Galton describes eugenics as the “investigation under which men of a high type are produced”(Galton, 1883). and it is aimed to “bring as many influences as can be reasonably employed, to cause the useful classes in the community to contribute more than their proportion to the next generation”(Galton, 1904). This vision of eugenics is not limited to segregation and sexual sterilization two well-known practices of eugenics but it can also be applied to enhance humans beyond the species-typical, beyond the normal using genetic manipulations (Ball & Wolbring, 2013). The only prerequisite is that enhancements produce men of a high type (Ball & Wolbring).
History of Enhancement
Humans throughout history try to add abilities to their body. So far most of the abilities added were achieved through external means like the development of tools humans used to add body abilities to their repertoire. However, scientific and technological advancement increasingly allow for intervention on the level of the body that will increasingly generate human bodily enhancements that add abilities to the body its normally does not have. The enhancement of the human body is envisioned to happen through a) genetic interventions whereby the genome of humans is changed to introduce enhancements to the body b) drugs which are used to add temporary enhancements especially cognitive enhancements to the human body and c) the fusion of technologies with the body. As to technologies nearly every body part is under technology development (artificial arms, artificial blood, artificial blood vessels, artificial ears, artificial eyes, artificial gut, artificial heart, artificial legs, artificial organs, artificial retina, artificial skin, bionic knee, spinal cord prostheses, cranial, neural, and other implants, artificial joints, artificial muscles, artificial noses and tongues, nose on a chip, bio-artificial kidney, artificial liver, artificial lungs, artificial discs, artificial hippocampus (a chip implanted under the skull that can act as a memory repository), brain machine interfaces (implanted or non implanted version that allow the control of objects by thought that is linked to a computer), subvocal speech (allowing the translation of thought into speech through a computer without a need to actually speak). The human body is treated by many as an obsolescent technology in need of serious improvements (Wolbring, 2010). The ever increasing ability to generate human bodily enhancement products in many shape and forms enables a culture of, demand for, and acceptance of improving and modifying the human body (structure, function, abilities) beyond its species-typical boundaries. This facilitates the move beyond species-typical ability expectations toward an enhancement form of ableism that expects beyond species-typical of humans (Wolbring, 2005; Wolbring, 2006; Wolbring, 2008a; Wolbring, 2010; Wolbring, 2008b). As Beck states: “The degree to which, as well as the circumstances under which we want to allow or even support it, who has to pay for it, and how we can secure equality will be crucial questions for the following decades.” (Beck, 2007) Many type of possible enhancements are envisioned (Wolbring, 2005). A lively debate exists around numerous forms of enhancements. Some push for enhancements to be legalized or at least deregulated (Miah, 2010; Bostrom & Sandberg, 2009; UK House of Common Science Technology Committee, 2007; Bostrom, 2005; Savulescu, 2005; Caplan, 2004; Savulescu & Kahane, 2009; Harris, 2010; Harris, 2011a; Harris, 2011b) others questions the promotion of an enhancement form of ableism [e.g. (Sparrow, 2010; Sparrow, 2012; Koch, 2010; Wasserman, 2012; Bradshaw & ter Meulen, 2010; Larrere, 2010; Agar, 2007; Walters & Palmer, 1996; Ebbesen, Anderson, & Besenbacher, 2006; Kerr & Wishart, 2008)]. However in a 2009 “Human Performance Study” written for the European Parliament one reads, “Currently however, the EU has no platform for monitoring and discussing human enhancement issues. Arenas are lacking where the normative issues can be politically deliberated and the gap between the needs and the concerns of the broader public and the practitioners and experts bridged” (Coenen, Schuijiff, Smits, Klaassen, Hennen, Rader, & Wolbring, 2009). The situation is not much different for other countries and regions of the world.
Human Enhancement and people with disabilities
People with disabilities play a main role in the negative narrative around not being able to reach species-typical abilities. Indeed the medical model of disability reflects that sentiment. However, disabled people also are seen to play a role in the enhancement beyond the species-typical debate. The time is near were so called ‘therapeutic devices,’ generated to mimic species-typical body structures and expected body functioning will outperform in numerous functions the species-typical bodies giving rise to ‘therapeutic’ enhancements (Wolbring, 2005). Given this development it is not surprising that people with disabilities are also seen to play a key role in mainstreaming and increasing the general acceptance of especially body techno enhancements (Wolbring, 2005; Hughes, 2004). However disabled people might also serve as an indicator as to what will happen once human enhancements beyond the species-typical becomes a less than niche reality. People who are not enhanced might experience a disablement by the enhancement-haves in the same way the so called “sub species-typical” experience disablement by the “species-typical”. Anyone not having certain beyond species-typical abilities might face discriminative actions by the ones that have the beyond species-typical abilities (enhancement social model of disability) (Wolbring, 2010).
Will see more and more body linked products that will allow for beyond species typical body abilities. Disabled people are seen at the forefront of acquiring beyond species-typical body abilities due to the increasing reality of therapeutic enhancements. As such disabled people are seen to ease the way for the mainstreaming of beyond species-typical abilities in general. However the history of disabled people which consists of labelling them as impaired with the accompanying social discrimination they experience also serves as a warning. Once beyond species typical abilities move into the mainstream the ones who do not want or cannot afford the enhancements might be labelled as ‘impaired’ and experience social discrimination due to not being enhanced. As such how society deals with the ‘impaired’ people of today might be an indicator of how the non-enhanced will be treated down the road and it might give us pause whether we are ready for the enhancement push.
