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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Transhumanist Accusations

George Dvorsky has written extensively about science and technology. He is on the Board of Directors of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and co-founder of the Toronto Transhumanist Association. Much of what he writes I disagree with--especially what he wrote about the Ashley Treatment earlier this year. Here I refer to his contention that Ashley X existence was grotesque because she had the mind of a baby inside the body of a full grown and fertile woman. Dvorsky's dehumanizing view of Ashley X led to the belief that mental age and body size were somehow connected.

Based on my previous posts and published articles about the Ashley Treatment, I obviously diagree with Dvorsky. Yet I was stunned by his most recent comments about the Ashley Treatment and the death of Daniel Gunther. On October 11 in Sentient Development, Dvorsky's blog, he noted that one person posted a comment on a MSNBC message board that maintained the Ashley Treatment was offensive and perverse. This view, Divorsky wrote, was seconded by disability rights groups, a fact that was "particularly upsetting for me, not just beause I supported Gunther during the controvery, but because of the possibility that his suicide was wrought by the undue pressure exacted on him by overzealous and vocal disability groups".

The above accusation is nothing short of gross. It has no basis in fact--Gunther's family maintans the Ashley X Case had nothing to do with his death (they point to a prolonged struggle with depression). To blame disability rights activists for Gunther's death is an exploitative smear tactic. Dvorsky's reasoning dimminshes Gunther's life to be about one case when I am sure it was far richer and diverse--a fact the family can affirm and to whom my heart goes out to.


Linda Edwards said...

Yes, I think the recent press about Gunther's life diminishes him.
However, it has been widely reported in the press that the medical ethics committee, of which Gunther was part of, were torn by doubt and uncertainty in their deliberations about the treatment. It seems reasonable to think that this doubt about whether it was right to proceed with the "treatment" compounded Gunther's depression. I've already posted at length about this - but briefly, I think the presence of doubt in their ethical deliberations is not a failing but rather it tells us that for a moment at least, the committee could have decided not to go ahead with the treatment. Their doubt and uncertainty provides an opening for a discussion about ethical deliberations and decisions, and how a committee should proceed in a climate of uncertainty. I'm wondering what an ethical relationship between self and other, in this case, Ashley and her doctors, would look like, and what form it would take, if its starting point was that of vulnerability, doubt and uncertainty, rather that certainty.

william Peace said...

Thanks for the thoughtfu post. I think we can respectfully disagree with regard to the reasons why Gunther committed sucide. The big issue that has not been addressed is one you mention: the formation, deliberation, and decision making strageies employed by ethics committees. Are such committees made up exclusively of MDs? Do these committees have real power in the medical community? When an ethics committee is undecided or unable to come up with a general consensus what action, if any, do they take? To me, the real wild card is the ethics committees. I worry they are filled with men and women like Dvorsky who have a very particular viewpoint one that is at odds with the disability rights community. These committtees must consist of men and women who are not only open minded but willing to think about the social implications of medical decisions. To me, this is where the Ethics Committtee in Seattle failed.

Unknown said...


An incidental Internet search brought you to my inbox.. Somehow, my own Life being what it is, I had completely missed this extremely unfortunate turn of events in the Ashley X case.. Much as I very much disagreed with how Ashley was treated, this was certainly the last that should ever have occurred..

That [ethics boards] are full of "Dvorskys" terrifies me..

That they do not consult with the community most affected by the forever future ramifications of this type of action, the so-named "Ashley Treatments" et al, terrifies me, saddens me even more.......

What it's going to take, I don't know.. Think my dear, dear friends are on the right track, though.. Non-violent civil actions inspired by those of the earlier civil rights movement.. Strength of self-determination within the disability community is growing exponentially by the moment..

Best wishes with your book..

Cyber hugs from Talking Rock..