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St Mary’s University College Twickenham London

At a glance Human Diversity: Useless or Universal? Activities in Brief Consciousness: Can we explain it?

Issue 5 Winter 2011

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Newsletter for the Centre for Bioethics & Emerging Technologies

Human Dignity: Useless or Universal?

He suggested that the critics of human dignity should be taken seriously and that a multidimensional approach was needed in the presentation of human dignity that encompasses both absolute human dignity, with which all humans are endowed and contingent human dignity which they subsequently acquire. His lecture provoked intense discussion which continued over dinner in the comfortable surroundings of the Lensbury’s Wimbledon Room. From Saturday morning through to Sunday lunchtime, the format of the conference centred around plenary lectures followed by break-out discussion groups allowing ample opportunity for more detailed discussion and interaction between delegates. In an attempt to fully examine the breadth of the concept, human dignity was addressed from four angles: biodiversity, bioethics and law, biotechnology and end of life issues. Dr David Plackett, Senior Scientist in Biopolymers at Denmark’s Risa National Laboratory for Sustainable

“Human dignity is a useless concept” asserted Prof Ruth

conference was one element of a funded project to

Energy presented the plenary lecture on biodiversity,

Macklin in an editorial written for the British Medical

create an impact-network and media monitoring

exploring the character and nature of biodiversity, before

Journal (BMJ) in 2003. She deemed it to be merely a

observatory across Europe in association with three other

developing the case in favour of sustainability and the key

slogan and said that little would be lost if the concept

European partners: The Anscombe Bioethics Centre,

role ‘human dignity’ has in driving this forward.

was eliminated from discussion of important issues.

Oxford, the Catholic University of Leuven and the

Supporting this presentation, Prof Geoff Hunt gave a

Macklin’s editiorial runs against a long history of the term

Scottish Council on Human Bioethics.

short introductory talk which explained why the issue of

in its special philosophical use and consideration in

The conference opened with a reception in the

biodiversity should be regarded as intimately connected

various religions and more recently explicitly referred to in

Waldegrave Drawing Room at St Mary’s University

with that of human dignity. He argued that we must

international documents such as the Council of Europe’s

College, London where delegates were warmly

expand dignity from something we have into something

Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and

welcomed by both the Principal, Prof Philip Esler and

that we are or ought to be. That is, there is a significant

Dignity of the Human Being with regard to the Application

Prof Geoff Hunt, Director of CBET (based at St Mary’s).

difference between ‘having dignity’ and ‘being dignified’

of Biology and Medicine and the UNESCO Declaration on

Prof Raymond Hide CBE, FRS then gave some

and that the latter is often ignored. There is nothing

the Human Genome and Human Rights. But, is Macklin

introductory comments about the vital importance of

dignified in the human race having exterminated nearly


dialogue between scientists, philosophers, theologians

one-third of all other creatures on the planet in the next

and politicians, illustrating this from his own experience

40 years at the current rate.

Over 50 delegates and guests from across Europe gathered at The Lensbury Centre, Teddington, London

as an eminent physicist, previously at MIT and Oxford

over the weekend of 9th-11th September 2011, to

and having served on the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

of the concept of human dignity in bioethics arise from a

explore this very question and begin to assess whether

at the Vatican.

lack of distinction between two different roles that this

human dignity (HD) is useless or has universal value. Hosted by the Centre for Bioethics and Emerging Technology (CBET) at St Mary’s University College, the

This was followed by the keynote address given by

Many of the misunderstandings surrounding the value

notion plays in this field: one as an overarching policy

Dr David Kirchhoffer, a South African theologian now

principle, and the other as a moral standard for patient

based in the Australian Catholic University in Brisbane.


