Through My Eyes

the thoughts and musings of Justin Thorp; the 21 year old college of God...friend...boyfriend...and internet geek

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Dr. Leon Kass - Dangers of Bio-tech in the Pursuit of Happiness

Note: This is a live blog of Dr. Leon Kass's lecture at Rochester Institute of Technology on April 21, 2005. These are my notes. It is not an actual transcript.

We are at the start of the golden age of biotechnology. We have been reaping the rewards in the curing of disease and extending of human life.

There is much to make us concerned. Bio-technical powers could be used for bio-terror. Bio-technology can be used to create super muscles to increase performance, like steroids. Bio-tech can be used to pursue happiness and this is very troubling.

What are the ends and goals of the biotechnical enterprise?

What are the powers and what ends are they likely to serve? They affect the capacity of the human body, intellect, and life cycle. There are so many aspects of biotechnology that can be used to alter our way of life. These powers have not been produced for making a perfect human beings but they have been made to cure disease.

The dual use aspects of these powers means that we much not ignore the dangers of these possible powers. Things often go where no one intended.

Some of the new technologies that make the pursuit of happiness through bio tech possible is the use of injecting muscle enhancers. These can be used to help people with muscular dystrophy. There is also great interest from sports teams to be using these drugs. There are drugs that will blunt portions of memory that deal with troubling memories.

Problem of how to describe where we are

There is a distinction of therapy versus enhancement. Therapy is to stop disease and enhancement is to improve the way the body works beyond what is normal. There is a difference between getting back to the normal and going beyond the normal.

If someone who is a dwarf wants to become taller, what is to say he wants to cure a disability versus he just is unhappy with being short.

The human body will decline and start to slow down. Even at its fittest. The body will rarely carry out flawlessly. We are all different. People have wanted to overcome to effects of body decay. This used to be a fantasy. Bio-tech has revived the dream of human perfection.

What could be wrong with trying to reach for human perfection?

Familiar sources of concerns

Athletes who take steroids will suffer early heart disease. No bio-tech agent used for self-perfection will be completely safe. It makes no sense that someone should not risk basic health to get better then normal health.

Bio enhancers will often given one person an advantage over somebody else. Even if everyone had access things would not work. Baseball players would be ashamed to be shooting up before going to bat. There are many dehumanizing effects that will happen because of these technologies.

There are many questions of freedom because of these technologies. If everyone is using drugs to enhance their children, if you don't use the drug you may seem as hurting your children. This could be called the problem of conformity. This would move closer to the homogenization of human society.

We sense our problems with these technologies because they go against of what is naturally human.

Hubris or Humility, Respect for the Given

The common complaint is man playing God. This is shared by the theological and non-theological people. People have problems with this because they are playing God without God like wisdom.

There is a temptation to hyperagency. This is to hijack humanity to server or purposes. This is a lack of understanding of the giftededness of the world. Not everything in the world is open to our purposes and what we desire. A lot of this is open to religion but it goes beyond religion.

To guide the power of bio-technological power we need something beyond what is our understanding of what we are. Improving upon a person may reduce their humanity.

Un-natural means the dignity of the human being

Bio-technology may be able to require less training and teaching of people. Drugs are available to enhance memory and alertness. To many this looks as cheating or cheap. We admire more of those who overcome tragedy.

People who use drugs to block out painful events doesn't not allow someone to learn how to deal with sorrow. People who take drugs to make themselves fearless doesn't make them courageous.

There is a sense of where the natural or unnatural means of technology matters.

With technology we can become the passive subjects of the magic.

Partial ends full human flourishing

The issues of good and bad means must yield to the idea of good and bad ends. What about these goals is so attractive at first glance? Will these technologies improve our quality of life?

Our ability to live without a disability seems like a quality of having a good life. If bio-tech promised adding life to years and years to life, how could you turn it down? To say no to this offer may seem perverse. It is not.

The deepest human goods may only be able to us because of our human bodies. Isn't it better that there is a shape to life? Everything has its season. What incentive would there be for the old make way to the young if we always could be around? Wouldn't a functional immaturity happen because of the further enhancement of the vitality of life?

There is a blessing to mortality. It gives us a taste for the beautiful and for meaning. A world of immortality makes us hostile to children. The idea of immortality makes us more worrisome of health and afraid of death.

Troublesome events in our life should be troublesome. We should not deprive oneself of events in their life because it deprives someone of their identity. If one hasn't felt grieving then they haven't loved. Someone hasn't had something if they haven't been without it.

The use of biotechnology to improve life may be the death of human desire.


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