By Daing Nasir
“What is human enhancement?”
“Does the notion of human dignity suffer with human enhancements?”
These are two of the 25 questions addressed in a new report, “Ethics of Human Enhancement: 25 Questions & Answers.” In questioning the morality, ethics, pros and cons of human enhancement, a report was published to balance and weigh the many possibilities of human enhancement.
“Strictly speaking, “human enhancement” includes any activity by which we improve our bodies, minds, or abilities — things we do to enhance our well-being,” the report reads.
While some people see human enchantment as a medical issue, Western Michigan University assistant philosophy professor Fritz Allhoff understands it to be an ethical dilemma.
According to Allhoff, who was one of the four authors, the report raises most of the important questions about human enhancement, but the debate on many of those questions will continue.
Allhof said that the value of the report is that it frames the relevant questions and gives us a starting point for thinking about the social and ethical implications of human enhancement.
Thoughts on biomedical issues, physical performance and even advances in robotics and bionanotechnology for body parts are presented in the report.
“Questions about human enhancement have already been prevalent in many other arenas (e.g., performance-enhancing drugs), but nanotechnology could allow for enhancements to be built directly into humans, whether through improved senses and increased cognitive capacities, or else into equipment that humans can use, such as military applications involving protective gear,” Allhoff said.
According to Allhoff, there is a trend to focus on short-term gains and to ignore the more long-term social and ethical implications of technologies.
“We saw this with cloning when Dolly [the sheep] was cloned ahead of any serious public debate,” Allhoff said . “A lot of my research aims to get these discussions into the proper forums before the technology comes online.”
The format of the report, 25 questions and answers over 50 pages, is meant to reach an audience wider than those in the field.
“Students will benefit from the format of the report, as well as the style; it’s not written for professional academics, but rather to be broadly accessible,” Allhoff said. “Even if students don’t have specific training in these areas, they will be able to learn from the report.”
On the other end of the human enhancements spectrum, readers will also be able to deconstruct issues that do not necessarily deal with traditional human enhancement for therapeutic purposes but “human engineering” — envisioning a future of prosthetic flippers, designed for today for dolphins, along with artificial gills, for humans to transform them into an aquatic animal.
“People should do research before using any enhancement technologies, whether those deriving from nanotechnologies or any others,” Allhoff said. “Most of these technologies are so nascent, though, that there won’t be much consumer choice yet; again, our goal has been to do the ethics before the technologies come out.”