[ExI] Medical power of attorney for cryonicsts
anders at aleph.se
Sun Dec 7 13:43:50 UTC 2014
Ben <bbenzai at yahoo.com> , 7/12/2014 12:20 PM:
So what is the point of all these ethics panels?
Moan, C. E., & Heath, R. G. (1972). Septal stimulation for the initiation of heterosexual behavior in a homosexual male. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 3(1), 23-30.
ABSTRACT A 24-year-old male, overt homosexual, repeatedly hospitalized for chronic suicidal depression and found to have temporal lobe epilepsy, underwent a program of septal stimulation which resulted in subjectively reported and behaviorally observed states of pleasure, euphoria, relaxation, confidence, and sexual motivation. These responses were subsequently used to initiate heterosexual arousal and behavior. The findings have important implications for the treatment of some psychological disorders.
Dr Robert Heath and his team at Tulane University did a series of experiments with deep brain stimulation in the limbic system of human patients in the 60s and 70s. In this case they put electrodes into the "pleasure areas" of a gay depressed epileptic drug user which perked him up remarkably, and then they hired a prostitute to have sex with him. Success! And a follow up publication about the subcortical EEG during orgasm! OK, the patient seems to have been discharged (sans implant) and returned to a life as a hustler, but he *did* have an affair with a married woman. See http://blog.ketyov.com/2011/08/self-stimulating-brain-for-heterosexual.html for more fun quotes, and the story about Dr Heath's taraxein experiments on prisoners.
An IRB is intended to be a safeguard against this kind of stuff. Having some outsiders look at your research proposal and ask questions (like "How does this help the patient?") does wonders most of the time to stop craziness, even if they are not brilliant ethicists. *Most of the time*, mind you - they let through Kawaoka's gain-of-function BSL2 flu research. Ethics boards can be annoying when you are pushing the boundaries (hear me moan about ethics boards not approving observational studies of students taking enhancers), bureaucratic (they slowed down my project several *months*!) and they can get staffed with opinionated know-nothings. But 99% of what passes through them is also entirely ordinary and they filter out the dumb stuff.
One problem is when the medical board approach gets applied in other domains. Modern psychology cannot do many of the classic experiments because of naive application of principles (I am not talking about the Milgram obedience experiment, but simply deceiving test subjects), and the boards are showing up in other disciplines and are just making up principles as they go along - bad ethics, very much make-work for bureaucratically minded people who don't do research.
And who should be
making decisions about things like whether it's right or wrong to allow
parents to select the sex of their children, etc.?
Ethicists are clearly no good for this, because all they can do is study
and clarify the various positions, from different theoretical points of
view. Individual people are no good, because these things don't just
affect individuals. "Ethicists" are no good, because they are more
interested in pushing a specific agenda than making considered
decisions. Who is left?
There are two kinds of decisions here: whether it is right or wrong to do X, and whether we should let doctor H do is experiment. The first is ethics and might be hard to resolve; sometimes societies come to a consensus (and then the second decision is easy), but the interesting questions are those where views conflict. The second is *helped* by a good discussion among people who look into the issue - having a few representatives of the stakeholders, a few ethicists, and a few neutral parties trying to answer whether doctor H's experiment is a good idea is way better than having either of the component groups just make the decision.
The basic idea is the classic/enlightenment thought that having people discuss things leads to better decisions. Not true in all domains, but since much of deciding is also about finding a compromise between prevalent views a discussion does make sense. A good ethics board does this, while a bad one is just a platform for some consensus.
Anders Sandberg, Future of Humanity Institute Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University
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