The Soundness of Selective Biomedical Enhancements

Enhancements are Integral to the Evolutionary Process

Buchanan raises a few valid points in support of selective enhancements. He argues that enhancement is an integral feature of human existence[i].  For example, there are over-the-counter memory enhancement pills that many use. Nobody blinks an eye, let alone bring ethical considerations, in this case. Likewise, one could even argue that basic education (literacy and numeracy) in itself endows an individual a marked advantage over someone who cannot read or count.[ii] This advantage is so profound that it has a bearing on critical parameters like life expectancy or quality of life.  Such ‘enhancements’ are no different from those that are likely to be accomplished through the modern scientific methods of genetic engineering[iii]. Moreover, as Buchanan cogently states, even the natural process of evolution through natural selection is one of continuous enhancements. These enhancements, though, are not intended to produce ‘better’ human beings, but merely to equip them with best chances for survival and further reproduction[iv].  Notwithstanding this biological objective of evolutionary processes, ‘enhancements’ are central to how they work.  In other words, it is unfair to accept co-evolutions and natural genetic change but condemn artificial scientific methods for deserving cases.

Positive Networking Effects of BME

Allan Buchanan has been a staunch proponent of the synergistic effects that would ensue BME practices.[v] He contends that just as group selection theory is found to be robust in species evolution, there would be similar ‘networking’ effects associated with legalized and standardized BME practices.  For example, a person who is literate cannot use his language skill unless he has ‘others’ who are equally well versed in it.  In this fashion, those seeking to benefit through enhancement cannot do so in isolation.[vi]  If, say, someone develops an exceptional capacity to hear very-low frequency sounds. He will not be able to communicate or share his experience with those unenhanced.  The same applies for any enhancement that is markedly superior to the prevailing human capacities. In such a scenario the enhanced individual would more likely become a curiosity or a mutant than a virtuoso in any walk of life.  What Buchanan essentially reiterates is the conventional wisdom that ‘no man is an island’. Having made it clear that enhancements on isolated individuals would serve no purpose, Buchanan offers the best arrangement for availing BME in the future[vii].  He contends that only under positive network effects does BME prove effective at all.  He thus alleviates fears of unfair advantages acquired by select individuals.

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