Will Human Beings Remain Truly Human?

by The Center for Bioethics and Culture

(Register for the Techno-Sapien Conference Today)

Brave New World is closing in upon us at mach speed. Consider the mind boggling technological potentials that have gone, in just the last few years, from science fiction to very real science potential. The most obvious of these is the prospect of human cloning. But following just behind that biotechnology is a radical concept that makes cloning seem about as novel as a transistor radio; the drive toward a post human world known as “transhumanism.”

Transhumanism is a nascent and explicitly eugenic philosophy that advocates seizing control of human evolution through bioengineering. Transhumanists come from the highest levels of academe. The founder of the movement, Nick Bostrom, is a professor of philosophy at Yale University who recently received a three-year fellowship at Oxford University. Other pioneer transhumanists include Professor James Hughes of Trinity College, Hartford, and Gregory Stock, director of the Program on Medicine, Technology, and Society at the School of Medicine, UCLA and author of the recent book, Redesigning Humans.

Transhumanists are biotech-absolutists. They assert that humans should not merely be allowed to metamorphose themselves through plastic surgery, cyber-technology, and the like, but should have the right to control the destiny of their genes via progeny design and fabrication. This could include replacing natural chromosomes with artificial chromosomes, increasing or decreasing the number of chromosomes in offspring or clones, and even in Hughes words, “mixing species boundaries.”

University of Alabama bioethicist Gregory E. Pence, an enthusiastic proponent of cloning-to-produce-children, also promotes mixing human and animal genes. In his book, Who’s Afraid of Human Cloning? Pence writes, “In some ultimate sense, humans are both nothing more, and as wonderful as, compassionate monkeys.” By “weakening the ethical boundary between non-human and human animals,” he asserts that it will be easier to “do to humans some of the things we think quite sane to do to animals,” beginning with cloning and moving from there to genetic modification.

Transhumanists intend to take us on a long march to post humanity. If that is not to happen, we will have to resist. Unfortunately, transhumanists have arrived among us at a weak moment when traditional sanctity-of-human-life cultural norms have been undermined significantly. But the future won’t wait for us to regain our moral equilibrium. Genetic science is advancing at an almost reckless pace. If we are going to maintain the equal dignity of all human life in the face of the biotechnological threat, society will have to act.

Leon Kass, chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics has written, “It is our difficult task to find ways to preserve [society] from the soft dehumanizations of well-meaning but hubristic biotechnical ‘recreationism’-and to do it without undermining biomedical science or rejecting its genuine contributions to human welfare.” This crucial task will require informed and committed public participation in which people become aware of both the potentials and perils of our unfolding technological world, and be able to distinguish between the two.

This is why the upcoming CBC conference—”Technosapians: The Face of the Future?” -is so important. The conference will bring together some of the leading thinkers on these issues in one place to debate, discuss, and ponder the potential consequences of transhumanism and a post human future. I urge all to attend, and then be willing to participate through our democratic institutions in helping society benefit from biotechnology without succumbing to it.

Author Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute is a special consultant to the CBC. He is currently working on books about human cloning and animal rights.

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