Beyond Therapy

Beyond Therapy
A report of the President’s Council on Bioethics: 2003
I read this in 2005, finishing in June

Chapters:
Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness
Better Children
Superior Performance
Ageless Bodies
Happy Souls

Most of the following are direct quotes. Most of my thoughts are parenthesized.

(Brain wiring can allow a man to move his arm by thinking about it. This is wonderful for brain damaged people, and could be useful for others. In a world where normal people employ such an enhancement, the claim that video games build dexterity would be diluted; use your brain to move the joystick. (Building dexterity is the only redeeming feature of the use of video games.) But why bother with a joystick? Why not upload the game into the brain? Then play the game with another part of the brain. You wouldn’t need to strain or involve your eyes, arms or hands. We are going pretty far here. This could give new meaning to the term “trivial pursuit”.)

(An individual may decline to be augmented, enhanced and reformed. But all around him, other reformeds change his world. They may force on him change. They may eliminate the choice. Their choices, even if undirected toward him, limit his choices. This is where Virginia Postrel goes wrong. In such a world, choices of how to make ourselves will not be limitless.)

…What exactly is it about “man’s estate” that most call for relief? Just sickness and suffering, or also such things as nastiness, folly and despair?

We are obtaining, “greater control over our lives, diminishing our subjection to disease and misfortune, chance and necessity.”

…Once we go beyond the treatment of disease and the pursuit of health, there seem to be no reliable standards of better and worse available to guide our choices.

Familiar subjects for bioethics include
informed consent for human subjects
equitable access to the fruits of medical research
morality of means used to pursue ends.
New subjects are the ends themselves.

People in Brave New World lived cheerfully, without disappointment or regret, “enjoying” flat, empty lives devoid of love and longing, filled only with trivial pursuits and shallow attachments. (They did this through use of a drug called Soma, like our present day Prozac, Lexapro, Effexor, etc.)

…Science holds a power to remake ourselves after images of our own devising.

…We already have powers to prevent fertility and to promote it: to initiate life in the laboratory; to screen our genes, both as adults and embryos, and to select of reject nascent life based on genetic criteria; to insert new genes into various parts of the adult body, and perhaps someday also into gametes and embryos; to enhance muscle performance and endurance; to alter memory, mood, appetite, libido, and attention through psychoactive drugs; to replace body parts and organs, mechanical organs, or tissues derived from stem cells, perhaps soon to wire ourselves using computer chips implanted into the body and brain; and, in the foreseeable future to prolong not just the average but also the maximum human life expectancy.

…Commercial interests already see vast market opportunities for nontherapeutic uses.

Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World by Lee Silver. Silver’s enthusiasm for the post-human future is diluted only by his fear that not everyone will have equal access to its enhancing benefits. For an examination and critique of his views see Francis Fukuyama'’ Our Post human Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution.

Better Children

…A 2003 study found that the overall use of psychotropic drugs by children tripled in the 1990s, in many cases approaching adult rates of utilization.

…Ritalin and similar stimulants can be, and quite possibly are being, used to mollify or improve children who suffer no disorder except childhood and childishness.

Superior Performance

Through powers surgical, genetic and pharmacological
Steroids enhance athletic performance
Amphetamines enhance metal performance
Genetic modification of human muscles

Modafinil enhances the performance of airline pilots
Ritalin is widely used by high school and college kids to improve their concentration while taking final exams or SAT test
Viagra is increasingly used by the non-impotent to enhance sexual performance
Growth hormone is now being used to help the normally short to become taller
Other drugs calm the nerves of concert pianists on neurosurgeons

Do enhancements alter the identity of the doer? Is the enhanced person still fully me, and are my achievements still fully mine?

Laser eye surgery make sight “better-than-normal” and Tiger Woods has used it. This is considered an acceptable “enhancement”.

EPO overproduces red blood cells, enhancing oxygen carrying capacity. This may become available through the insertion of genes into muscles, genes that will produce EPO.mIGF-1 apparently does not enter the circulation, so its effects can be restricted to promoting growth and repair of muscle tissue locally. This has been used successfully in mice, preventing declines in muscle size and strength until they were twice the normal age….High school wrestling and football coaches, having learned of the enhancing gene transfer experiments in rats and mice, have already expressed interest in obtaining such treatments for their athletes….People have begun to use human growth hormone in attempts to enhance muscle size and strength, especially in the elderly, (maybe my new friend, Jack, age 74.)

