Human Enhancement Through Nanotechnology: Is it Right?
From Nano-Ethics comes this very interesting paper that looks at the arguments for nanotechnological human enhancement and presents the authors’ caution on the subject.
Many of you will wonder: what is “human enhancement through nanotechnology"? Well, I have copied below the section of the paper which tells us what it is and what it isn’t.. This should whet your appetite to click on the link above and read the entire paper. I think I’ll be posting on the ethics of human enhancement and nanotechnology in the future. But maybe, especially after reading the entire paper (it's not too lengthy), you might want to comment here. ..Maurice.
March 27, 2006 - RESEARCH PAPER
[This paper may be reprinted under a GNU Free Documentation License. Also see Center for Responsible Nanotechnology for other papers in this collection.]
Published in Nanotechnology Perceptions (2006), Vol. 2, Issue 1: 47-52:
Nanoethics and Human Enhancement:
A Critical Evaluation of Recent Arguments
By Patrick Lin and Fritz Allhoff
Before we proceed, we should lay out a few actual and possible scenarios in order to be clear on what we mean by “human enhancement.” In addition to steroid use to become stronger and plastic surgery to become more attractive, people today also use drugs to boost creativity, attentiveness, perception, and more. In the future, nanotechnology might give us implants that enable us to see in the dark, or in currently non-visible spectrums such as infrared. As artificial intelligence advances, nano-computers might be imbedded into our bodies in order to help process more information faster, even to the point where man and machine become indistinguishable.
These scenarios admittedly sound like science fiction, but with nanotechnology, we move much closer to turning them into reality. Atomically-precise manufacturing techniques continue to become more refined and will be able to build cellular-level sensors and other tools that can be integrated into our bodies. Indeed, designs have already been worked out for such innovations as a “respirocyte” – an artificial red blood cell that holds a reservoir of oxygen. A respirocyte would come in handy for, say, a heart attack victim to continue breathing for an extra hour until medical treatment is available, despite a lack of blood circulation to the lungs or anywhere else. But in an otherwise-healthy athlete, a respirocyte could boost performance by delivering extra oxygen to the muscles, as if the person were breathing from a pure oxygen tank.
What we do not mean by “human enhancement” is the mere use of tools, such as a hammer or Microsoft Word, to aid human activities, or “natural” improvements of diet and exercise – though, as we shall discuss later, agreeing on a definition may not be a simple matter. Further, we must distinguish the concept from therapeutic applications, such as using steroids to treat any number of medical conditions, which we take to be unobjectionable for the purposes of this paper.
Also, our discussion here can benefit from quickly noting some of the intuitions on both sides of the debate. The anti-enhancement camp may point to steroids in sports as an argument for regulating technology: that it corrupts the notion of fair competition. Also, some say, by condoning enhancement we are setting the wrong example for our children, encouraging risky behavior in bodies that are still developing. “Human dignity” is also a recurring theme for this side, believing that such enhancements pervert the notion of what it means to be human (with all our flaws).
On the pro-enhancement side, it seems obvious that the desire for self-improvement is morally laudable. Attempts to improve ourselves through, for example, education, hard work, and so on are uncontroversially good; why should technology-based enhancements be viewed any differently? In addition to virtue-based defenses of technological enhancement, we might also appeal to individual autonomy to defend the practice: so long as rational, autonomous individuals freely choose to participate in these projects, intervention against them is morally problematic.
In More Than Human, it is interesting to see that the debate is framed as a conservative (anti-enhancement) versus liberal (pro-enhancement) issue. This proposed dichotomy is undoubtedly influenced by the creation and work of the U.S. President’s Council on Bioethics. Led by Leon Kass, M.D., PhD, the council released a report, Beyond Therapy, in 2004 that endorsed an anti-enhancement position; this report has become the prime target for both liberals and pro-enhancement groups. However, it would be a mistake to think that the issue necessarily follows political lines, since there may be good reason for a liberal to be anti-enhancement, as well as for a conservative to support it.