Opinions & Reviews
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There seems to be a plethora of books coming out at present which address the subject of human enhancement. In some respects this is encouraging and testament to the fact the issues are beginning to move from the sidelines into more mainstream debate. Undoubtedly more needs to be done as I don’t think we’ve quite got to the stage yet of the proverbial man or woman on the Clapham omnibus contemplating the future impact of human enhancement. The reason for this may be in part due to a mix of the hope and hype: what really is possible and what is not?
One of the key buzz phrases surrounding current developments in healthcare is “personalised medicine”. From direct to consumer genetic testing to targeted drug therapies, a medical model has emerged that promises the ability to customise healthcare so that it fits precisely to a patient’s genomic profile. As globalisation has occurred with the growing mobility across frontiers of many factors such as goods and commodities, mobility of information and communications of products and services to people, there has also arisen the need to reassert the personal and to carve out a sense of personal identity.
With the relatively recent emergence of the field of bioethics has come a great plethora of books on the subject. Because of the complexity of the subject, many unfamiliar with its multi–faceted character may have difficulty initially finding a course on its ever–changing waters. In these instances, books like Alastair Campbell’s Bioethics: The Basics provide a sound foundational introduction on which to begin one’s own bioethical exploration. Campbell is a well respected author and prolific writer on bioethical issues with more than 30 books and book chapters as well as dictionary entries to his name; and many more articles in refereed journals.
The robots are here. We don’t notice them. When we withdraw money from our bank, using an automatic teller, it is a robot that helps us. When we search a topic on the Internet, it is robotic–software that does the searching for us. Recent cars have robotic systems to parallel park for us, and to avoid collisions. The ingredients in the salad that I had for lunch were picked, cleaned, packaged and delivered to my grocery store with the help of robots. No one seems to mind these robots – we barley notice them. Will they remove our dignity? It is different though, when we consider the use of robots as personal assistants and care givers. Many people worry that the use of automatic machines to help us with our daily activities will become a problem – that despite their utility, robots will serve to isolate us from human contact, and perhaps demean us by ignoring our individuality.
Asking the Right Question We’ve all seen and experienced it. Children are natural born question askers, they are constantly asking questions! But as we grow and mature in life, do we run the risk of forgetting to question and instead merely accept the ideas and ways of thinking that have gone before? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Over recent months I have been giving time to think afresh about the role of questions and the art of questioning in helping to further the conversation surrounding advances in new technologies. This short article will no doubt lead to a more substantial and rigorous paper in the coming months but at this early stage I wanted to share some of my reflections. Very often the West’s angle on the bioethics conversation has been marked by a focus on persuasion, logical and rational argument, approaches which are not typically followed in other parts of the world which pay much greater time and attention to reflective questioning, stories and observation.
There are some events which bring out the conflicting opinions of “I wish more people were here to experience this” and “Many more people would spoil what is happening here.” I felt this several times during the second in what I hope will become an annual event on the way that biotechnology will be able to add to the human body in the near future: many more people would have tended to break the quite intimate atmosphere, and yet it would have been so good for more people to experience the sheer optimism for mankind demonstrated throughout the day. The speakers defy easy characterisation, since each has a broad range of interests. Iain Banks’ idea – a mere side–thought in The Crow Road – of a taking a spectrum of people’s lives and seeing where the black lines where the things that interest them have been absorbed kept coming to me. The participants would have their absorption lines spread across the whole spectrum, from science and engineering, through the arts and into philosophy.
BioCentre is pleased to be hosting an afternoon discussion on the future of robotics and their use in the care of the older person.
A few paralyzed patients could soon be using a wireless brain–computer interface able to stream their thought commands as quickly as a home Internet connection.
An anti–aging startup hopes to elude the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and death at the same time.