Human Augmentation

Human Augmentation: A Bioethical Implication Analysis of Cybernetics, Nanotechnology, and Upgrades to the Human Body

Southern University Law Center

Bioethics is the division of applied ethics that researches the philosophical, social, and legal issues which arise in medicine and the life sciences.[i] It is mainly focused upon human life and human well-being, though it at times also views the ethical questions relating to nonhuman biological environments.[ii]

Issues in biological sciences were first encouraged by the effort to improve military medicine after World War II.[iii] Developments since then have steered to the institution of cancer treatments, anti-hypertensive drugs, the cardiac pacemaker, and the polio vaccine.[iv] The growing issues of the time, such as the increased use of people as subjects for medical research and the rising costs of health care, were infrequently discussed among those outside the medical field.[v] Both human cloning and embryo research became hot topics of discussion after the successful cloning of tadpoles in 1962 and the birth of the first human “test-tube baby” in 1978.[vi] Bioethics has been brought to the forefront of public attention due to the incredible, and almost unimaginable, technological advances of the past quarter century.[vii]

Unfortunately, the enhanced pace of such scientific advancement has delayed the capability of our cultural values and laws, in many cases, to keep up adequately with the opportunities and dangers which such developments present.[viii] Some of the basic moral questions which must be asked to gauge such bioethical issues: Are we in some cases treating human life as raw material to be exploited as a natural resource?[ix] Have we blurred the line between creation and manufacture?[x] What moral boundaries should researchers observe?[xi] For the general public, biotechnology, and the bioethics that can govern how we decide to use that technology, affects many aspects of people’s lives.[xii] Bioethical choices can determine the way people bring their children into the world, the way disease or disability are treated, the way physical characteristics are used by the government in crime investigation, and how people use the last moments of their lives.[xiii] The ethical concerns regarding biotechnology can affect how these types of actions are regulated when such concerns are relayed to lawmakers.[xiv] Thus, a comprehensive appreciation of bioethical issues relating to regulation of biotechnology can help to ensure that medical advancements are not made in an unethical or immoral manner.[xv] This paper will set forth technological advances which have recently been made in human cloning, cybernetics, nanotechnology, brain computer interfaces, and robotic prosthesis.

Despite biotechnology’s benefits the development of biotechnology has moral limits that conform to specific moral absolutes.[xvi] But our primary concern must be the preservation of the “dignity or value of each human person at every stage and condition.”[xvii] Inherent in the respect for the dignity of a human person is respect for the autonomous choices for other persons.[xviii] Biotechnology must move forward at a speed that ensures that the inherent dignity of each human person is maintained while allowing science to improve the quality of lives.[xix] Scientific research and development can lead to bettering lives by helping scientists to discover cures for diseases and disabilities but such developments can include the destruction or alteration of human life.[xx] From the announcement that the first animal was cloned in 1997 in Edinburgh, Scotland[xxi] to the declaration in 2001 that Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), a small biotech firm in Massachusetts, had succeeded in creating the first human embryonic clone,[xxii] developments in cloning and the unresolved ethical issues surrounding the technology keep the issue in public debate.[xxiii]

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