BIOETHICS: Blackford versus Somerville

From: Russell Blackford (
Date: Wed Jul 18 2001 - 04:21:46 MDT

I hope I got the above subject line protocol right.

As I alluded to in a post last week, I am currently involved in a public
debate with Australian-Canadian bioethicist and prominent neo-Luddite,
Margaret Somerville, whose book ,_The Ethical Canary_ attacks all forms of
cloning and embryo experimentation (among other things).

I responded to her book with an article of well over 5000 words in
_Quadrant_ (a well-known, controversial, supposedly "right-wing"
intellectual journal here in Australia). Last week, Somerville retaliated
with a defence of her position almost as long, also in _Quadrant_.

None of this material is yet available on the net, though _Quadrant_ is
moving to establish a site which will contain an archive of material that it
has published in the past few years.

I feel I need to respond to Somerville, so I'll submit something to
_Quadrant_ and see whether they take it, or whether (as would be
understandable) they've had enough of the issue for now. I've been putting
my left-over energies from the day job into this during the past few days
and I look like coming up with something of about 3000 to 4000 words.

I'm giving all this detail of the history and the size of the various pieces
to put you all off. :-) You might not be able to make much sense of what I
write without having read this earlier material, or some of it. That caveat
stated, I'm finding how tricky it is answering someone who uses motherhood
statements such as "we should have a deep respect for life in all its forms
and manifestations" as a starting point for philosophical argument. I think
this is pretty much irrationalist nonsense, at least in the way that I
understand Somerville intends it (eg, she seems to think we must show
reverence to embryos, so we can't ethically do stem cell research). However,
attempting to debunk it runs the risk of alienating some readers, for whom
it may sound very sonerous and attractive.

Accordingly, despite the above warnings about context etc, I'd welcome any
comments on the piece when I've completed an initial draft. It'll be too
long to post out to the list as an attachment and clutter you all up, and
you don't *all* want to read it anyway. Besides, I don't like spraying
drafts around in a more-or-less public forum. However, if anyone in addition
to Damien (whom I'll try it out on routinely) wants to contact me either to
have a quick look at the thing and comment (ask only if you could turn it
around in a day or two) or just discuss how these situations are best
handled, I'd be appreciative. In fact, I'd also be interested to kick around
the more general issue on the list.


Russell Blackford
writer philosopher lawyer transhumanist
Active Member: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)
Member: Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA)

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