When debating the views and opinions of Leon Kass, chair of the President's Council of Bioethics, it's rather hard to get past the point at which he says he wants to use government power to ensure medical technology for healthy life extension is never developed or used. While there may or may not be wonderous subtleties and interesting points being made, they're being made in the service of arguing for legislated murder. We can debate differences all we like, but using state power to enforce bans on the use of healthy life extension technologies is a form of murder, condemning millions to slow, painful death by age-related degeneration that they could otherwise have avoided. So you can see that after a man says "I would like to ensure that you die" it is somewhat hard to continue to treat anything he says with dignity and gravitas.
You say he's on the side of life? I say he's on the side of life as he knows it, as he has chosen to define it. And he doesn't think anyone should try to change that definition. Bad Things might happen. I don't believe that. Doubling the human lifespan would not be a Bad Thing. Do you believe that, Daniel? You know that he believes that. What's worse, he wants to Do Something about it. Am I making a bad call here? Honestly? If you think I'm misreading him, it's hard for me to see how. Shorn from context, words can be twisted, but that technique only takes you so far. I think that I am reading him loud and clear.
Now tell the truth. If there were a pill that could add ten healthy years to your life, wouldn't you take it? No icky pieces of embryos, no religious proscriptions or anguished moral dilemmas, just a simple magical pill, guaranteed to work. So would you? Would you want your girlfriend to take it too? How about your Dad, or your Mom, or Best Friend or Dog?
Would you ever tell those people that they shouldn't take it? Just how well would that go over, anyway?
And let's say the ten years go by, and it's time to take the pill again. Do you have qualms? He does.
And again, ten years after that, can you picture yourself as saying "Dad, wait! Don't do it! Doctor Kass says you have to wither for us to flourish fully! Mom, please stop and think! I'm worried about the whole human race here!"
Put that way, how ridiculous do these Kassian musings begin to sound? Think concretely. Think simply. We are talking about real people's real lives. Some of them may be people you know. If you are out on your own now, getting an education, making a living, wooing and winning, do your parents really have to wither and die to validate your life?
I am genuinely curious.
My point here is that the personal will trump the theoretical almost every time. Barring the odd fanatic, of course. Got a sick wife? You'll want that pill. Got a failing favorite aunt? You'll want that pill.
Even if you think it's "bad for society", you'll want that pill. Forego the pill and you will still be far, far outnumbered by the shallow, thoughtless people like me who don't care for philosophy. We'll want that pill.
(Though replace "pill" with "medical intervention" for a better reflection of the likely near future reality of working anti-aging medicine). This particular exchange surfaced as a result of Kass' latest initiative - noted in a piece at Tech Central Station - aimed at banning biotechnologies he finds offensive. Most of these relate in some way to medical research that will extend the healthy human life span, at least incidentally, which goes a long way towards explaining Kass' opposition - as Virginia Postrel noted recently:
I've long argued that there are two completely distinct worldviews here: one (the traditional zygotes-are-persons view) that supports the end (longer, healthier lives) but not the means (embryo research) and another (the Kass view) that opposes the end and, only incidentally, the means (embryo research). If there's one thing Leon Kass isn't, it's pro-life.