The biohacking movement has come under increased scrutiny after the death of one of its best-known members last month.
Alan Traywick, 28, died in a spa in Washington DC on April 29. It is suspected that he took a dose of the drug Ketamine, lost consciousness and drowned. Traywick gained worldwide notoriety last February after injecting himself with a highly experimental herpes treatment in front of an aghast audience at a biohacking conference in Austin, Texas.
While Traywick’s death was not directly related to a biohacking stunt, the debate has intensified over whether biohacking -- body modification and augmentation with the aim of gaining enhanced abilities -- should be subject to strict regulation. Other biohacking stunts have included DIY biologists injecting themselves with CRISPR and with experimental HIV treatments.
Speaking to the New York Times, Harvard biologist George Church said that synthetic biologists should be closely monitored: “Anyone who does synthetic biology should be under surveillance, and anyone who does it without a license should be suspect.”
“If you really want to do this, there isn’t a whole lot stopping you,” said Dr. Thomas V. Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.
Yet not all of the scientific community is concerned. University of Queensland biologist Kostas Vavitsas believes that the biohacking movement is capable of “self-regulation”.
“I don’t think that biohackers need a licence; they need to be encouraged and allowed to cultivate transparency and a sense of responsibility within their communities. And so far they are doing a great job”.
Sunday, May 27, 2018
Ireland, which was once Europe’s most socially conservative nation, has voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment to its constitution in order to permit abortion. The vote was roughly 2 to 1 in favour of change, with nearly the whole country supporting it. Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar reassured No voters. “Ireland will still be the same country today as it was before, just a little more tolerant, open and respectful.”
The legalisation of abortion comes hard on the heels of the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2015. Together they suggest that Ireland is not the same country, at least not compared to 1983, when the Eighth Amendment was passed by a 2 to 1 margin. It is obvious that the country has “changed, changed utterly” in a single generation – although people will differ on whether this signals a “terrible beauty” or a terrible shame.
What is responsible for the turnabout? The decline in the prestige and power of the Catholic Church, which once was synonymous with Irish culture, surely has something to do with it. But there must be other reasons as well, as Ireland is simply treading the well-worn path towards secularisation which has swept across Western Europe. It’s worthwhile trying to understand the dynamics of the change, as the rise of bioethics itself is part of that secularisation. Otherwise we – Ireland and the rest of us – will fail to understand ourselves.
One example of the narrative which is being used to explain the referendum result is the image of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian migrant who died after asking for an abortion in 2012. It was used to show what happens to women who are denied their reproductive rights. However, abortion had nothing to do with her tragic death, a government investigation concluded in 2014. Instead, it was a perfect storm of medical negligence.
“We have voted to look reality in the eye and we did not blink," says Mr Varadkar about the referendum result. If he meant by these self-congratulatory words that Ireland is no longer living in a world of delusion and lies, he has obviously spoken too soon.
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