I have been reflecting some more on the Albany bioethics conference. I think that R. Alta Charo’s Friday lunch keynote address, in which she worried about “the endarkenment” of bioethics (allegedly due to “neoconservative” influence), is worth mentioning. I didn’t take notes, but the primary cause of her alarm seems to be the assertion by “conservatives” that human beings are a special species–human exceptionalism, if you will–with this blog and yours truly specifically referenced by Charo as an example of the problem. The assertion that (in my words) human life has intrinsic value simply and merely because it is human, Charo contended, leads to oppression because we endarkeners seek to suppress “novel” ideas generated by scientific research demonstrating that humans are (again in my words) merely another animal in the forest. Thus, we endarkeners strive to prevent human cloning and other scientific inquiry because we fear that new discoveries will knock humanity off of the pedestal of exceptionalism. In this view, Charo echoed advocacy by many prominent transhumanists.
The remedy she touted to prevent the dark forces from suppressing new views of human life and human worth is a constitutional right to conduct science. (I have repeatedly warned on this blog and elsewhere that the intellectual foundation is currently being laid for such a claim.)
It is interesting how both sides of the bioethics divide are coming to view the nub of the debate in strikingly similar ways. I disagree with Charo that advocacy for human exceptionalism constitutes an “endarkenment.” To the contrary, I see HE as the necessary foundation for universal human rights. But I do believe that she has put her thumb on the fundamental issue.