Documenting the Coming Singularity

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Ethics of Enhancing Humanity

Not too long ago I raised the question, When will remediation become augmentation? In other words, when will medical science begin to use technology to enhance healthy people in addition to treating the sick? For the first time I have run across a notable figure actually urging medical researchers to do exactly that.

In Canberra, Julian Savulescu, professor of practical ethics at Oxford University and an eminent bio-ethisist, recently told a gathering there that Doctors are too focused on treating the sick and risk missing the enormous opportunities of using advances in medical science to "make happier, better people."
"If we cured all disease - cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, etc. - we would only prolong life on average by 12 years," the Australian-born Savulescu said.

"So we have pretty much reached the ceiling of what we can do by treating and preventing disease."

The next frontier is enhancing life through medical intervention. We can be brighter, stronger, healthier.

He argued that many of us routinely use cognitive enhancers like caffeine and nicotine. Alcohol is another intervention, this time to improve mood and aid socialization. Prozac and Viagra are interventions.

Savulescu urged the medical profession to embrace new methodologies and not worry too much about ethical considerations.

"The sort of methodologies in science that I'm talking about are stem cell science, cloning and the new genetics," he said.
I predict that this sentiment will, unfortunately, be criticized by misguided people who will accuse scientists of "playing God," who alone, according to them, should have the right to improve humanity. But if a few visionary men and women see that there exists the potential for a massive market for such enhancements, the naysayers will just be whistling in the dark. At least this is what I hope. Let those who are against human enhancement remain as they are if that is their choice, but let them not claim the right to make that choice for me.

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Anonymous said...

Well I think that the business of enhancing humanity is already alive and well. Plastic surgery is a huge industry it's pure enhancement right there. Even though there are inherent risks to doing any surgery, many still elect to go for it. Also how about laser eye surgery, more and more people decide to do it (including me), even though there is perfectly reasonable alternative which does not require surgery.
I think making happier and better people is a tall order though, look at all the troubles with anti-depressants. What we understand about the human mind is tiny compared to what we have yet to discover.