Guest Post: Becoming a Superhero: The Ethics of Human Enhancement and the Ideal Self
Editor’s Note: The following post is from a former classmate who, I was delighted to discover, is pursuing a doctorate in bioethics with a superhero subject. Below is his thesis, and I encourage you to vote for him to have it animated at PhDComics.
There is a heated debate going on in bioethics that looks at the ethics of enhancing human functioning beyond what is considered ‘normal’. This is about the possibility – with new and future technology – of transforming humans into some sort of super humans who would be healthier, smarter, and live longer. Think of superman.
This debate has been polarized into two camps: the bioconservatives who are against enhancement, and the bioliberals who are more permissive towards it. Some ‘hardcore’ bioliberals, known as transhumanists, advocate for radical changes such as stopping ageing, uploading our minds to computers, or exchanging our natural limbs for better artificial ones.
In this debate, bioconservatives have shown that the often-used ethical notion of safety, justice, and autonomy are not enough to evaluate these enhancements. So, they have built another framework based on an “ideal” of how a perfect human should be, and from this ideal they reject enhancement, because it would be a hindrance for people to live up to their ideal.
Bioliberals are not convinced by this argument.
For them, such an ideal does not exist, and even if it did, it should not be imposed on others. They don’t think of enhancement as moving towards an ideal, but only as improvement from what was beforehand.
I question whether bioliberals are convincing. It seems that even while remaining agnostic about an ideal self, they embrace an ideal imposed by technology. I think it might be helpful to think of the goal of enhancement.
But, I am also critical of bioconservatives who have one ideal that should apply to everyone. I wouldn’t impose on people my view of the “ideal self”, but unlike bioliberals I recognize that the “ideal self” influences what people desire to enhance. I have much work to do, but for now, I am happy for anyone to enhance and become the next Captain America, but worried that someone else will choose to become Red Skull, his most dangerous enemy.
Johann Roduit is a PhD Candidate in Biomedical Ethics, at the Institute of Biomedical Ethics, in Zurich, Switzerland. He also publishes in The Huffington Post and has his own blog. And don’t forget to vote for his thesis!
If you want to learn more, here are a few links:
One of their major online journals: http://www.ieet.org/
And here a graphic overview of different actors in the debate: http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/biopolitics