CBET Bulletin Issue 5 Winter 2011 | 1

Human Dignity: Useless or Univeral? Continued ... three kinds of dignity helped to inform and build his main

conference then concluded with a closing summary and

Andorno’s plenary lecture on bioethics, law and human

This proposal set the context for Dr Roberto

argument on the ethics of care and an integrated view of

final address by Prof David A. Jones, who delivered a

dignity. Senior Research Fellow and Lecturer at the Ethics

dignity. This particular presentation stimulated much

tour de force including some closing comments about

Centre of the University of Zurich, Switzerland,

subsequent discussion amongst the audience during the

HD and vulnerability. “Human dignity is measured not so

Dr Andorno offered a nuanced and engaging presentation

short Q&A session, seminar discussions and the rest of

much by accountancy, but by encounter”, was just one

which contributed some key ideas and material for later

the conference in general.

pithy aside.

discussion in the break-out groups. Familiar territory for the debate surrounding human

Helping to bring the various strands of discussion

Many seasoned conference delegates commented on

together, Sunday morning gave opportunity for reflection

what an enjoyable conference it had been and how there

dignity is often found in conversations pertaining to

on several levels. Mass was celebrated in St Mary’s

was a real richness and depth in the learning experience

biotechnology. Drawing upon his extensive experience as

University College Chapel by Dr Michael Kirwan, Head of

in bringing together such a diverse group of professions

a member of the European Commission’s European

Theology at Heythrop College, London. His homily on the

and how their thinking had been profoundly widened.

Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies, Rev

nature of forgiveness dovetailed wonderfully into the HD

Many new ongoing professional and research networking

Prof Emmanuel Agius, Dean of Theology at the University

theme of the conference. Also on Sunday morning, the

relationships were established and consideration is being

of Malta provided some useful commentary and

Japanese film ‘Departures’ was screened. This film won

given to making the conference a biannual event.

reflections on the challenge of embedding human dignity

the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2010 and is one of the

in EU politics on biotechnologies such as patenting

most powerful films demonstrating HD ever made. Many

Audio recordings of the plenary lectures can be found

inventions involving human embryonic stem cells.

delegates expressed how much they valued seeing this

online here

film and how they planned to use it in their own teaching



default.aspx. Papers from the conference will also be

Bringing the plenary sessions to a close, Dr Carlo Leget, Associate Professor of Ethics of Care at the University of Tilburg spoke on HD in the care of the dying. His lucid discussion and critique of a thesis based around

Activities in brief

The film was followed by a plenary feedback session from each of the seminar groups of the previous day. The

published in the CBET journal, Human Reproduction and Genetic Ethics.

As part of CBET’s ongoing engagement with the

Prof Geoff Hunt has recently been accepted as a

intergovernmental framework for European Cooperation

member of the Society of Experimental Biology, and also

in Science and Technology (COST), particularly in regard

as a member of the EU’s NanoSafety Cluster of projects

to COST-FA090 Action, Dr Erden taught a session on

dealing with health and toxicological aspects of

‘Ethics, Communication and Safety in the Use of Polymer

nanotechnology (see

Nanoparticles for Food Packaging’, as part of a Short

Prof Geoff Hunt gave a lecture on "nanotechnology’s

CBET’s Artificial Intelligence Activities

Training School ‘Deepening the Knowledge in the Field of

contribution to a low carbon economy" at the Hazards

Nanomaterials for Food Packaging and Other Potential

Forum workshop on 29th November 2011 at the

‘‘Wittgenstein on Simile as the “Best Thing” in

Uses’ in November 2011. The School was held at

Institution of Engineering & Technology (IET), London.

Philosophy’, was the title of a recent journal article written

University Sts Cyril and Methodius, Skopje, R.

