LifeWorth – University of Copenhagen

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Medical STS > Projects > LifeWorth

Would a severely disabled pre-term infant be able to live a life worth living? How long should a seriously ill Alzheimer’s patient be kept alive? And how do humans differ from animals?  These questions about the value of life have become highly relevant because of our growing ability to use the considerable advances made within the development of life-sustaining technology.

This website introduces the four year project “A Life Worth Living: Negotiating Worthiness in Human and Animal” funded by a Sapere Aude grant from the Danish Council for Independent Research (DFF). The research project is headed by associate professor Mette N. Svendsen from the Department of Public Health, Centre for Medical Science and Technology Studies.

The research project will comprise four case studies at laboratories and clinics under the heading ‘What is a life worth living?’ The researchers will conduct observations and interviews at a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), a nursing home for Alzheimer’s patients, a pig laboratory in Denmark and a monkey laboratory in Asia.

Animals as part of society

The treatments which have been developed to extend or sustain the lives of seriously ill old people and pre-term infants are often based on animal research. In this respect, it is interesting to look at how ‘the human aspect’ and the ‘worth living’ are expressed in relation to experimental animal science.

Also, within a number of scientific fields, there is a growing discussion on how to draw a line between animals and humans. Within biomedical sciences such as genetics, the species boundaries are being contested, and within social sciences and the humanities such as anthropology and philosophy, there is a growing recognition of animals as players in society with a certain moral status.

These developments within the sciences make it difficult to look at certain higher animals as being fundamentally different to man – both biologically and morally. We are becoming increasingly aware of how the distinctions we make between man and animals are based on legal, cultural and practical considerations.