In the previous article, I introduced the rights encompassing our ethical situations and what are our virtues to improve ourselves.
Individual rights are moral protections that people have in virtue of their fundamental nature. We should respect people’s autonomy because they’re people, not because of anything they can do for or to us.
Before we dive deep into performance-enhancing or biohacking, I want to explore the concept of the human condition. Evolution has given us all unique bodies and we need to explore what constitutes as normal or disabled.
I will try to distinguish how we perceive our status as humans in health and biohacking so it can bring in some valuable context in the areas of bioethics, reproduction, end of life and body enhancement.
Now I’m not advocating that disability isn’t a real thing, I just think you might discover that it’s not always quite straight forward to say what a disability is. Especially as we need to resolve what normalcy is in regard to the human condition.
Disability dictionary meaning
1. a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.
2. a disadvantage or handicap, especially one imposed or recognised by the law.
Each of us starts our life fundamentally disabled, and a lot of us end our life radically weakened. In between, we go through periods of incapacity through illness, accidents, or the like. Disability is a fact of life, we have this perception that disabled people are dependent and the rest of us are independent, but we are deeply reliant on technology and other people.
We rely enormously on the social and technological world to take care of a vast number of our requirements. We only regard forms of dependence when they are unusual, somebody who relies on a wheelchair to get through their day, but not when we rely on our cars to get us through the day.
Our Embodied Nature
Bioethics deals with our embodied nature. That our bodies come in various designs. How should we think about the notion of a disabled body? For that matter, how should we think about the concept of a normal one? What is a disability?
Let’s suppose we have a person with no legs and foreshortened arms with hands right at the ends, now they regard their body as perfectly normal. However, using that body within the circumstances around us is not ideal to them, it’s an environment built for bipedal people. We could view this individual as being disabled relative to the environment they are in. They don’t consider their body to be less functional, others will disagree, as they have less functions compared to someone with all their limbs.
We don’t consider other animals to be disabled because they can’t use their limbs like ours, their functionality is set for their environment. For that matter when we look back through our evolutionary past we had different functionality then we do today, those were not disabilities but just what we had to work with.
Evolution has no long-term goal. There is no long-distance target, no final perfection to serve as a criterion for selection, although human vanity cherishes the absurd notion that our species is the final goal of evolution.Richard Dawkins – The Blind Watchmaker
How about if we envision that we have interplanetary travel, a different life form comes along and appears very similar to us, except they have four arms instead of two, would they judge us as incredibly incapacitated because they can do so much more with their extra two limbs, more importantly, would we feel that way. What if this alien life form had a baby that only had two arms, would it be an incredible tragedy? Would their child be disabled?
Additionally when we think about why a disability must be intrinsically more problematic, and not just relative to the environment, sometimes we’re considering people who incur a disability during their life. This is a devastating occurrence, part in the pain and suffering of the trauma, and an extreme disruption in existence. The body they once associated and understood has now been modified. If we begin with a baseline of one body and without requesting for it, get switched to a different body, that could be regarded as a loss.
We could think about bodies as being dependent as dependency is a substantial part of the human condition. It can be helpful to consider bioethical concerns with this perspective in mind.
Two Models of Disability
Medical disability: an impairment or dysfunction in a particular body.
Social disability: feature of fit or lack of fit between the body and social, material, or technological environment.
If we take a look at myopic people (nearsightedness), this is not recognised as a disability, it is quite simple, inexpensive, and extremely effective to get non-burdensome glasses or contacts that take care of the problem. However, if you lived in a hunter-gather society, myopia would be a severe, conceivably fatal problem – a severe disability.
With this theory – how disabled someone is could be answered concerning the context they are in. The use of technology increases their functionality towards the accepted normality.
As an example: deafness was a more consequential issue ten to fifteen years ago than it is today. In an advanced technological society with greater connection through electronic means, deaf people can communicate more like anyone else for work or other purposes.
Furthermore, with the assistance of hearing-aids, this has a dramatically reduced impact on what options are accessible to you and how you live your life. In a pre-widespread internet use, this was so much more of a serious disability.
Yet if disability turns out to be this sort of relational property, a characteristic that concerns the fit between a body and its surroundings, then conversely, normalcy is also going to turn out to be that kind of a relational property.
What is considered a normal body in one context, might be regarded as a disabled body in another setting! So whether your body counts as healthy and practical, just like whether it counts as impaired, is also context-dependent.
All of these technologies can be viewed as a body-hack to improve the overall living standards of an individual.
A Mindset for Improvement
As I mentioned, I’m not conveying that a disability isn’t real or that the social model of disability is a matter of social convention or a human decision. Disability is quite real and very tangible.
When I say that we are developing a social model of disability, it is intended to state that we can look at how the body is established within the social and material world. And to think about the scope of functionality between normalcy and disability.
The questions are also there for what should we do to approach disability, for people who have a constraint?
For the medical model: We have medical care, intervention and support, we consider how much medical care they are owed socially and so forth.
For the social model: If a disability is about a lack of fit between a body and its environment, apart from a few instances where bodies are so dramatically impaired that no environment is really going to help them be more functional, we have some choices available to us.
- Intervene on the body
- Intervene on the environment
- Intervene on both
Down syndrome comes from a chromosomal abnormality, it is a genetic physical disorder. So we may be inclined to think that the medical model is the right model for providing care for people with Down syndrome.
Though it has been discovered over time that the opposite of this is the case. For when you alter the social environment of people with Down syndrome and provide them with special opportunities for education and support, it changes dramatically what people with Down syndrome can do.
Which now allows people with Down syndrome to graduate from college, get regular jobs, and to become independent. This has also increased their expected lifespan. These changes have come not through medical treatments, but from environmental adjustments.
So this is a great example of how it might not be that obvious upfront whether we want to adjust the body or the environment, or how we want to adjust each one.
A baseline for Bioethical Enhancements
We can easily define a disability when it’s obvious like a missing limb, but when we try to determine limitations from disorders then we can have trouble deciding what the normal context should be. There are a wide range of mental and biological differences in each human body.
So I hope I have given you some perspectives to consider surrounding the human condition. Of course, if left untreated disability can leave someone disadvantaged within our society. Though I want you to keep this perspective in your thoughts when we consider the prospects of prosthetics or medicine to improve a limitation.
And for that matter, when we go beyond a so-called limitation towards actually enhancing what is considered a normal condition.
These two articles are meant to set up a baseline for a better understanding on how to tackle the ethical issues within biotechnology and biomedicine. For how to move forward regarding humanities biological endeavours.
The next article will explore the techniques of improvement we can use to enhance our bodies.