The other two speakers on the panel with him were John

by Dr Yasemin J. Erden and published in Philosophical


Armstrong, Head of Engineering Governance and

Investigations, July 2011. As part of CBET’s ongoing participation in work

As part of The Society for the Study of Artificial

Process Safety for E.ON UK, who spoke on power

Intelligence and Simulation of Behaviour (AISB) and the

stations, and Peter Baker, Deputy Director and Head of

concerning the ethical and social implications of

International Association for Computing and Philosophy

Chemical Industries Division, at the Health & Safety

nanotechnology, in September Dr Erden attended

(IACAP) World Congress 2012 (hosted by University of

Executive, who spoke on regulatory perspectives. The

‘Ethical, Social and Legal Dimensions of Nanomaterials’,

Birmingham) in honour of Alan Turing, widely considered

meeting of engineers and environmental scientists was

a European Science Foundation Meeting on Human

to be the father of computer science and artificial

chaired by Eddie Morland, Chief Executive of the Health

Nanotoxicology and Nanomedicine held in London.

intelligence, a special symposium will be taking place

and Safety Laboratory (HSL) and was summarised by

entitled ‘Computing and Philosophy: Computing,

Mike Chrimes Director, Engineering Policy & Innovation,

Communication and Safety in the Use of PNFP’, for the

Philosophy and the Question of Biological-Machine

Institution of Civil Engineers (see

book Ecosustainable Polymer Nanomaterials for Food

Hybrids’. Dr Erden has been appointed Symposium

Packaging (to be published by Brill) and a book review of

Executive-Officer for this symposium. She has also been

“Embodiment and the Inner Life: Cognition and

recently appointed as Vice-leader, Inter Group Activity

they perceive to be the main safety issues surrounding

Consciousness in the Space of Possible Minds” for

(young scientists) ‘Making the Future of Science in PNFP’

nanotechnology has now been published in

publication in the journal, Cognitive Computation.

until May 2012 as well as co-editor for a special issue of

Nanotechnology Perceptions Vol 7, (2011) 82-98. Prof

Cognitive Computation (published by Springer), entitled

Hunt designed and coordinated the survey which came

London), co-authored an article ‘Computing and

‘Computational Creativity, Intelligence and Autonomy’

out of a ‘nano-safety’ conference in Prague, supported

Philosophy, The Society for the Study of Artificial

(Publication date in 2012) until June 2012.

by the British Embassy. The title of the paper is ‘Building

Dr Erden has recently written a chapter on ‘Ethics,

Dr Erden and Prof Mark Bishop (Goldsmiths College,

Intelligence and Simulation of Behaviour (AISB)

The findings of a survey of nanotoxicologists on what

expert consensus on problems of uncertainty and

Conference Review’, which was published in The

Nanotechnology Ethics

complexity in nanomaterial safety’. This paper was also

Reasoner, 5: 10 in September 2011.

After a successful 4-year tenure as the chair of the

shortlisted as one of the final 5 for the

International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) group

Biological/technological risk category for the Lloyd’s of

participated in the European Workshop on the FP7 Ethics

on labelling of nanomaterials and products, Prof Geoff

London Science of Risk Prize. The Awards ceremony

Review (e.g. the impact of procedures on the research

Hunt has recently stepped down from the role.

took place at Lloyds in the City of London on Thursday

community and research institution administration). The

Commenting on achievements during that period Prof

24th November 2011.

aim of the workshop was to improve the review

Hunt noted that the question of labelling nanoproducts is

mechanism for the forthcoming FP8 and was hosted at

now more widely accepted and has been established as

the University of Namur, Belgium.

a principle to adhere to both now and in the future.

On Thursday 27th October 2011 Dr Erden

2 | CBET Bulletin Issue 5 Winter 2011

Continued page 4 >

Consciousness: Can we explain it?

Second in Philosophy Lecture Series Held On Wednesday 5th October, the second in a series of free Philosophy lectures took place at St Mary’s.

