Technology does not police itself. This instigates prompt and thorough constructive discussion and posit accountability. Technological breakthroughs, especially in the medical and scientific field is undeniably marching forward with no signs of stopping anytime soon.
Over a million of years, humans constantly develop and reinvent things to ease and simplify tasks and so as a matter–of-fact, technology springs out of necessity. True, technology is symbiotic to human in the words of Kevin Kelly (What Technology Wants) but this also requires careful criticism. As the bots help human efficiency and while we improve their effectiveness we have become increasingly interwoven. That said, the merge of humanoids or trans humans in the society is possible. Thinking forward, this could be symbiotic for now but could potentially mean annihilation of our specie in the future.
Sometime ago, I had the chance to enrol in a course called Bioethics: The Law, Medicine and the Ethics of Reproductive Technologies and of course a much needed supplemental read, Do Robots make Love, courtesy of my convenor, which both paved way to a lot of rational thinking and pondering. Although, there is a mammoth of talking point and argument in this subject, I just want to pin down some matters which are already down the pipeline.
First off, Surrogacy and IVF. Though it is not an entirely new thought as this existed dating back to the Biblical times, it is only until the 1980’s when the practice of gestational surrogacy started (Worldwide Surrogacy Specialist, 2017). It is when a mother bears a child that she has no genetic connection with as opposed to the traditional type. IVF or in-vitro fertilization on the other hand, is a procedure by which an egg and sperm are joined together outside the body, in a specialised laboratory (IVF Australia, 2018). Indeed, reproductive technology gives rise to a new definition of parents and child bearing. This technology, in terms of infertility treatments, become a beacon of hope for many couples.
Next, Assisted Reproduction Technologies (ART) or Freezing of Embryos. A method where embryos (fertilised egg) are cryopreserved until needed. A typical IVF cycle can create more than one or two embryos and can risk multiple pregnancies if all of them are transferred. So, the embryos are stored freeze and thawed when needed. According to OBOS data in 2011, US alone has about 600,000 cryopreserved embryos used for family building however many end up unused which then creates conflict with what to do with them, raising legal and ethical issues (Obos Infertility Contributors, 2011). What happens then to the excess “unused” embryo? What happens if they are not thawed or if no one claims them? Isn’t it that these are already lives just placed on hold?
Down the line is the Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). A technological breakthrough used prior to implantation that helps in identifying genetic defects within embryos (American Pregnancy Association, 2019). The purpose is to prevent genetic diseases or disorders to be passed on to the child where problematic embryos are actually destroyed. Experts say, this procedure does not completely eliminate the risk of acquiring the disease (American Pregnancy Association.org, 2019). So, does a decrease in Down’s syndrome case sound comforting? To quote Laurent, “The Down’s syndrome is gradually diminishing as survey data in the UK and in the US shows a decline in the number of cases brought about by strong social pressure to “eradicate” the disorder in the society.” Since when did we become decision-makers to who is entitled to life and who isn’t? We have been playing God all this time, distorting the laws of nature. As the Canadian philosopher Marshall McLund said, “We shape our tools and our tools shape us”. The person before technology is no longer the user afterwards (Case, 2014). Who will be responsible for the moral compasses of these technological innovations? To quote Jean-Michel Besnier “Must we accept everything that we are capable of?” (Alexandre &Besnier, 2018).
PGD is closely related to “designer babies” otherwise known as synthetic biology or CRISPR/CAS9. It is the process of redesigning or editing the biological structure modifying genetic codes. Sex selection is also part of this topic and where Eugenics or Human Engineering comes in. This is a science of improving the human species by selectively mating with people having specific desirable hereditary traits (History.com Editors, 2018). Because we have jumped on the bandwagon of eugenics as Laurent said (Alexandre & Besnier, 2018), there are implications along the way or if we have come to fully understand the implications. Take for example, in 2002 a deaf lesbian couple decided to have a deaf child and had to go through great lengths in finding a sperm donor with five generation of deafness to make sure the child comes out deaf (BBC News, 2002). Why must a child be deprived of the faculties of a normal human being? In the light of eugenics, should the human race be really improved?
Human-animal and hybrids (chimeras). A technological breakthrough referring to an entity that incorporates elements from both human and non-human animals. “Chimeras” after the Greek mythological creature which means head of a lion, body of a goat and tail of a serpent.” (Ketchell, 2017). This method uses human cells and introduce it into an animal organism, which could survive and grow inside the host animal the purpose is to save lives through lab-grown organs. The advancement of this is the hope to address the shortage of donor organs (Blakemore, n.d.). However, one of the major ethical concerns here is it blurs the distinction between humans and other animals, violating human dignity. (BBC, 2014). Another argument is that human embryos have special moral status that should be respected and that “creating” them for scientist’s disposal is morally wrong and a human rights violation. Is creating an animal/human hybrid embryos a step too far?
While all these sound interesting and compelling (and somewhat disturbing), there is a need to get on it ASAP. Bioengineering technologies have become a more powerful subject because it is qualitatively different and because it pushes us to question who we are and what we have become. In as much as it has been promising and beneficial, it could also unlock Pandora’s Box. We have been too complacent while these are spiralling out of control. To quote Michael Bess, “Either our survival is at risk or we become semi-machines who are like marionettes of our own moment-to-moment experience.” (Illing, 2008).
We have been so adept at modifying human nature, are we searching for the elixir of life? “We live in an age of technological progress, but no longer human progress,” (Postman in Case, 2014, p. 38). If only we could take a moment to think about where we stand as a society, come up with a universal principle of the highest ethical standards in safeguarding morals and protecting human rights then maybe we would know where to draw the line.
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