The Essence of Humanity and the Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement
Effects of BME on the Conventional Idea of Humanity, Human Relations, Intimacy and Reproductive Methods
In Agar’s well researched book he articulates an important reason why radical enhancements should be forbidden. He argues that the very idea of humanity is intrinsically linked to certain species-specific values and perspectives. These are contained in our culture, art, relationships and understanding of morality. For example a hallmark of good theatre is the apt combination of logos, pathos and ethos. The radical enhancement project aims to reduce or eliminate human capacity or necessity for all the three qualities. A human being’s range of expression in these areas is likely to be reduced after radical enhancement. Moreover, it is imperfections in human behavior and thought that give merit to the near-perfect accomplishments of high art and high culture[i]. By attempting to make humans ‘perfect’ something essential to humanity – something most valuable and cherished – is also lost. Another unsavory result of a future culture of radical enhancement is the nature of reproduction itself[ii]. All the time-tested and finely attuned rules of natural evolution would be tossed aside, including the ever-interesting courtship rituals, romance and sex.[iii] In fact much of our culture and art is based upon love and romance. In the high-tech future world that practices radical enhancement, science laboratories would replace bedrooms. Natural pregnancy and child-birth would be made redundant. In its place would emerge an assembly line for specially engineered babies[iv]. In light of this eerie and depressing possibility, one can sympathize with Agar’s concerns.
Implications of BME for Cherished Human Values
While Agar seems to be concerned about the loss of human heritage that has been acquired so millennia of civilization, Buchanan tends to disagree. The latter claims that though we need to be proud of what our ancestors have achieved in intellectual and artistic pursuits, the evolution of our species has not reached an endpoint. In other words, while there are many admirable qualities and traits that define human beings they are nowhere near perfect.[v] The current state of geo-politics and inter-communal relations stand testimony to this assessment. Buchanan thus dismisses biomedical enhancements on the grounds of ‘character’ and ‘human nature’[vi]. In effect, those who resort to arguments on the basis of these vague and high sounding terms are actually undermining their own position. Critics of Agar have censured him for being a ‘speciesist’, implying a current of discrimination in his position[vii]. But as Agar has logically rebutted, one cannot discriminate against something that is not in existence yet[viii]. Agar’s condemnation is through the method of a scientific hypothesis.
[i] Allen Buchanan. Beyond Humanity? The Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement. Oxford University Press. 2013, chapter 2, p.56.
[ii] Allen Buchanan. Beyond Humanity? The Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement. Oxford University Press. 2013. Chapter 1, p.23.
[iii] Nicholas Agar, Humanity’s End. Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement. MIT Press. 2010. Chapter 1, p.14.
[iv] Nicholas Agar, Humanity’s End. Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement. MIT Press. 2010, chapter 2, p.66.
[v] Nicholas Agar, Humanity’s End. Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement. MIT Press. 2010. chapter 9, p.256.
[vi] Allen Buchanan. Beyond Humanity? The Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement. Oxford University Press. 2013. Chapter 7, p.188.
[vii] Nicholas Agar, Humanity’s End. Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement. MIT Press. 2010, chapter 7, p.228.
[viii] Nicholas Agar, Humanity’s End. Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement. MIT Press. 2010. Chapter 4, p.101.
Two Categories of Biomedical Enhancement (BME)
Even within the field of human biomedical enhancement (which is as yet at a theoretical stage) there are two categories. The first are common or corrective enhancements which aim to set right a deficiency (acquired congenitally or through life events) in a human individual. The second are radical or strategic enhancements which are aimed to give a competitive advantage to the individual undergoing the procedure. Both Allen Buchanan and Nicholas Agar reject radical enhancements. Whereas Agar’s thesis is somewhat accommodative of benign and remedial forms of enhancement, Buchanan’s is more pessimistic.[i] Hence the subject lends itself to numerous dimensions of ethical inquiry[ii]. As is often the case with major debates within science, the community of scientists are divided into two camps. The two camps are not necessarily antagonistic and in sharp opposition to each other’s .
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