Playing God? The ethics of biomedicine

Tuesday 28 October, 18.30 until 20.30, Main Hall, Cross Street Chapel, Cross Street, Manchester M2 1NL UK Satellite Events 2014

Tickets £5/4 concessions,  via Eventbrite

Over the past decade, dramatic advances have been made in synthetic biotechnology, neuroscience and digital technology. Engineers of brain computer interfaces predict headbands that will deliver digitally enhanced cognition, letting us talk without speaking, see round corners, and drive just by thinking about it. In 2010, Craig Venter made headlines with his (partially) synthetic cell, and, as he plans to patent an entire manmade lifeform in the future, work continues on the creation of smaller DNA constructs known as bioparts. This year a man in Austria voluntarily had a (damaged) hand amputated so he could be fitted with a bionic limb controlled by brain signals. Stem cell science and synthetic biology bring the prospect of replacing flesh with ‘synthetic skin’ rather than creating crude cyborgs.

Yet while futurists and transhumanists talk excitedly about the possibilities of biomedical enhancement, there is considerable ambivalence about such advances across wider society: the so-called ‘yuck factor.’ Ethics committees and ‘public dialogues’ have risen in prominence in recent decades partly to tackle public fears about the impacts of experimentation in controversial areas such as mitochondrial exchange, acting as a significant check on its development in the UK. Even on a prosaic level there is little popular enthusiasm to allow the use of performance enhancing technologies in sport while Google Glass seems to be met with scepticism even from ardent technophiles. In last year’s documentary How To Build a Bionic Man, psychologist Dr Bertolt Meyer even raised privacy concerns around his robotic prosthesis being ‘hacked’ and urged for careful regulation of future developments.

Why is there such a seeming gulf between the possibilities presented by biomedical advancements and the anxieties over their long-term impacts? How should society balance the future ethical questions raised by scientific experimentation when the science itself may be a long way behind? Can the ‘yuck factor’ be overcome simply through better public engagement or does it reflect the difficult moral questions such advances raise? What role does morality, democracy and the actual science play?

Dr Anna Bergqvist
lecturer in philosophy, Manchester Metropolitan University

Professor Steve Fuller
Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology, University of Warwick

Professor Andy Miah
chair in science communication & digital media, University of Salford

Dr Sorcha Uí Chonnachtaigh
lecturer in ethics and law, Keele University

Craig Fairnington
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; university finance and accommodation officer

Produced by
Simon Belt IT consultant; coordinator, Manchester Salon

follow the Academy of Ideas


Keep up to date with Academy of Ideas news and events by joining our mailing list.

in association with