The Debate over Enhancements (Introduction)

Ronald A. Lindsay

Through drugs and implanted medical devices, we can now enhance the capacities of humans. The changes brought about so far are still relatively minor (for example, using Ritalin to increase the ability to concentrate), but it’s highly likely that we will develop the means to modify an increasing variety of human traits within ten to twenty years. Were we able to perfect the techniques for safe, effective, targeted genetic modification, the possibilities for human transformation would be enormous. We could improve our cognitive capacities; increase our immunity to disease; retard the aging process; augment our strength and endurance; and alter our dispositions, moods, and behavior.

The prospect of significant enhancement of human capacities, physical or mental, has sparked an intense debate in the last decade, both in ethics and at the level of public policy. One of the major reports produced by President George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics was devoted to the topic. (As one might expect, the 2003 report, titled Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness, took a rather dim view of enhancements.) However, it is not just academics, lawyers, and policy makers who have been debating the issues presented by enhancements. A not-insignificant portion of the general population has been captivated by the topic—although, admittedly, some of this interest arises more from science fiction than an objective analysis of advances in biomedical sciences.

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