Anyway, my first point was that Kass's appeal to literature is completely ridiculous.

My second point, a much shorter one, is the irony of his appeal to Huxley. He asserted that their solution to the suffering of mankind was flawed, and that, by extension, our desire to solve human suffering by extending lives is flawed:

------------------------------
Well, a lot of idealists are shallow. I somehow thought that - that is to say there is a certain - there is a certain utopianism that is based upon the belief that if you somehow remove various kinds of limits, you will be producing simply good things. And not to simply make Huxley's novel the - the Bible of this discussion - by the way, there they didn't have longevity research. They hadn't gotten around to it. So what they had were, in effect, hospices and crematorium in which they recovered the body phosphorous and various sorts of things so there would be no waste. People died in a certain—I don't remember what it was - 60, 70 years.

But Huxley, in a way, shows you what it would look like if you took the modern humanitarian compassionate project to do battle with poverty, war, guilt, anxiety, disease, and realized it. And what you'd get are people of human shape and of stunted humanity. No science. No art. No self- governance. No friendship. No love. No family. It is an exaggeration, but at least raises the question of whether those limits, which come with sorrow, whether those limits are somehow necessary for all the great human things.
------------------------------

But in the end, his "solution" is to prevent research, and in effect to enforce the current "natural" lifespan, which isn't much older than 60 or 70, on average. So, depending on how you look at it, he is in favor of Huxley's world!

Posted by: Jay Fox at July 21, 2004 12:47 PM

I'm not sure why we should accept without question that a progressively longer lifespan is a good. Certainly, it may be, but why is that the default position?

Posted by: Aaron Deacon at September 8, 2004 10:16 AM

It's more the case that prevention of involuntary death is good: if we accept that prevention of involuntary death through accident or disease is good - which I think that most of us do - then we must also accept that prevention of involuntary death by aging is good.

Posted by: Reason at September 8, 2004 11:42 AM

It seems you have all missed the point. Far be it from me to lecture or attempt to enlighten you (I don't have the time and I doubt you have the capacity to endure it), but allow me to feel sorry for you. I think you may want to read up on what you claim to be criticizing because not one of you has addressed the point Kass is trying to make. You may also try reading one or two of the books he cites; after all, it couldn't hurt to broaden your horizons with some of the lessons from human history. I guess maybe I should have looked at the website I was posting on before I got upset, huh?

Posted by: Tom at October 26, 2004 10:22 PM

Do NOT engage the likes of Kass or Fukuyama with words. Engage them with money. Make a donation to the MPrize or any other anti-aging research any time their names appear. The more money we put into anti-aging research, the more likely it will produce fruit. Even if we die waiting for a cure, we will at least die for a cause. Future generations will reap the benefits. Future generations will Kass and Fukuyama for the evil men they are.

Ideologues become dangerous only when the masses take them seriously.

Leon Kass has actually condemned the licking an ice cream cone as "a catlike activity that has been made acceptable in informal America but that still offends those who know eating in public is offensive."

""AS stated, Kass finds wisdom in the Book of Genesis. For example, he has more than once given a lecture on the Tower of Babel story, in which he argues that the "sky-scraping tower" has to fall because it implies a secular form of society. (Even brick-making suggests the arrogant use by humans of divine POWER.""


Or consider Kass’ position on a pill to blunt psychological trauma, like rape or combat:
http://www.comcast.net/news/health/index.jsp?cat=HEALTHWELLNESS&fn=/2006/01/14/304008.html

Chairman Leon Kass contended that painful memories serve a purpose and are part of the human experience.



People learn to play the cards they are dealt. We accept aging because aging is all we know.

For thousands of years many accepted the inability to fly. The Wright brothers did not. Now we take aviation for granted.

We have been attempting to conquer death since time began.
Every medical advance since the Stone Age has been an attempt to cheat death.

As long as we wait for government approval instead of acting, we waste time.

It is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Keep in mind that organ transplants and in vitro fertilization once induced fear. Now they are almost non-controversial. The same is true with anti-aging research. Frankly, I would rather make anti-aging a reality, and die defending the right to use it, as opposed to giving Kass and Fukuyama credit and simply dying.

Western Union issued its last telegram in January 2006. Telegrams have been obsolete technology for decades, but it took some time for them to be declared “officially” relics.
Kass and Fukuyama are like telegrams. They are already relics. They just don’t know it yet.