Could a machine be conscious? Is the human mind

actually integrates information, often referred to as the

nothing but a sophisticated machine? Can

‘binding problem’. He maintains that the brain’s

St Mary’s School of Theology, Philosophy and History is

consciousness be scientifically explained? These were

electromagnetic field may be the answer.

hosting the series, which will continue over the next six

just some of the questions raised at a research

Prof Bishop, Prof of Cognitive Computing at

In association with the Royal Institute of Philosophy ,

months at St Mary’s.

symposium on ‘Consciousness’ that CBET convened on

Goldsmiths College, referring to the work of A I pioneer,

Thursday 20th October to an audience of over 100

Alan Turing, gave a detailed critique and analysis of both

Shanahan, Professor of Cognitive Robotics at Imperial

students and researchers from many disciplines.

the ‘Turing Test’ and the ‘Chinese Room’ thought-

College London, who spoke on the topic ‘Animal minds

experiments. Prof Bishop’s response to the symposium’s

and robot minds’.

Presentations were made by some of the key

Guest speaker at the event was Prof Murray

academic opinion leaders on consciousness in the fields

main question was to say that while it may be possible to

of philosophy, computing, genetics and neuroscience.

explain consciousness in scientific terms, in

think like us? Are they conscious the way we are? Can

The symposium was chaired by Dr Yasemin J. Erden,

computational terms the answer is ‘No’.

robots think like we do? Could we ever build a conscious

Research Fellow in Ethics and Emerging Technologies at

Helping to draw together many strands of thought

Prof Shanahan commented, “Do non-human animals

robot? These philosophical questions are important

St Mary’s. Opening the symposium, Prof Igor Aleksander,

made in the earlier presentations, Prof Geoff Hunt, Prof

because they influence what we decide to do. To the

Emeritus Prof at Imperial College London, and Fellow of

of Philosophy and Director of CBET at St Mary’s,

extent that an animal can experience suffering, we have a

the Royal Academy of Engineering, helped to establish

concluded the symposium by making the case that while

duty to treat it well. If we can build a robot that is

some context for discussion by exploring how

states of consciousness may be explained, and in fact

conscious, would it also be able to experience suffering?

‘consciousness informs us’. To do this he offered a

there are already an abundance of piecemeal

And if so, should we build such a thing in the first place?”

number of thought-provoking ideas, including a view of

explanations from neuro-surgeons and neuro-

the brain as a ‘neural automaton’, and the idea of

pharmacologists the very fact of consciousness cannot

Medical Law, Dr Trevor Stammers, attended the lecture

consciousness as integrated information. His response to

be explained due to a paradox of explanation. Referring

and was fascinated by the extent of the developments

the central question of the symposium was a clear

to the work of the philosophers Kant and Wittgenstein he

being discussed and proposed by Prof Shanahan. “Prof

‘yes’—science can indeed explain consciousness. He

tried to show that any explanation at all presupposes

Shanahan certainly delivered with great panache a

added that there is no reason it cannot be explained, if

consciousness. Thus there is a logical circularity in

physicalist vision of whole brain simulation in his lifetime,

only we employ appropriate scientific paradigms.

attempting to explain it. Once again, a steady stream of

at the same time stimulating great debate over whether

questions and discussion followed amongst the audience

his physicalist starting point is tenable or not”.

Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Surrey, Johnjoe McFadden argued that much of what is

and all four guest speakers.

often referred to as ‘mind’ is simply the conscious activity

Programme Director for the MA in Bioethics &

This series of lectures aims to address the prospect of Philosophy departments closing in British Universities

that we are aware of. However, the majority of mental

MP3s from the symposium are available

due to public funding cuts and speakers are asked to

activity actually goes on without us being aware of it.

to listen to online and download from

reflect specifically on concepts of knowledge and wisdom

This presents us with the question of how consciousness

and their place in modern universities.

