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Ethical Parameters for Human Enhancement?
Excluding military applications...
A recent paper published in Science Magazine entitled “Ethics guidelines for human enhancement R&D” is the concise summation of an attempt by the SIENNA working group to take a first pass at developing ethical guidelines for human enhancement. The paper itself requires a $30 fee to view, but these core principles which underpin the proposed guidelines can be downloaded from our website. The guideline project was the brainchild of the European Commission (EC), which paid for this consultation. In 2021, the EC endorsed a set of ethics guidelines for human enhancement that is now included in the ethics review guidance for its Horizon Europe funding program, which is EU's key funding program for research and innovation.
The Science paper does provide some well-defined key terms which are central to the guidelines.
Human enhancement is defined as a modification aimed at improving human performance—as opposed to restoring it—that is brought about by science-based and/or technology-based interventions in or on the human body.
Enhancement is often contrasted with therapeutic and medical interventions intended to make someone well, that is, to restore their condition (e.g. from injury), or to return them to good or better health through the diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and prevention of disease, as well as through the promotion of health.
The authors make the contrived argument that, as human enhancement is not intended to be therapeutic, it falls outside of the scope of well established medical ethics, and therefore this somehow allows practitioners to bypass standard medical ethical guidelines. In contrast, it has long been determined that surgical procedures (cosmetic, for instance), whether or not for a therapeutic purpose, most definitely fall under standard medical ethical guidelines. The testing and development of pharmaceutical products has also historically been required to comply with federal bioethical regulations, whether or not they are for therapeutic purposes.
Experimental transgender surgeries, drugs, hormones and implants could be considered human enhancement, and many aspects of ongoing military medical research into human augmentation are also intended as enhancements. These examples raise the possibility that excluding such procedures from standard medical and pharmaceutical regulatory practices might be purposeful. Maybe not from the stand-point of the authors (who may or may not have a conflict of interest), but rather for those researchers supporting the military industrial complex, as well as radicalized activists. However, one must wonder - the EC commission paid the SIENNA report authors to write this report, were there specifications criteria employed designed to specifically exclude the military-industrial complex from its guidelines?
Having established core definitions, the authors then try to define types of human enhancements. They reject a single classification system dependent on which scientific field gave rise to an enhancement, or the technique that is used (e.g., genetic enhancement, neural enhancement, and prosthetic enhancement) or the relationship of the enhancement to the body. Instead, they opt for a mixed classification system that appears to be a “best fit” for the research and development currently being conducted. The proposed classification scheme is summarized in the table below:
This list is clearly inadequate. For example, both brain implants to control hardware (drones, for example) as well as to “speak” to others without sound, cognitive enhancing drugs, psychotropic agents and brain wave technologies to implant and extract memories would all be classified under cognitive enhancements. These technologies could also merge into the following category of “moral” enhancements.
Then there are the enhancements involving somatic (altering the genetic code in a group of cells) and germ-line (permanently altering the genetic code for generations) gene editing.
My assessment is that the above classification system is neither sufficiently detailed nor comprehensive.
The report: “Human Augmentation – The Dawn of a New Paradigm. A strategic implications project” published jointly by the UK Ministry of Defense, and German Federal Ministry of Defense clearly states that gene editing technologies, including “novel vaccinations processes” are being studied today.
Familiar policy considerations
We cannot wait for the ethics of human augmentation to be decided for us, we
must be part of the conversation now. The ethical implications are significant but not insurmountable; early and regular engagement will be essential to remain at the forefront of this field. Ethical perspectives on human augmentation will change and this could happen quickly. There may be a moral obligation to augment people, particularly in cases where it promotes well-being or protects us from novel threats. It could be argued that treatments involving novel vaccination processes and gene and cell therapies are examples of human augmentation already in the pipeline.
The need to use human augmentation may ultimately be dictated by national interest.
Countries may need to develop and use human augmentation or risk surrendering influence, prosperity and security to those who will. National regulations dictating the pace and scope of scientific research reflect societal views, particularly in democracies that are more sensitive to public opinion. The future of human augmentation should not, however, be decided by ethicists or public opinion, although both will be important voices; rather, governments will need to develop a clear policy position that maximises the use of human augmentation in support of prosperity, safety and security, without undermining our values.
Governance in Western liberal societies and international institutions is already unable to keep pace with technological change and adoption of human augmentation will exacerbate this trend. National and international governance will be challenged by the myriad of implications of adopting human augmentation technologies. This could lead to a new arms race and inter- and intra-state tensions if not carefully managed through early and regular dialogue.
The above list provides examples of human augmentation that the military-industry complex is researching, as summarized in the “Human Augmentation” report linked above.
