Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Human Enhancement

This article raises some useful issues regarding human enhancement. But it overlooks a lot too.

A recent US study led by Debra Whitman (published in Scientific American) has shown that these restorative technologies receive near-universal approval from the general public: 95% of respondents support physical restorative applications and 88% cognitive restorative applications. This percentage drops to 35%, however, when the subject turns to interventions intended to upgrade a physical or cognitive ability with the sole aim of boosting performance.

In other words, most people think they have a right to forcibly prevent other people from improving their own bodies. This parallels the control issues we already have with women's reproductive care, transgender care, and so on. The problem starts when one person decides that they what want to happen to another person's body is more important than what the body owner wants. That consistently leads to ethical violations and social problems. It doesn't matter whether you're forcing people to do things, or not do things -- only that you enforce your choices at the expense of theirs.

Autonomy is making one's own informed decision about how to lead one's life, without being coerced by another person. It follows that an individual may choose whether or not to upgrade his or her faculties. "But, suggests professor Bavelier, that can quickly lead to certain aberrations. If a military pilot has their eyesight enhanced, it's possible that this improved visual acuity may become obligatory to do the job. So, someone who wants to become a pilot but doesn't want to be operated on would automatically be eliminated from the profession."

Sure, that's a problem. But anyone who can't pay for higher education is also eliminated. To a very large extent, anyone who can't pay for certain cosmetic enhancements, such as braces, is shut out of better opportunities. If you block people from enhancing their vision, you have violated their autonomy just as if you had forced them to enhance it. Neither is moral.

Society routinely imposes demands on its members and destroys those who are unwilling or unable to be pleasing. For decades, if you couldn't read, you were worthless. Now if you aren't good with computers -- a more challenging skill -- you're worthless. If we solve the problem of trying to force people into the same mode, then the availablility of new enhancements beyond current ones will not make much of an impact. If we don't solve that problem first, then forget about solving the others, because people will damn well go find it on their own once it's possible, whether it's legal or not.

The same applies to competence. What will happen if some people have the resources to buy new skills while others do not?

That's called college. If you can get that, you have a chance at making a living. Without it, you don't. But it doesn't guarantee you a job, and nowadays young people basically mortgage their life in hope of getting something out of it. Consider also the huge impact of things like diet and health that are overwhelmingly influenced by socioeconomic status. The results are ruinous for individuals and society alike. Implanted skills don't have that much more impact compared to learned ones, and implanting talent is infinitely more difficult. We don't really need to worry about that one soon.

"Doping in sport is an excellent example of how individual enhancement impacts on the collective," argues professor Savulescu. "When an athlete takes a substance that improves their results, they push others to imitate them for the sake of performance. To be competitive, individuals are no longer free to say no to performance enhancement. This requires new approaches. Perhaps the key question is not about the effectiveness of the regulations, but rather about a new transparency that would allow everyone to take enhancements or refuse, but to be open about it and to factor use into the results."

You could always split the competitions, because some people love steroids while others hate them. But officials are extremely opposed to that because they really, really want to control other people's bodies. That means, if you want to be an athlete, you have to give up medical privacy an control of your body -- much like the aforementioned person who has a choice between unwanted enhancement or not being a pilot. You can't have both medical privacy and an athletic career. And that's expanding through more and more industries. Worry less about enhancements more about body autonomy.

The steady increase in the use of drugs with the aim of facilitating social relations underlines the importance of this aspect in human well-being.

That's because the choices are already be pleasing or die early. If you can't perform as society demands, you will be shut out; or if police become involved, they may simply execute you as a nuisance. Of course many people want drugs that make it possible for them to do society, they don't want to die. And those who do not wish to do such drugs are frequently drugged by force, because their consent is not required. Important people make the choices, and those with mental differences are not considered important by this society. Some people take drugs because they like the way they feel on drugs, which is fine if it's their choice, but that choice isn't always free. Let's not forget, conversely, the people who need drugs to survive but cannot afford them and thus are denied care.

The experts also reported the urgent need to introduce unified regulations among different governments before the use of these new technologies degenerates. This concern is illustrated by the recent case of Chinese twins who were genetically modified to resist the AIDS virus -- a disease that they might well never have contracted.

Which is to say, slap regulations on those choices before individuals can get ahold of them. Yeah, right. If parents see a way to help their babies survive better, you may as well try holding the ocean back with a broom.

Sure, think ahead to potential problems. But solve the ones we already have first, and you're most of the way to solving potential ones; leave those in place, and you'll never fix the later stuff either. You can't solve autonomy problems by violating people's autonomy. That's fucking for virginity.
Tags: news, science
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