European Court’s decision upholds dignity of the embryo A recent decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ)

Congratulating the ECJ on its decision, Jones said

because most such research does not use embryonic

on embryo research has sparked uproar amongst stem

that he believed that the Court had acted with clear and

stem cells. There are an increasing number of sources of

cell scientists.

commendable ethical consistency. In making the

adult stem cells (including amniotic fluid, cord blood and

judgement that it is wrong to profit from destroying

bone marrow) and cutting-edge research in this area is

German professor, wanted to turn human embryonic

human embryos, Jones commented that it is consistent

turning ordinary adult cells into stem cells. The ECJ’s

stem cells into nerve cells. Greenpeace opposed his

to say it is also wrong to profit from cells that are derived

decision does not affect these forms of stem cell

attempt to patent his work, citing that protecting work

from destroying human embryos. No distinction should

research and may even help to divert some of the

based on a human embryo which is later destroyed is

be made between whether you have destroyed the

resources currently being invested into embryonic stem


embryos or someone else carried this out for you.

cells towards adult stem cell research.

In the case of Oliver Brüstle v Greenpeace, Brüstle, a

The ECJ ruled in October that "The use of human

The Court’s decision has been met with fierce

“Destroying human embryos is not prevention nor

embryos for therapeutic or diagnostic purposes which

criticism from stem cell scientists who claim that the

does it stop scientists from using human embryos in

are applied to the human embryo and are useful to it is

decision will throw stem cell research in Europe into

research”, Prof Jones said. “What the ruling does help to

patentable ... But their use for purposes of scientific

disarray. Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, of the MRC National

make more difficult is for commercial companies to profit

research is not patentable".

Institute for Medical Research, told the Daily Telegraph

from their destruction. This decision is also a reminder to

that “… Britain's clear and permissive laws on stem cell

the United Kingdom that it needs to be aware of ethical

published from twenty-four professors and centre

experiments mean a great deal of early-stage research

thinking throughout Europe”.

directors from throughout Europe. This included David A.

could still be carried out here, but the ruling raises the

Jones, visiting professor of bioethics at CBET and

chance of that work being adopted and made profitable

Director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Oxford and

by companies operating abroad”.

Earlier this year in the journal Nature, a letter was

Prof Geoff Hunt, Director of CBET. The letter argued that

However, Prof Jones believes that the decision will

You can read an interview with Prof David A. Jones on

the case should be decided on the basis of ethics and

have a fairly minimal effect, as the decision of the ECJ

the BioEdge website:

not only on the basis of “European commercial interest”.

does not affect most “biomedical stem cell research"


CBET Bulletin Issue 5 Winter 2011 | 3

CBET resident staff Technology ethics Prof. Geoffrey Hunt CBET Director and Professorial Research Fellow Tel: +44 (0)20 8240 2311 Email: Dr Yasemin J. Erden Research Fellow in Ethics & Emerging Technologies Tel: +44 (0)20 8240 4250 Email: – Promoting a global conversation about ethical values Over recent months CBET staff have been pleased to meet and establish links with Prof Dr Christoph Stückelberger, Founder and Director of the project We invited Dr Stückelberger to write about the project, outlining its aims and objectives as well as ways in which individuals can get involved in this exchange of information and knowledge resources.

launched in 2008. It is the leading global online library on ethics, and now offers registered participants free-ofcharge access to almost 700,000 full-text documents on ethics. These documents include articles from commercial journals and books, documents from partner institutions, and texts from open access sources. Documents in a wide variety of languages are already available in the library.

Access to information is key to empowering people to

The project’s uniqueness

manage their lives and to participate in society. It is also

What is unique about this project is that the various

Biomedicine ethics

central to ethical orientation and decision making on

libraries share the same database, infrastructure and

Dr Trevor Stammers Programme Director in Bioethics Tel: +44 (0)20 8240 4310 Email:

such diverse and complex issues as health ethics,

software. While each library has a distinct identity, it is

business ethics, food security, climate change, conflict

also possible to search all the libraries at the same time

resolution, emerging technologies and bioethics.

and using the same tools, allowing interconnections

However, there is a global imbalance in access to

between the libraries and their holdings.

