The introduction of every new concept always brings about two things—excitement with possibilities and fear of potential consequences. That is precisely what we are seeing with human enhancement, which is the practice of using science and technology to “improve” their body to attain longevity. After understanding its potential, many people are now raising the question, “What happens now?” What will this practice bring forth for humanity? Watch this video to see what some of the issues are:
In this post, we’ll discuss the ethical considerations that people have raised regarding human enhancement.
Some Aspects of Human Enhancement Ethics
For several decades now, notable advancements in nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology (IT), and cognitive science have been propelling interest in using science and technology to improve human biology. The field known as “human enhancement” attracted the attention of scholars, policymakers, and the media, all of whom are questioning the ethical, moral, and legal desirability of related practices.
And if there’s one thing that stands out, it’s that concerns about human enhancement ethics are not without basis. It is critical to ensure that the welfare of the individuals and society as a whole is represented.
One of the most significant ethical arguments regarding human enhancement has to do with how supporters will achieve their goals. Critics are questioning the means that practitioners will use. Will they use psychopharmacological products to change a person’s emotions and moods? Or do they plan to take more drastic measures like alter the person’s genetic makeup? Can doctors enhance humans without transforming them into someone else?
And while human enhancement may solve a short-term dilemma, is the result sustainable? For example, a person with muscular atrophy can regain the use of his limbs through human enhancement medication, but what if prolonged intake causes liver failure in the long term? Can we then say with absolute certainty that undergoing such a treatment is the right way to go?
But perhaps the most serious individual human enhancement ethics concern has to do with governance. Who decides what process and when undergoing it is enough? Where and when not do doctors and patients draw the line? An example would be when a doctor thinks he or she has done enough for the patients but the latter wants more. If the doctor thinks extending the treatment is risky but he or she is accused of violating the patient’s right to choose, who gets to make the final decision?
We all know that doctors swear to save lives no matter what. The question again of when and where they stop comes to mind. Will human enhancement merely cure a patient? Is it just a means to improve his or her biology? Will enhancing a person cause a doctor to violate the oath he or she swore to?
An example would be a human enhancement practitioner that performs germ-line genetic treatment to deliberately change the genes that a parent can pass on his or her children. This dilemma should raise questions like:
- Is the process necessary?
- Will the genetic makeup of the child endanger his or her life?
This is exactly what happened with He Jiankui’s gene-editing work on twin babies. While we have yet to see confirmation of whether the CRISPR twins’ genes were successfully edited, it opens up the possibility of gene-editing becoming mainstream. This again brings to light how important a doctor’s morals and values are. To make sure no doctors play god, though, professional restrictions may need to be put in place.
Many of the advantages that human enhancement offers can result in problems for society as a whole. People who went through human enhancement may lead to a massive transformation of nations and a restructuring of the global economy. And since human enhancement procedures are costly, only those in the upper classes can afford them. That can bring about concerns regarding fairness and justice. What if an industry starts favoring enhanced individuals? What happens to those who don’t want or can’t afford to go through human enhancement?
The considerations mentioned in this post are just some of the many human enhancement ethics issues raised. And what they all point to is a need for regulation. Policymakers must ensure that human enhancement procedures don’t become just a means to stand out but truly serves its purpose—allows the recipient to function and participate in society.