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Friday, March 25, 2005

Transhuman Ethics

I have been thinking a lot about transhumanism lately, partly as a result of some of the current news stories, and partly because of some of my recent reading material. The ethical quandaries of the future are doubtless going to make our current debates seem trivial indeed. I tend to side pretty heavily on the side of technology and freedom on these issues (I am one of the few people I know who doesn’t see anything wrong with reproductive cloning for instance) but the ethics are interesting and certainly worth looking at. It is certainly not inconceivable that we will be able to regenerate or replace brain matter in the not too distant future. I doubt though that we will be able to make it exactly like it was previous to sustaining damage however. If we could ‘repair’ Terri Schiavo for example, but she would not have her previous memories or personality should we? Must we? How different can a person be and still be the same person? How much choice should we allow a person to have about using this sort of technology? The steroid debate is also interesting to me. We generally accept that athletics can legitimately be improved by technology. Certainly there are numerous sports in which world records are set, and the records are considered legitimate because of improved technology. When it comes to improving our bodies through technology however we become very concerned. Leaving aside the dangerous side effects of steroids, why it is considered fine to break a world record in track because of better shoe design, but not because of better leg design? I expect that future advances will make it possible to make such improvements in human design with little or no negative side effects. Should these possibilities be embraced or shunned. In the question of mental performance and mental states the questions become even more complex. Currently there are many people who take Prozac and other drugs to regulate their moods. Should be embrace technologies that mimic, or improve on these effects through genetic re-engineering or biomechanical intervention? How much change is too much? What if we could increase IQ at the cost of lifespan? What if we could increase both? Should we make these choices for our children or leave that up to nature or God or chance? I expect that lifespan increases over the next century will be dramatic, possibly even reaching effective immortality. Obviously this will cause some interesting societal disruption, but beyond the direct negative effects, are their moral reasons to eschew this type of technology? Should we demand that all people live as long as they can (a culture of life) or should we let them choose? If we eliminate the quality of life arguments we currently have (through cellular repair, etc.) what other arguments for shortening our potential life remain? Is choosing to not undergo cellular repair the same morally as putting a bullet in your head? Is it a sign of mental dysfunction that calls for mental reengineering? I expect that these questions, and others, will dominate much of our public discourse over the next century.


Blogger Cubicle said...

I was having the exact same coversation with a friend.

Particlually over steriods in baseball. His points were that it spoiled the game, baseball players were incapable of making clear long term decisions, and negitive side effects.

I concentrated on freedom of choice (though not for 18 year olds or younger), though i could not think of any good exmaples of life style drugs.

though i thought of the perfect example.


In short, I think as long as the drugs are wanted by a majority of the population, their will be no moral issues.

3/27/2005 03:41:00 PM  

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