So Kass and Fukuyama oppose us. Let's GIVE them something to oppose. Let's push the MPrize into tens or hundreds of millions of dollars.

Time will prove Kass and Fukuyama to be wrong. The more WE put our money where our mouths are, the SOONER that time will come.

The Senescence Worshippers cannot hurt us unless we let them.

Be prepared to show Kass and Fukuyama that one cannot simultaneously be pro-life and anti-lifespan extension.

Be prepared to show President Bush that one cannot simultaneously
be pro-life and anti-lifespan extension.

Be prepared to show the American people that the Bioethics Council is anti-life. Make the people realize that following Kass and Fukuyama means giving government the right to decide how long a person can live. If that isn't totalitarianism, what is?


Wisdom does not come with time. Wisdom comes from experience. Experience often comes from making mistakes.

Do not listen to the critics. Just move anti-aging forward.

Posted by: Adam at February 19, 2006 2:37 PM

Aaron: It isn't the default position. If you'll look to the majority of people, many due to their religious or lack of lust for life, lack of caring, or destructive attitudes, don't value life, much less a long one. "I'd rather die" is a common phrase, attributed to not only atrocities like murdering innocents, but to simple changes like engaging in alternative lifestyles, befriending a group, getting wrinkles, or lessening in height. Even such people, however, even if they don't want to do the work for it, or wish to risk fostering hope for it, often have vague ideas that 'yeah, if I didn't have to get old, I'd live longer' and only wish for death because they associate time with aging and suffering.

Tom: Do lecture in an attempt to enlighten us. It is much better received than insulting superior pitying flung saying we can't comprehend it, ones you can't possibly back up without arguing your points.

Adam: I actually agree with Kass on that point but I would certainly not ban the pain-pill, just not take it myself. Far be it from me to necessitate my arrogant desire for rough experience on others who don't desire it. I may as well spank my children to toughen them up for the wiles of life. I think society has what it takes to advance beyond that point now, where we can lead by example, and the children will 'spank' themself by indulging in good hard work on their own whims, if we inspire others of their merits. Otherwise, it is oppression.

Posted by: Tyciol at September 2, 2006 3:39 PM

We live in a culture which is in a bit of an ironic battle: we want to increase our wellness and health to any degree and measure that we can. On the other side though, we are more than willing to end a life which is determined to be no longer "worthy of living." Wellness and health have become the standards by which we judge the greatness and worth of a person. I agree that wellness and being healthy are very important and necessary, but often times we take that to an extreme in this culture. Now with regards to Leon Kass's views, I think the article "Leon Kass, Mystic" is very erroneous in its attempts to bring about the true thought and meaning of what Dr. Kass believes about aging. For the author to claim that "Kass would - if he personally had the power - cheerfully ban research and medicine that extended the healthy life span" is simply erroneous. His comments are being taken completely out of context. Remember, this guy is a physician, researcher, teacher, and is no idiot. His points, if read closer, are very similar to Pope Benedict XVI's points in his recent encyclical Spe Salvi. The question is: why would you want to live so long? What if we could have medical technology help us live to be 170? 200 years old? Would we really want that? If I said that I would not want to live passed 100 years old, does that mean that I am devoid of reality? When we are constantly bombarded with this "we must live longer" mentality, it actually makes the prospect of aging and death quite fearful. Life becomes more joyful and beautiful when we understand that life is not something we can try to manipulate for our own selfish desires; it is a gift that has been given to us. Dr. Kass is helping us think about the limitations of science, but the culture wants to say "there are no limits to science," and that is when we pose a serious threat to ourselves and the world. Dr. Kass is trying to emphasize that health and wellness are good things (for he never states that they are not and should be done away with), but we can take this point to the extreme and abuse it. Anything which is good can be taken to the extreme and become that which is not so good. Chocolate cake is great and I love it. If I have to much of it and indulge in it, I get very sick and end up despising it. The same is applied in this situation.

Posted by: Mr. Jones at January 20, 2008 12:49 AM

Reason's comment that "Kass' view of reality comes from ancient texts and his own feelings - as opposed to studying the world around him." seems to imply that Dr. Kass is either ignorant of or deliberately rejects a more modern (and thus presumably correct?) interpretation of the world and our place within it.

