There is something especially powerful about a prophetic voice speaking from beyond the grave. Amid the large volume of correspondence released with the 1983 state papers was a letter from Dr Fergus Meehan, an obstetrician at University Hospital Galway, to then taoiseach Garrett Fitzgerald warning him about the likely consequences of the “pro-life” amendment.
One can’t called them “unforeseen” consequences because Dr Meehan, who described himself as Catholic and anti-abortion, spelt them out in great detail – pinpointing the risk to human life of introducing a constitutional ban on abortion that would tie the hands of treating doctors.
Identifying a hypothetical case with echoes of Savita Halappanavar’s, Dr Meehan warned that if the amendment was passed a pregnant woman undergoing life-threatening complications might die in hospital because a doctor “would rather wait until the foetal heart has disappeared”. His letter is reproduced in full here.
Perhaps social historians will give him some credit: a wise counsel to whom we failed to listen.
The new year is a boom time for the self-help industry. Books on how to improve everything from your brain power to your sex life rush off the shelves amid a surge of subscriptions to gyms and language classes.
But is there a limit to how far we should improve ourselves? And are there ethical implications about the manner in which it is done?
This has become a hot topic in philosophy, with particular concerns raised about the increased use of pharmaceuticals for human enhancement. It is not only “smart drugs” that are coming on stream; people’s behaviour could be changed by, for instance, boosting levels of empathy.
While some believe this is dangerously close to “playing God”, others welcome the development. Among them are philosophers Julian Savulescu and Ingmar Persson, whose argument in a recently published book, Unfit for the Future, provides today’s idea:
Artificial moral enhancement is now essential if humanity is to avoid catastrophe.
We discuss this, and the broader question of self-improvement, with Prof Bert Gordjin, director of the Institute of Ethics at DCU.
(continues…. with audio link, at:)