Albert Camus – Notebooks 1935 – 1942

The peculiar vanity of man, who wants to believe and who wants other people to believe that he is seeking after truth, when in fact it is love that he is asking the world to give him.

Human Head Transplant

With the approach of 2017, we look at Canavero’s mad ambition to replace a human head with another. His “franken” leap in medical science will take place in China as the West frets over ethical issues, amongst other concerns. Not only will it be the most expensive surgery, it will also be a long and costly, mind-boggling road to recovery.

Regarding this controversial attempt at playing God, there are several concerns, one of which he seemed to have replied with nonchalance.

1. If the recipient later fathers a child, will the child be his? Canavero replied candidly that it simply would not be his. In fact, he delighted over the fact that the donor would be able to have a descendent, posthumously. One can already forsee legal and sociological problems. Yet, how different is it from men who adopt, or father a child from his spouse’s previous marriage/relationship? 

2. Is the cost of surgery and recovery care justifiable? In answer, we ask “Is the cost of sending men to space justifiable?” For the progression of Science and increment of possibilities and opportunities, yes.

3. If successful, how does a man’s need for a body trump the needs of a few others? The fact that the entire body will be transplanted to a head will necessarily deny others of lungs, heart, liver, etc. The recipients of organs are determined by the urgency of their need, and the viability of the transplantation. In accordance with this sound medical practice, the tetraplegic/paraplegic will not get his turn, especially when the transplantation of body is more likely to fail than transplantation of a single organ. 

4. Is this a head or body transplantation? What is transplanted is technically the head, according to the surgical plan of decapitation and reattachment. However, as the mind controls all bodily functions, it can be said that the head has received a new body. Furthermore, the purpose of the surgery is to offer physical movement to tetraplegics/paraplegics. Hence, it may be argued that this is a body transplantation.

Tell me about genes

An excerpt from The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee:

Morgan began to breed flies sometime around 1905. A year later, he was breeding maggots by the thousands, in milk bottles filled with rotting fruit in a third-floor laboratory at Columbia University. Bunches of overripe bananas hung from sticks. The smell of fermented fruit was overpowering, and a haze of escaped flies lifted off the tables like a buzzing veil every time Morgan moved. The students called his laboratory the Fly Room.

Like Mendel, Morgan began by identifying heritable traits. Did fruit flies have mutations as well? By scoring thousands of flies under the microscope, he began to catalog dozens of mutant flies. A rare white-eyed fly appeared spontaneously among typically red-eyed flies. The mutants would prove crucial to experiments: only the outliers could illuminate the nature of normal heredity.

Between 1910 and 1912, Morgan and his students crossed thousands of fruit fly mutants with each other. The result of each cross was meticulously recorded: white-eyed, sable-coloured, bristled, short-winged. When Morgan examined these crosses, he found a surprising pattern: some genes acted as if they were “linked” to each other. The gene responsible for creating white eyes, for instance, was inescapably linked to the Y chromosome: no matter how Morgan crossed his flies, the white-eyed trait tracked with that chromosome. Similarly the gene for sable colour was linked with the gene that specified the shape of a wing.

Morgan’s experiments had established that genes that were physically linked to each other on the same chromosome were inherited together. If the gene that produces blue eyes is linked to a gene that  produces blond hair, then children with blond hair will inevitably tend to inherit blue eyes. However, occasionally, a gene could unlink itself from its partner genes and swap places from the paternal chromosome to the maternal chromosome, resulting in a rare blue-eyed, dark-haired child.

It is fascinating to learn that gene theory was found amidst the buzz of fruit flies!

Ethics – Sanctity of Life

An excerpt from Practical Ethics by Peter Singer:

If we base the right to life on characteristics such as capacity for self-awareness, ability to plan for the future and have meaningful relations with others; we must grant some animals a right to life as good as, or better than retarded or senile humans. 

One may conversely say that severely retarded and hopelessly senile have no right to life and may be killed for quite trivial reasons, as we now kill animals.

Having recently watched Children of Darkness (1983) and When a Mother’s Love is Not Enough (2009), I have a few questions:

  1. Should parents be allowed to euthanise their severely disabled child?  Most severely disabled children suffer extensive and endless physical pain, and never have the mental capacity to comprehend what they’re going through. Furthermore, families bear huge medical costs, and suffer emotionally, mentally and physically. Euthanasia will relieve both the child and his/her family.
  2. What is life/living?  In my opinion, life is little worth living without the ability to think. Yet, what level of mental capacity is sufficient to make living worthwhile? Who is to set the bar?
  3. Is the slippery slope argument a strong one? Many have argued against euthanasia as the criterion may become increasingly lax, allowing parents to end the lives of less severely disabled children. As the line between mercy killing and killing blurs, it becomes problematic to govern society. In this regard, I wish to differ as I believe that a system of checks and balances can be set up to ensure that the strictest criterion has been met before grant of application. In Netherlands, the Groningen Protocol sets out directives with criteria under which doctors can perform child euthanasia without fear of legal prosecution. The termination of a child’s life (under age 12) is acceptable if 4 requirements were properly fulfilled: (a) presence of hopeless and unbearable suffering (b) consent of the parents (c) medical consultation  had taken place (d) careful execution of termination.
  4. Should child euthanasia be limited to children under 12 years of age? Many adults, by reason of illness or accident, suffer to be like children again and return to the care of their parents. Without formerly expressing their will for withdrawal of life support under such circumstances, most continue the rest of their lives in palliative care. To these adults, what is living? or rather, what was living? To their parents, is there a solution?

Zen Buddhism in Fiction

I quote at length, wisdom with hints of zen buddhism from Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance. For those who doubt the value of reading fantasy novels, the following shall prove them wrong.

“Why?”

“Because,” Ym said, “you and I are One.”

“One what?”

“One being,” Ym said. He set aside that shoe and got out another. “Long ago, there was only One. One knew everything, but had experienced nothing. And so, One became many – us, people. The One, who is both male and female, did so to experience all things.”

“One. You mean God?”

“If one wish to say it that way,” Ym said. “But it is not completely true. I accept no god. You should accept no god. We are Iriali, and part of the Long Trail, of which this is the Fourth Land.”

“You sound like a priest.”

“Accept no priests either,” Ym said. “Those are from other lands, come to preach to us. Iriali need no preaching, only experience. As each experience is different, it brings completeness. Eventually, all will be gathered back in – when the Seventh Land is attained – and we once again become One.”

“So you an’ me…” the urchin said. “Are the same?”

“Yes. Two minds of a single being experiencing different lives.”

“That’s stupid.”

“It is simply a matter of perspective,” Ym said, dusting the boy’s feet with powder and slipping back on a pair of the test shoes.

“The things you’re talking about,” the boy said. “They sound dumb to me. I mean, if we’re all the same person, shouldn’t everyone know this already?”

“As One, we knew truth,” Ym said, “but as many, we need ignorance. We exist in variety to experience all kinds of thought. That means some of us must know and others must not – just like some must be rich, and others must be poor.”