March 1, 2024

Julian Savulescu on power naps and other bioethical issues

Euthanasia, Peter Singer &c.

The controversial Julian Savulescu, an
Australian-trained doctor and bioethicist who now teaches at Oxford University
in the UK, is one of the leading voices in bioethics today. He recently
lectured at the University of Granada in Spain on one of his
favourite topics, human enhancement. He also was interviewed by the applied
ethics journal Dilemata.
Here are excerpts which give the flavour of his approach to bioethics.

On Peter Singer: “What is attractive about Peter’s
proposals are that they firmly rooted in uncontroversial values – like the
moral significance of well-being and equality – and he applies logic ruthlessly
to the inconsistency of existing values and ethics. He also lives up to his own
principles. There are a few places where I disagree with him, but all things
considered, he is the greatest living practical ethicist or philosopher.”

free-market eugenics:
“The eugenics movement of last century was coercive – it
forced people to be sterilised or be killed. It was not for the benefit of the
individuals it was practised upon but to realise often racist, social Darwinist
ideals of society. I believe enhancement and genetic selection should be
offered to people, for the benefit of them or their children (not primarily
society), that its goal should be enhancing their well-being (not some state
goal), and they should be free to refuse those interventions.”

“I agree with many of their arguments and I like the
transhumanists I know – they are very nice people. But I don’t like groups and
crowds. I used to hate going to the football and being a part of the crowd. I
couldn’t stand being in the choir at school and I refused to sing hymns. I
don’t like mass events and clubs. Transhumanism has a kind of group-think or
quasi-religious quality that does not suit well my nature. I prefer to stand
outside it and make my own arguments. But their hearts (and minds) are in the
right place. We agree on most things.”

On the
inevitability of legal euthanasia
: “There
is an emerging rational consensus and endorsement of euthanasia around Europe.
That is one of victories for rational bioethics. Eventually, every civilised
secular state will offer euthanasia. I did my doctorate on this topic 15 years
ago. I thought the arguments were exhausted then and that change must rapidly
come. I am staggered at how slow it has been. There are no good arguments
against euthanasia but most countries still resist. ”

power naps:
“In my
experience, once learnt, the short siesta is the perfect cognitive enhancer.
The problem is that many cultures, such as English culture, are not set up to
facilitate the siesta. And we do not teach or encourage people to siesta. This
is hugely disabling. If there were a drug which rivalled the siesta in
terms of safety and efficacy, I would take it. And it should be encouraged,
just as siesta should be encouraged. But at present, no drugs come close to

~ Dilemata, 3, 2010

Michael Cook
Julian Savulescu
Peter Singer