In a book that is plainly designed to enhance the case for enhancing humans, a leading think tank in the UK has launched a book called Better Humans? The Politics of Enhancement and Life Extension. It includes chapters that raise problems, but the first section is simply called "the case for enhancement," and that's the tone of the book. You can download it free of charge.
The subtitle might seem to suggest that the focus is on the political debates about enhancement and its new technologies. Of course, if it had been, the book would have been very short. Because no "politics of enhancement" has yet to appear in party platforms or become a factor in leadership contests. The mainstream partiesin the U.S. as the U.K.have hardly given it a thought. A book on that subject would need to turn the title around and tell the tale of the lack of a politics of enhancement. In fact, that would be an interesting story and a depressing one. Despite the masterly review of these issues in the President's Council on Bioethics 2003 report Beyond Therapy, and the transhumanist aspirations of many influential players in the technology community (see the National Science Foundation's notorious 2002 report on Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance, not only our politicians but also our church leaders seem just about as uninterested in the subject as they could be.
So Better Humans? lays out the need for a debate:
A public debate is needed now about the potential for new technologies to make us 'better than human' according to a report published today by Demos and the Welcome Trust.
Better Humans? The Politics of Enhancement and Life Extension argues that policy makers and the public must address the consequences of technologies to enhance the human mind and body, including memory-enhancing drugs, genetic selection of children, and dramatic increases in life expectancy.
These technologies haveradical policy implications, such as the potential for widespread use of memor- enhancing drugs in schools and universities, and the need for dramatic increases in the state retirement age.
Here are some of the key issues:
- Smart pills to enhance concentration and memory are now available, with research on other brain-altering drugs underway;
- Gene therapy technologies to alter the genetic make-up of selected cells are already advanced;
- Genetic selection, enabling embryos to be selected for particular genetic traits, is already available for several dozen illnesses;
- Research on cybernetics, altering the mental and physical abilities of humans by embedding engineering or electronic systems within the body, is being actively pursued
- Radical life extension, pushing lifespans to 150 years or more, may be possible within the next 30 years.
The answer is to address practical issues like gene doping in schools (for academic excellence) and retirement planning (if we are going to live a lot longer), and establish a "Commission on Emerging Technologies and Society."
The real problem here is the passivity with which these possibilities are being accepted. The idea is that we need to make sure we avoid obvious problems, while getting used to the fact that whatever technology can serve up will determine our future. Of course, one reason for this approach lies in the fact that there is no politics of enhancement. As we know, the U.K. has demonstrated the most passivity and shown the least moral fiber in its approach to emerging technologiesnow that the Korean fraud has been exposed, the U.K. has the distinction of being the only nation on earth that has actually licensed and funded the cloning and destruction of embryos for research. Yet here in the U.S. we are hardly better off.
What the Future Could Hold
Unless things change, look at this scenario:
- Economic conservatives and libertarians press for "enhancement" as a rightagainst any regulation of the bio business that would prevent it.
- At the same time, many pro-lifers can't see the problem with having "better babies": Enhancers don't want to kill anyone, they just want us all to be the best we can be. And don't we all want the best for our babies?
- Christians slide down the slope into the view that God wants the best for us. So often we have been told that God wants us healthy and wealthywhat could be better than to use our wealth to create super-health, and use the super-health to create yet more wealth? For there is no doubt that "enhancement" will be for the haves, and it will dig deeper the ditch between them and the have-nots.
So let's have better babies, babies by design, and let's move on to redesign ourselves, using drugs and surgeries and finally reinventing ourselves from the genes and neurons up.
Can't see the problem? Well, when Jesus returnsJesus the incarnate Son of God, the first-century Palestinian Jew, his flesh and blood glorified but still his ownwhen he returns in power and glory to call us to account, what will he find? Will he find faith upon the earth? Will he even find men and women? Or will he say, as he searches for fellow members of homo sapiens, the species he made in his image and took to be his own, and meets self-invented, designer beings, quite literally, "I never knew you"?
Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Previous Life Matters columns include:
Poaching Eggs | The latest sad story from the Korean soap operaand a lack of Talent in Missouri (Feb. 17, 2006)
The State of the Human | President Bush sets out a vital agenda for ethics. (Feb. 2, 2006)
Are You My Sperm Donor? | Plus: Another Hwang turn, more small surprises, and other life ethics stories. (Jan. 26, 2006)
Breeding Humans Like Rabbits? | From the frying pan into the fire. (Jan. 20, 2006)
The Prospects for 2006 | Deeper into the (Christian?) biotech century. (Jan. 9, 2006)
Peter Singer Meets Dr. Hwang | The ethics of the Brave New World. (Jan. 5, 2006)
Bethlehem's Bioethics | Christmas in the early 21st century. (Dec. 22, 2005)
A Common Cause for Our Common Humanity | Left and right come together in defense of us. (Dec. 14, 2005)
More CT articles on bioethics are available on our Life Ethics page.