Chris Mooney Interviews Arthur Caplan (.mp3)

There’s a podcast of an interview between Chris Mooney and Arthur Caplan available here; Caplan is talking about bioethics having “come of age”.  He’s talking about the history of the US bioethics councils under Bush and Obama, and about how the focus of the President’s Council now is more policy-driven than being concerned by “deep” philosophy (from around 6:45).  He says that the Bush council could be charged with being “too” philosophical, and that the Obama version has turned 180 degrees towards policy.  He seems to think that this is a good thing.

I don’t get it.  Even if you think there was too much philosophy under Bush’s council – I don’t, though there might well have been too much bad philosophy – the remedy isn’t to have just as much policy under the current regime.  And I don’t see how you can have policy without at least taking notice of “deep” philosophy.  Even if you think that philosophy without policy is frictionless spinning in a void – and what’s wrong with that, then? – policy without philosophy seems to be potentially scattergun at best, if not outright incoherent.

Caplan then moves on to Obamacare, and the cost of drugs in the US, suggesting (from about 10:00) that health reform needs to be complemented with a hard look at drug pricing.  He makes a good point about Palin’s “death panels”, and how if you take the idea seriously you have to take seriously the claim that they exist already in America, in the form of the insurance companies.  By about 14:00 he’s moved on to physician assisted suicide, and how the doomsayers really haven’t been proved correct (quelle surprise).

At 16:00, the conversation turns to pharmacists’ right to refuse the morning-after pill for reasons of conscience; Caplan’s claim is that conscience issues are trumped by patient rights.  (On which topic, have a look at this.  Yowzer.)

He’s not optimistic about the future of stem cell research in the States, largely because – he thinks – of the number of legislative literalists who’re willing to say that laws passed before stem cells were discovered apply to them nevertheless.  And he’s not very excited about cloning (though there’s a WTF moment at about 25:30 when he mentions students who were asking about cloning Jesus from the Turin Shroud…) – which is probably right, because it’s not really such a big deal.  Ditto synthetic biology – he thinks the right regulation isn’t in place yet (which is probably true) and is a bit concerned about dual use (I disagree on this: I don’t think there’s a problem about “bad guys getting bad bugs” while car-bombs are so cheap and easy) – but beyond that, seems underwhelmed by its notional ethical problems.

I do agree with his prediction that neuroethics is only going to get more and more attention over the coming years.

It’s a very wide-ranging interview, and (to my tastes) a bit heavy on policy battles; because it’s so wide-ranging, it’s not enormously deep.  But it’s interesting enough, I suppose; there’re worse ways to pass half an hour.  (Summer McGee is a lot more excited about it…)

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