The anabolic steroids Anadrol, Winstrol, THG facilitate body building. More and more professional and amatuer athletes are using them. Public attitudes toward steroid use may be changing. Sammy Sosa’s corked bat aroused more outcry than repeated revelations of steroid use.

It is not too farfetched to imagine that parents may one day be faced with difficult decisions regarding the development of their children’s bodily capacities for athletics. What will and should they do when daughter Jenny’s soccer coach tells them she would be a stronger player if they got her genetic muscle treatments, or that she is more likely to make the team if she gets treated?

Even were steroids or stimulants to become legal, one imagines that most athletes would rather not be seen taking their injections right before the race. For there is something shameful about revealing ones own chemical dependence right before demonstrating what is supposed to be one’s own personal excellence.

Perhaps there would be an “enhancement commissar “who calculate what degree of boost each person needs in order to get even with the natively gifted. But there would be no way to titrate all the relevant gifts, such as coaching, rearing, encouragement, experience, or faith.

Countries and coaches have forced athletes to use performance-enhancing drugs. E. Germany and Oral-Turbinal. Had masculinizing effects on the women swimmers: severe acne, uncontrollable libido, gruff voices, abnormal hair growth. Athletes were told they were vitamin tablets. “You eat the pills or you die”. It was forbidden to refuse.

As admirers of athletes, we should not want to exploit those we most esteem; we should not want to use them up for our own entertainment and satisfaction; and we should not want to treat our fellow beings as expendable animals. (This thought occurred to me when watching a kick-boxing fight at The Ridge Athletic Club, on TV. One fighter was mammoth compared to the other and he conquered by plowing ahead, heedlessly and brutally. He looked animal-like to me, highly jacked up on steroids. I wonder if steroids are illegal in that sport? But it did seem that we could, as spectators, be using him up for our own viewing pleasure, and that he could crash in a pile of physical problems and identity confusion.)

There seems to be something dehumanizing in coming to rely so heavily on one’s chemist to excel, to the point where one might wonder whether such excellence is still “personal” at all.

…Perhaps by taking drugs that increase tolerance for physical pain, the individual will decrease his or her experience of other physical pleasures.

…We become “better” by no longer fully being ourselves.

What is the true dignity of excellent human activity?…being at work in the world, being at-work as myself and being at-work in a humanly excellent way.

Competition can sometimes blind us to the fact that it is not simply the separable, measurable, and comparative result that makes a performance excellent- but who is performing and how. We do not honor the cheetah in the same way we honor the Olympic runner, because the Olympian runs in a human way as a human being. (A cheetah- human cross, though fast, would not be allowed into the Olympics.)

Another example: humans playing computers in chess. Are they really competing?

It is the special distribution and assortment of common and particular gifts, allotted to each of us, that constitute the biological beginnings of our individual identity.

At the root of all human activity is desire or aspiration, especially when it aims at excellence. We would not seek excellence on condition that, in order to attain it, we would gladly have to become someone or something else. No same person would choose to be the fastest runner on two legs if it required becoming an ostrich.

Biotechnology seems to promise-
the triumph of the will with less willing effort, and,
bodily experience in bodies not quite ours.
It is the human musician, not the synthesizing machine whom we admire and defend; the musician with desire and fallibility, who creates what did not exist before and rises to the occasion when the moment most demands it. (That’s why we go to concerts to hear humans playing; there is a possibility of error, and nuanced, interpreted performance. We don’t go to a concert the watch a machine plunk out notes perfectly.)

Even if they existed, and even in times of great peril, we might resist drugs that eliminate completely fear or inhibition of our soldiers, turning them into “killing machines”, (or dying machines), without trembling or remorse. This particular case proves that even in moments of great crisis, when superior performance is most necessary, we must never lose sight of the human agency that gives superior performance its dignity. We must live, or try to live, as true men and women, accepting our finite limits, cultivating our given gifts, and performing in ways that are humanly excellent. To do otherwise is to achieve our most desired results at the ultimate cost: getting what we seek or think we seek by no longer being ourselves.

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One Response

  1. Very Very nice information here… Thanks

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