Human Enhancement: Ethical analysis

The field of human enhancement is growing, and evolving from dream to reality. But as our ethical analysis report reveals, the field is difficult to define. To meet future challenges SIENNA researchers conducted an extensive ethical analysis to identify present and potential issues in the realm of human enhancement technologies. The report offers insight into what the debate looks like in different cultural contexts. It is now available for download from our website.

SIENNA’s report covers more than the general ethical issues linked to the aims, fundamental techniques, methods and approaches. It goes further, showing how human enhancement might affect different domains and populations groups. Those include human enhancement in the workplace, education, military, and home and recreation.

The report also offers context from national perspectives for the ethical analysis. 11 countries were selected, eight from within the EU (France, Germany, Poland, Sweden, The Netherlands, Greece, Spain, and the United Kingdom) and three from outside (China, South Africa, and Brazil). These small-scale surveys look both at the national academic discussion on the ethics of human enhancement, and at the national discussions about ethical, legal and social issues raised in the media.

Key findings

  • Characterisation of human enhancement technologies remain a challenge. For example, a prosthetic limb might replace a body part, but a pharmaceutical product could do the same (e.g. replacing certain chemicals). Although prostheses are not talked about in the same way as pharmaceuticals, it is important to clarify how similar these technologies are and finding a way to discuss this.
  • A red thread dominating ethical debates about human enhancement technologies is that both advocates and critics rely heavily on multi-factorial speculations about potential scenarios that may develop. Much of this is difficult to predict with any certainty. As a result, the ethical debate depends on the willingness to embrace uncertainty and suffer the consequences.
  • One similarity that stood out in our 11 country studies was that nearly all of them had academics investigating ethical, legal and social issues of cognitive enhancement. Other popular areas of inquiry was physical and cosmetic enhancement. Germany and the Netherlands focused more on moral enhancement compared to other countries, and Sweden more on longevity and affective & emotional enhancement compared to the other countries. The many differences between countries could be explained by difficulties classifying the field and its subfields.

Download the report

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