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Human-Enhancement Technologies and the Post-Human Future

Professor Daniel Sarewitz of Arizona State University sees the controversy in sports over the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs as part of a larger and more threatening issue — the use of performance-enhancing technologies to redefine humanity. Writing in The Los Angeles Times, Professor Sarewitz argues: Biological engineering is not just about curing disease anymore. The incentives and profits are moving toward drugs, gene therapies and other technologies to enhance human performance — memory, creativity, concentration, strength, endurance, longevity. Asking athletes not to partake of these advances is not just hypocritical, it’s likely to be increasingly futile.
Furthermore, Professor Sarewitz points to the ethical confusion — even the ethical cluelessness — that characterizes many of those who advocate for a posthuman future:
This sort of contextual cluelessness is rampant in the world of techno-optimism. Software designer Ramez Naam has suggested that “the debate over human enhancement is at heart a debate over human freedom. Should individuals and families have the right to alter their own minds and bodies, or should that power be held by the state? In a democratic society, it’s every man and woman who should determine such things, and not the state.”But who, after all, is making the key decisions determining how research on human enhancement should be supported, advanced and applied? It’s people such as those at the meetings I just described.I suspect the last thing on Earth that Naam would want is for “individuals and families” — most of whom know little about the relevant science and technology — to be involved in making these choices. What he really means, I suppose, is that “individuals and families,” playing their roles as consumers, will get to exercise some modest amount of choice in the matter, after products are developed and marketed, and perhaps in response to the ways that the Joneses next door are enhancing their children. Yet if this is Naam’s idea of freedom, it is a disturbingly shriveled version of the real thing.
Clearly, there is more at stake than steroid use by professional athletes. Is there no limit to what humans should do to enhance “performance?”
See Daniel Sarewitz, “Will Human Enhancement Make Us Better?,” The Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2005.