Ethics in a World of Technological Possibility
We’re at the point in history where science fiction isn’t fiction anymore. Things that were mere imagination fifty year ago are happening now and impacting the world in ways that we never knew were possible. Prosthetics replace lost limbs and deformed features. Human cloning is possible, and is in fact just around the corner from becoming reality. People can manipulate parts of pregnancy and childbirth that were previously left to fate, and can even choose the desired gender of their future baby. But in the midst of all the new scientific developments, we’ve started to come across ethical questions we’ve never before had to consider. So in this new world of technological possibility, where does humanity end and machine begin?
Bionic technology and human enhancement aren’t the stuff of myths and TV shows anymore. Prosthetics make new things possible with their increasingly enhanced abilities. Consider Oscar Pistorius, the South African Olympic runner who uses prosthetics due to a deformity he’s lived with since birth. Pistorius excels and competes with some of the best runners on the planet, despite his so-called handicap. But Pistorius has been met with criticism by some who believe that his lightweight prosthetics give him an unfair advantage over his competition. According to some scholars, this difference can mean a 20-25% increase in limb speed compared to runners with intact limbs. Should Pistorius be allowed to compete? Unfortunately it’s a question that no longer needs much consideration, given his recent trial and sentence for the murder of his girlfriend, which put an end to his running career.
In addition to prosthetics, the future could bring about the anticipated bionic man. That’s right, the “Six Million Dollar Man” could be a reality before we know it.
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Consider this scenario: a man is taken apart and replaced piece by piece, with technology and prosthetics that will enhance his performance and improve his quality of life. This continues until every single part of this man has been removed, exchanged for a sleek, stylish, and seriously powerful piece of machinery. Is this new creation still the same man? Is it still even a man at all? How much has his life actually been improved if he’s no longer completely there to enjoy it? These are the ethical questions we have to consider if we are to one day turn into a society where these sort of situations happen. It’s important to consider the implications of this aspect of ethics in biotechnology.
If we continue in our current path, we will very soon have more control over human life and genetics than ever. Human cloning is just around the corner. What sort of ethical questions does this slightly controversial topic raise? In addition to this, in vitro fertilization has given us the ability to implant a specific gender during the IVF process, allowing us to create so-called “designer babies.” Right now we can make the executive decision of whether or not we want our child to be a boy or girl. Next could be decided hair color, eye color, facial structure, temperament, talent, and before we know it we’ve hand crafted our very own “perfect child.” Yuck.
Too much control can be a bad thing. We don’t know what we want, we don’t know what’s best, we have no idea what’s in store in the future. We could easily regret a decision tomorrow if something changes, and the ability to control has the potential to make us flippant in serious issues. Putting ourselves in the position of tackling hefty topics like this, we have to be willing to take on the ethical discussion that comes with it.. As one article put it, “This isn’t science fiction. It is exactly what is promised by our unlocking of the genome.” We have the power to do a lot with the technological resources currently available to us, but power isn’t beneficial if it’s used without the strong guiding hand of ethics.
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