Additional staff

information. As such, a genuinely worldwide discussion

Prof. David Albert Jones Visiting Professor of Bioethics Email: Dr Wendy Hiscox Lecturer in Medical Law Tel: +44 (0)20 8240 4250 Email: Prof. Rodney Taylor Visiting Professor Tel: +44 (0)20 8240 4250 Email:

on ethical issues often does not take place.

As such, the online libraries help people from academic, policy and media institutions to deepen their

At the World Summit on the Information Society in

interdisciplinary understanding of the role of values and

Geneva in 2003 it was found that the global conversation

ethics in the world today, and to link this knowledge to a

is hampered by factors such as the lack of access in the

range of policy issues, communities, and wider publics.

global South to good and recent knowledge resources

Moreover, registered participants have the possibility

on ethics, and that people from the global South often

to submit their own documents – articles, books,

lack the opportunity to participate in the global ethical

dissertations, newsletters – to the libraries. This offers


participants, especially from the South, where funds for – a global network on applied ethics –

print publications are often not available, an opportunity

aims to harness information and communication

to make their knowledge production more visible and

technology to address this challenge. It was founded in

accessible, thus facilitating a global conversation.

2004 as one response to the Information Society summit

In addition to the libraries, offers

Mr Matthew James CBET Administrator Tel: +44 (0)20 8240 4250 Email:

and as a platform to promote ethical reflection and action

participants the opportunity via its website to join or form

for responsible leadership. Central to is

electronic work groups for networking or collaborative

the search for the common values that are needed for

research. The networking platform enables registered

common action and interaction in a globalized world,

participants to identify other participants who share their

Dr Pia Matthews Lecturer in Healthcare Ethics Tel: +44 (0)20 8240 4250 Email:

balanced with respecting and strengthening cultural,

interest in a specific field of applied ethics.

Centre for Bioethics & Emerging Technologies St Mary's University College Waldegrave Road, Strawberry Hill Twickenham TW1 4SX Tel: 020 8240 4250 Fax: 020 8240 2362

religious and linguistic diversity and contextual values, which are crucial for human dignity and identity. provides electronic access to

Getting involved There are many ways to get involved in the work of

knowledge resources through its Global Digital Libraries Individuals can sign up free of charge to


access the library, take part in online workgroups, and

Furthermore it facilitates the inclusion of the global South

network with other registered participants. Individuals

in the global ethical conversation through its electronic

and organizations can take part in the annual Global

networking platform.

Ethics Forum meetings. has regional programmes in China, India, Indonesia and East Africa


with plans to develop in Latin America, francophone

The Global Digital Library on Ethics (GlobeEthicsLib) was

Africa and Eastern Europe.

Activities in Brief Continued ... Bioethics

autumn of next year it looks as if the programme will

Stammers was the first speaker of the series, presenting

The start of the academic year 2011-12 proved to be

continue to expand as a new range of options may then

an introduction to ethical theory to an audience of over

one of the busiest ever for the MA in Bioethics & Medical

be possible for both MA and undergraduate

100 people. CBET’s Visiting Professor of Bioethics,

Law programme. With 20 students in the first year, there


David A. Jones, has also been a guest speaker during

are four students from last year carrying over to their

‘Thinking Bioethics’ is a public lecture series

the series.

second year of taught studies with yet another cohort of

organised by MA Bioethics & Medical Law alumnus

students working on their dissertations. Programme

Pauline Gately, and hosted in Weybridge, Surrey. The

Dr Trevor Stammers gave at the South East Region

Director for the MA, Dr Trevor Stammers commented,

series runs on a Wednesday evening, once a month

Transplant Training Day at St Peter’s, Chertsey on 30th

"With the opening of the Law School at St Mary’s in the

from September 2011 through to April 2012. Dr Trevor

November 2011.

4 | CBET Bulletin Issue 5 Winter 2011

The ethics of organ donation was the focus of a talk

CBET Bulletin - Winter edition 2011-12