December 4, 2010

Ronald Lindsay: "The Ethics of Enhancements: Spurious Concerns and Genuine Uncertainties" [CFI conference on biomedical enhancements]

Ronald Lindsay now presenting: "The Ethics of Enhancements: Spurious Concerns and Genuine Uncertainties."

Enhancements augments an existing capacity, or introduces a new capacity altogether. Improvement responds to the statistically normal range for humans with that existing capacity.

Arguments against

Michael Sandel has argued that enhancements manifest a misguided quest for mastery and threaten to destroy an appreciated of the "gifted" character of life. "Giftedness" is the sense that we are limited, that who we are exceeds our control. Sandel is mistaken that enhancements would deprive us of that sense. Whether or not giftedness is a fundamental human good, enhancements will not eliminate contingencies. We will not be able to control events that affect us. We will not be able to control our initial conditions - no control over the circumstances of our birth. We are and always will be thrown into this world. Our existence will remain gifted by our existence.

Leon Kass has argued that enhancements will cause a loss of authenticity, a sense of achievement. "Accomplishments" will be meaningless. Short-cuts provided by enhancement will trivialize our accomplishments. This claim ignores the long history of (external) enhancements. They have not destroyed our sense of accomplishment. No matter what one's capabilities, one still has to apply one's knowledge. Changing the means to accomplish the goal does not diminish the goal. There will always be goals that will motivate us and prove challenging.

Fukuyama, McKibben: Enhancements are "unnatural" and threaten to destroy human nature. It is the "nature" of individuals, not the human race as a whole, which is most subject to change. Most enhancements will not implicate any change to the nature of an individual because improved capacities still will be recognizably human. What is wrong with changing our nature? Is our current mix of capacities the optimal mix? It is not immediately clear that the increase of a human capacity will alter what it means to be human or a person's nature. Why is chance so much better than choice such that the latter can be considered immoral? We don't like spinning the roulette wheel.

Can we survive the uncertain changes to society that enhancements may cause? What little experience we have with enhancements suggests we can. Take birth control for example. Moreover, the beneficial social consequences may be enormous.

These arguments fail to eliminate enhancements as a viable option.

Should internal/intrinsic enhancements be developed and regulated in the same was external enhancements are (external enhancements being things like iPads and other technological tools).

Arguments against

Case-by-case evaluation of enhancements is required. One problem: we have no substnative experience in evaluating enhancements qua enhancements. We are not even at first base in determining how they might be regulated.

Enhancements now available were developed and tested as therapies, but the therapy model may not work. Risk-benefit analysis for therapies assumes the therapy will help restore "normal" functioning. Enhancements are not needed for normal functioning, so arguably any risk is too great.

Private sector will not invest substantial resources in the development of enhancements until it is assured an appropriate regulatory framework is in place. Presumably this implies a regulatory framework that is not disease-centered.

Besides the possible toxicity of an enhancements, many other factors need to be considered in evaluating and enhancement has on other capacities, the consequences of using the enhancement....

In addition, various long-term effects need to be considered, such as effects on productivity, allocation of resources, social and political relations, individual rights, aggregate welfare, and future generations.

Does enhancement improve well-being? Not always the case.

Fears and concerns about social divisions and nightmare scenarios

Emergence of a class of super-enhanced individuals who dominate the unenhanced.

Two presumptions about the distribution of enhancements: first, enhancements should be made widely available; second, the fact that enhancements may not be available for all by itself does not provide a reason for denying enhancements to some. Beyond this, we can't say much with confidence.

It's been said the enhanced class poses a risk to liberal democracy.

Would domination of the unenhanced by posthumans be unjust? The relationship may lie outside the bounds of justice. To begin, a world with a stark division between unenhanced and posthuman beings is highly unlikely. However such a scenario arguably lies outside the bounds of justice. Consider: We are not required to form bonds of cooperation with nonhuman animals and treat them as equals. There may be no reason for posthumans to form relations with humans; doing so may be seen as a hindrance. Humans and posthumans are unlikely to have a shared perspective on justice and compel them to be members of the same community.

At the end of the day, sci-fi scenarios are of little use in the assessment of enhancements.

Ethicists have a constructive role to play provided they stick to real situations and overheated discussions.

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