Agar, N. (2007). Whereto Transhumanism?: The Literature Reaches a Critical Mass. Hastings Center Report, 37(3), 12-17.
Ball, N., & Wolbring, G. (2013). Portrayals of and Arguments around different Eugenic Practices: Past and Present. International Journal of Disability, Community & Rehabilitation, 12(2), Article 2.
Beck, S. (2007). Enhancement as a Legal Challenge. Journal of International Biotechnology Law, 4(2), 75-81.
Bostrom, N. (2005). In defense of posthuman dignity. Bioethics, 19 (3), 202-214.
Bostrom, N., & Sandberg, A. (2009). Cognitive Enhancement: Methods, Ethics, Regulatory Challenges. Science and Engineering Ethics, 15 (3), 311-341.
Bradshaw, H. G., & ter Meulen, R. (2010). A transhumanist fault line around disability: Morphological freedom and the obligation to enhance. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 35(6), 670-684.
Caplan, A. L. (2003). Is better best? A noted ethicist argues in favor of brain enhancement. Sci Am, 289 (3), 104-105.
Caplan, A. L. (2004). Straining their brains: why the case against enhancement is not persuasive. Cerebrum, 6 (4), 14-18.
Coenen, C., Schuijff, M., Smits, M., Klaassen, P., Hennen, L., Rader, M., Wolbring, G. (2009). Human Enhancement Study; (IP/A/STOA/FWC/2005-28/SC35, 41 & 45) PE 417.483. Retrieved from: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/stoa/publications/studies/stoa2007-13_en.pdf
Ebbesen, M., Anderse, S., & Besenbacher, F. (2006). Ethics in Nanotechnology Starting from Scratch? Bulletin of Science Technology Society, 26(6), 451-462.
Galton, F. (1883). Hereditary Genius And Inquiries Into Human Faculty And Its Development. Retrieved from: Galton.org.
Galton, F. (1904). Eugenics: Its definition, scope, and aims. American Journal of Sociology, 10(1), 1-25.
Harris, J. (2010). Enhancing evolution. USA: Princeton University Press.
Harris, J. (2011a). Sparrows, hedgehogs and castrati: reflections on gender and enhancement. Journal of Medical Ethics, 37 (5), 262.
Harris, J. (2011b). Taking the ôHumanö Out of Human Rights. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, 20 (01), 9-20.
Hughes, J. (2004). Battle Plan to Be More than Well Transhumanism is finally getting in gear. Retrieved from World Transhumanist Association Webpage. http://transhumanism.org/index.php/th/more/509
Kerr, I., & Wishart, J. (2008). A 'Tsunami Wave of Science': How the Technologies of Transhumanist Medicine are Shifting Canada's Health Research Agenda. Health Law Review, Vision Special Edition, 13-40.
Koch, T. (2010). Enhancing Who? Enhancing What? Ethics, Bioethics, and Transhumanism. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 35(6), 685-699.
Larrere, C. (2010). Ethics and nanotechnology: The issue of perfectionism. HYLE-International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry, 16(1), 19-30.
Miah, A. (2010). Towards the transhuman athlete: therapy, non-therapy and enhancement. Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics, 13(2), 221-233.
Savulescu, J. (2005). New breeds of humans: the moral obligation to enhance. Reprod.Biomed.Online, 10(Suppl 1), 36-39.
Savulescu, J., & Kahane, G. (2009). The Moral Obligation to Create Children with the Best Chance of the Best Life. Bioethics, 23(5), 274-290.
Sparrow, R. (2011). A not-so-new eugenics: Harris and Savulescu on human enhancement. Hastings Centre Report, 41(1), 32-42.
Sparrow, R. (2012). Fear of a female planet: how John Harris came to endorse eugenic social engineering. Journal of Medical Ethics, 38(1), 4-7.
UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. (2007). Human Enhancement Technologies in Sport.
Walters, L. R., & Palmer, J. G. (1996). The ethics of human gene therapy. USA: Oxford University Press.
Wasserman, D. (2012). Ethics of Human Enhancement and its Relevance to Disability Rights. Wiley Online Library: eLS.
Wolbring, G. (2010). Obsolescence and body technologies. Dilemata, (4), 67-83.
Wolbring, G. (2005). HTA Initiative #23 The triangle of enhancement medicine, disabled people, and the concept of health: a new challenge for HTA, health research, and health policy. Retrieved from: Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR) webpage, http://www.ihe.ca/documents/HTA-FR23.pdf
Wolbring, G. (2006). The unenhanced underclass. In J.M. Wilsdon (Ed.), Better Humans? The politics of human enhancement. Demos Institute.
Wolbring, G. (2008a). Ableism, Enhancement Medicine and the techno poor disabled. In P. Healey & S. Rayner (Eds.), Unnatural Selection: The Challenges of Engineering Tomorrow's People. Earthscan.
Wolbring, G. (2008b). Why NBIC? Why Human Performance Enhancement? Innovation; The European Journal of Social Science Research, 21(1), 25-40.
Wolbring, G. (2010). Nanotechnology and the Transhumanization of Health, Medicine, and Rehabilitation. In D. Lee Kleinmann, J. Delborne, K. Cloud-Hansen, J. Handelsman, (Eds.) Controversies in Science & Technology: Volume 3 (290-303). Mary Ann Liebert: New Rochelle, NY.