Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Human Dignity

Biomedicine -- like business -- is often criticized as a dehumanizing enterprise. Indeed, the two fields often overlap, with biomedical products researched, produced and distributed by for-profit companies.

The arguments against biomedicine rest on a campaign for human dignity. But behind those noble-sounding words stands an effort to control a stunning variety of peaceful human behaviors.

In The New Republic, psychologist Stephen Pinker of Harvard explains how political attempts to limit biomedical research in the name of human dignity have taken a bizarre and authoritarian turn. Who knew licking an ice cream cone in public was beneath human dignity?

Two excerpts:

"The price of freedom is tolerating behavior by others that may be undignified by our own lights. I would be happy if Britney Spears and "American Idol" would go away, but I put up with them in return for not having to worry about being arrested by the ice-cream police. This trade-off is very much in America's DNA and is one of its great contributions to civilization: my country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty."


"In a free society, one cannot empower the government to outlaw any behavior that offends someone just because the offendee can pull a hypothetical future injury out of the air. No doubt Mao, Savonarola, and Cotton Mather could provide plenty of reasons why letting people do what they wanted would lead to the breakdown of society."

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