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It's been a busy week for Margaret Somerville. First, in a Nov. 4 article in the Ottawa Sun, the Director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law weighed in on the subject of assisted suicide. Calling the issue "pretty straightforward," Somerville said it boils down to "whether there is something wrong with actively killing people." The next day, an op-ed penned by Somerville appeared in the Ottawa Citizen. In it, she spoke out about the growing number of potential methods we have for combining human and animal DNA. While she admits some limited applications are ethical, for the most part we should heed our natural "yuck" reaction and steer well clear of such research.
Finally, the prolific ethicist authored another op-ed, this one appearing in the National Post on Nov. 6. Somerville argues for the adoption of an Unborn Victims of Crime Law in which a fetus would be protected by law against physical injury or death resulting from a violent crime perpetrated against the mother. Of course, she admits, legally recognizing the fetus as a human life in criminal cases, opens the door for renewed debate on the issue of abortion.
Further proof that, try as we might, we just can't escape the gravitational pull of Paris Hilton. As reported in Science magazine, the ubiquitous Hilton has jumped from the tab(loids) to the lab in an experiment conducted by Jeffery Mogil, Canada Research Chair in the Genetics of Pain. Noticing that male mice spent less time licking their wounds when researchers were near, Mogil and his team plopped a life-size cutout of the Hilton heiress in front of the mice and recorded the effects it had on them. Sure enough, male mice under the cardboard Hilton's gaze had a lower-than-usual expression of a gene called c-fos, located in an area of the spinal column that transmits pain signals to the brain, suggesting an analgesic effect. The effect went away immediately after a screen was put up to obstruct the view. Mogil suggested that the mice may have reacted this way out of stress, seeing Hilton as a potential predator. Maybe, as with most of us, she just bored them into somnolence.
A trio of McGillians appeared in a recent Montreal Gazette article looking at the disturbing lack of funding in Canada's national space program and public facilities such as the Montreal Planetarium. First, McGill alum and astronaut, David Williams (yes, that's how he prefers his name spelled now—no cards and letters, please) said that Canada must strive to keep its place among the elite space-faring nations. The benefits of scientific experiments conducted in space could be enormous back home on Earth, said Williams, whose dream is to "have a Canadian astronaut walking on the surface of the moon." Next, physics professor Robert Rutledge was quoted saying international space expeditions promote global cooperation and peace. "When we go out to do something together, everyone has to show up," said Rutledge. Finally, McGill alum and longtime philanthropist Lorne Trottier spoke about the need to refurbish Montreal's dilapidated planetarium. "It gives kids the awe and wonder to figure out how we got here in a cosmic sense," he said.
Dan Levitin, professor of psychology, penned an op-ed in the New York Times decrying classical music audiences who sit "in rapt attention with their hands folded quietly in their laps." Levitin went on to say that the advent of the concert halls is a fairly recent development in the long history of music—and one that goes against our natural inclination to literally be moved by music. "Our species uses music and dance to express various feelings: love, joy, comfort, ceremony, knowledge and friendship," he said. One has only to watch young children spontaneously dancing and jumping at a concert before being admonished by their parents to sit still to see exactly how we are trained to internalize music in quite an unnatural way. In closing, Levitin urges the people who are planning to renovate Lincoln Center to "rip out some of the seats and give us room to move."