The Issue

There are things we do to improve the quality of our lives, running, learning, fixing broken parts of our body, curing disease, improving our cognition. The ethics of this are not under dispute. Human augmentation refers to the biomedical interventions that are used to improve human form or functioning beyond what is necessary to restore or sustain health. That is the crux of the matter.

I have glasses, I have orthotics, I have had braces. These are not interventions to improve, beyond the original capacity of the body, my health, ability or longevity.

My mother passed away from motor neuron disease; it may be hereditary. If I redesign the parts of my genes that transmit that disease am I enhancing myself, or merely saving myself?

The controversy that exists within this field is not a debate on the process; it is a debate between scientists over whether or not the enhancement of a human is an ethic decision. Not how can we, but rather should we, and it is a science controversy because it is scientists arguing a researched process. Not some citizen activist group (though they exist) or political ideology (yep that too). But genuine discourse between colleagues and peers that the deliberate intervention in a human body outside life-saving processes is or is not unethical.

So we can think of the issue in a few terms.

Radical Enhancement/Augmentation: Dramatic and overwhelming changes.
Near Enhancement: Subtle or small changes.
Bioethics: The ethical consideration of biological changes.
Eugenics: The improvement of human genetic traits through reproduction.
Existing Vs Non-Existing Technologies: Does the technology exist to create the change, or will it need to be created first?

There are more terms to understand, but we will tackle those as we reach the relevant discussion.

It is important to note there are arguments within the science about the procedure. Technologies that interface with DNA have rapidly evolved over the last 20 years; one only has to watch Jurassic Park for that… There is a new technology called “Crispr” that makes genetic manipulation quite simple and easily repeatable, but not being a molecular biologist or geneticist, I have no earthly idea how it works :P.

An easily understood example of on the ethical problems of augmenting humans is social inequity. We live in an economic world; chances are if immortality is invented, it would cost a substantial fortune. The wealth of the world would be in the hands of a few undying oligarchs.

Sounds horrible.

Next time we will delve a little deeper and look at genetics, and the controversy surrounding gene manipulation.

Readings
http://www.bioethics.ac.uk/news/humanitys-end-why-we-should-reject-radical-enhancement.php

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/enhancement/

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.220.1961

http://www.nickbostrom.com/ethics/human-enhancement.pdf

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