Vincent O’Leary Professor (professor emeritus), The University at Albany/SUNY
Bonnie Steinbock received her BA from Tufts University and her PhD in philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley. She is a Vincent O’Leary Professor (professor emeritus) at the University at Albany/SUNY, specializing in biomedical ethics, particularly reproduction and genetics. She is also a Full Professor in The Center for Bioethics and Clinical Leadership at Union Graduate College–Mount Sinai School of Medicine Bioethics Program where she teaches online courses in reproductive ethics and end-of-life issues.
She is a Fellow of the Hastings Center and a past member of the Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproduction and Medicine (ASRM). In the fall of 2008, she was a scholarly resident at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center on Lake Como, Italy. In April 2012, she was in residence at the Brocher Foundation on Lake Geneva, Switzerland. The author of Life Before Birth: The Moral and Legal Status of Embryos and Fetuses, 2nd edition (Oxford 2011), she has published over 60 articles, and edited or co-edited several books on issues relating to medical ethics, including Ethical Issues in Modern Medicine, 8th edition (McGraw-Hill 2012).
As the 21st incumbent of the Tang Chun-I Visiting Professorship, Professor Steinbock will offer a public lecture on “Advance Directives, Dementia, and Physician-Assisted Death.” Additionally, she will offer a four-week seminar on “Philosophical, Ethical and Policy Issues at the End of Life.” Finally, she will offer a departmental seminar on “Procreative Liberty, Procreative Responsibility, and the Non-Identity Problem.”
Advance Directives, Dementia, and Physician-Assisted Death
Assisted death, whether euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, is available in some countries and in a few states in the U.S. In most places, the eligibility requirements include terminal illness, defined as having no more than six months to live, and contemporary competence. This enables, for example, someone who is dying of cancer to avoid suffering at the end of life. But many people fear living into dementia for years and perhaps decades more than they fear a few months of suffering. The talk addresses the arguments and problems in allowing people while competent to write advance directives asking for assistance in dying once they begin the decline into dementia.
Procreative Liberty, Procreative Responsibility, and the Non-Identity Problem
A common objection to new reproductive technologies or arrangements is the risk of harm they pose to offspring. Sometimes the issue is whether the risk of harm is real and well substantiated. However, it has been argued (for example, by John Robertson) that concern for the well-being of offspring can rarely, if ever, justify limiting procreative liberty, because it is often the case that, but for the technology or arrangement, the child would never have been born at all. I reject the claim that birth cannot be “unfair to the child” so long as the child is glad to have been born, and offer a decent minimum standard for procreative responsibility. Moreover, even when this standard is met, procreation can be irresponsible, in my view, if it is possible to have a different child without the harmful condition.