I would suggest that a more generous view might be that the essential issues separating Dr. Kass and Reason are issues that have been debated amongst men of wisdom for millenia and that perhaps we can build upon the works of those before us.

Of course, Dr. Kass's background from the University of Chicago and his years as a tutor at St. John's College in Annapolis provide a deep background in the Classics that he might as well use. That same background in the Classics may well provide some of the foundation for Dr. Kass's views as well. The St. John's College program in the Classics (the "Great Books" program) was developed at the University of Chicago by Mortimer Adler, Jacob Klein, Scott Buchanan, Robert Hutchins, and Stringfellow Barr and features a mandatory program of study focusing on the development of Western thought and culture by reading the original works of philosophy, theology, mathematics, science, music, poetry, and literature. (Full disclosure: I attended St. John's College).

The debate between Reason and Dr. Kass is a replay of a fundamental debate that has echoed throughout Western philosophy for generations. Dr. Kass appears to be heavily influenced by the philosophy derived from the German phenomenological tradition, as were most of the founders of the New Program at St. John's College. Edmund Husserl's Cartesianism appears to be the rather fixed foundation of Dr. Kass's arguments, which might be summarized as: "The philosopher’s quest is for truly scientific knowledge, knowledge for which he can assume … complete responsibility by using his own absolutely self-evident justifications." (Husserl, 1929).

Reason's arguments follow Martin Heidigger's rejection of Husserl's Cartesianism by contesting the fundamental concepts of consciousness, experience, and subjectivity. And indeed, much of the advances of modern science and medicine do, I believe, follow from that same rejection of Descartes's immanent subjectivism.

While I may be expounding on details tangential to the subject in discussion here, I am simply trying to respond to Reason's arguments:

"Perhaps I'm getting a little off on a tangent, but an appeal to ancient texts seems to support transhumanists more than it supports bio-luddites.

Anyway, my first point was that Kass's appeal to literature is completely ridiculous."

by first agreeing with Reason on the essence of his argument against Dr. Kass's position, and second, disagreeing with Reason that an appeal to literature is ridiculous.

This is not an idle issue. Dr. Kass continues to promulgate a perspective best summarized by a phrase from his recent article in Commentary Magazine ("Science, Religion, and the Human Future", April, 2007): "Modern scientific reason is an immensely powerful tool that can explain only a narrow sliver of our existence."

We, both as individuals who support and hope to benefit from the technical advances in modern science applied to medicine and specifically to the extension of a healthy, vigourous lifespan, and as a society based on principles of individual liberty, are constantly confronted by those who not only oppose these views but who would impose their views upon us by force if necessary. Thus we resist by force of arms the murderous advances of traditionalist Islamic philosphy on the one hand just as we need to argue against the application of the principles of Cartesian immanence upon scientific and medical policy on the other hand.

In short, while I tend to agree with Reason's position, I would also tend to disagree with any argument that falls back into ad hominem attacks in a debate that can, and has been, argued by men of honor and reason. That said, however, I do find it interesting that Dr. Kass's position has changed over the years, discarding his early acceptance of Darwinian emergent evolution and moving towards the view that "by pursuing physical health as the greatest of human goods, we will inevitably end up sacrificing the moral and spiritual goods that give meaning and dignity to our lives." (First Things, “L’Chaim and Its Limits: Why Not Immortality?” May 2001).

I find this worrisome. I do not see this dichotomy and I do not share this conclusion, yet I share the recognition of the importance of the "moral and spiritual goods". How we reconcile these issues is crucial to the health and well-being, both physical and spritual, of all of us and we need to debate these philosophical issues in a reasonable manner before positions harden so implacably that only guns and bombs can resolve the issue.

Which is not to say that guns and bombs are not effective, but they are rather limiting from the perspective of life extension. Or, in other words, rational discourse is a reasonable approach with men of intelligence and reason like Dr. Kass, but how do we apply the benefits of modern medicine to the residents of Burma or Zimbabwe without the application of force? If you would override the opposition of the generals in Burma by force or the implied threat of force, to provide relief in the Irawaddy Delta (I'm not saying anyone would, I'm just asking a hypothetical question), would that be any different from the forcible imposition of regulations banning medical research into life extension?


Posted by: Alexander Ward at May 12, 2008 4:15 PM
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