In the end, the ethical guidance summarized in the Science article basically applies the same standards for human research programs which currently exist, without adding much more depth or discussion to issues such as how these might affect human evolution. However these new guidelines appear to provide a waiver for military research and aspects of human genome/genetic augmentation research.
The guidelines fall back on the the following documents:
The World Medical Association (WMA) Declaration of Helsinki
World Health Organisation (WHO) Standards & Operational Guidance for Ethics Review of Health-Related Research with Human Participants
International Ethical Guidelines for Health-related Research Involving Humans:
The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights:
Report of the IBC on updating its reflection on the Human Genome and Human Rights (not an actual update, but a “reflection” on updating)…
The following quote provides additional clarification concerning the mission and purpose of the Ethical Guidance for Research with a potential for Human Enhancement.
The EC funded the European Union (EU)–funded SIENNA (stakeholder-informed ethics for new technologies with high socioeconomic and human rights impact) project to perform an ethical and legal study of human enhancement, and to develop ethics guidance. The consortium of 12 partners had consultations with hundreds of experts and stakeholders. A note: these guidelines apply to human clinical, preclinical, and non-medical applied R&D for which human enhancement is its central aim or one of its aims, or where that research can foreseeably lead to applications for human enhancement.
The SIENNA guidelines specifically do not cover military applications.
This is a glaring hole in the SIENNA report, because it is Departments of Defense and military medical research personnel worldwide who are specifically developing these human enhancement (augmentation) technologies.
The New York Post reported in 2020 that China was developing biologically enhanced super soldiers and that “France has joined the fray in creating terminator troops that can be “bred to kill.” In fact, France is conducting research to create augmented soldiers, and “some fear the super troopers could be the new norm in the recent future.”
The French seek to improve “physical, cognitive, perceptive and psychological capacities,” and could allow for location tracking or connectivity with weapons systems and other soldiers. Among the ministry’s research were drugs to keep troops awake for long periods of time and combat stress, and even surgery to improve hearing.
The new species of augmented soldiers, dubbed “homo robocopus” could also have altered DNA to give them enhanced speed and strength as well as robotics.
Michael Clarke, visiting professor in war studies at Kings College London (KCL), told the Sun participating could be “using DNA as a farmer would in a herd of cattle.”
“We’ve reached the point now where we could potentially manipulate people’s DNA to breed into them extra strength, endurance and other things just as we do with animals,” Clarke said. “Just as we’ve done with standard cattle to give them more back, we can do that now very precisely with humans.”
Clarke added that the bio-race is being fueled internationally due to fears of China’s program.
A Wall Street Journal Op-Ed written by Mr. Ratcliffe published on December 3, 2020, while he was the U.S. director of national intelligence (from 2020 to 2021), states that:
“U.S. intelligence shows that China has even conducted human testing on members of the People’s Liberation Army in hope of developing soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities.”
Countless other newspaper articles and funding sources show that such research is also being carried out by the US government and many other governments. This research can not be excluded from ethical guidelines of human research.
The exclusion of the military from these guidelines is shocking. The military has a long history of using soldiers as well as POWs for experimental purposes. Obviously, Nazi Germany and the WWII Japanese military biowarfare programs provide prime examples of the horrific experiments conducted on POWs.
During World War II, the US military injected infectious agents into military forces to observe their effects in human subjects in a project called Operation Whitecoat at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
Extensive LSD testing was conducted by the US Army at Edgewood Arsenal and other locations for over a decade, from 1955 to 1967. These resulted in severe side effects and outcomes, including suicides.
In 1953, CIA Director Dulles approved MK-Ultra, a top-secret program for “covert use of biological and chemical materials.” These included “mind control” experiments, which included “electro-shock therapy, hypnosis, polygraphs, radiation, and a variety of drugs, toxins, and chemicals.” Test subjects included un-consented volunteers, and children, including human research subjects obtained through coercion. The CIA experimented on mentally-disabled boys at a state school, American soldiers, as well as “sexual psychopaths” obtained via a state hospital. The CIA considered prisoners especially good subjects, as they were willing to give consent in exchange for extra recreation time or commuted sentences.
These horrific experiments were brought to public attention by a vigilant press fueled by government documents which were leaked over a period of many years. Laws were then passed to protect research subjects.
When I took a mandatory clinical research ethics course as a professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the major abuses of the US military over the course of the past 100 years were highlighted and documented in great detail. Congressional laws, rules and regulations were taught that now protect the U.S. soldier. Similar laws and regulations have protected military personnel in the EU. Are these human subjects guidelines being disregarded by the military in the EU?
The SIENNA report purports that somehow “human augmentation” is not medical research because it does not involve a therapeutic process or procedure. Based on the description of the persons who developed the report, it appears likely that they are stakeholders with a vested interest in the emerging military-industrial research activity.
Is this type of research happening in this country as well? Will this report be used to justify more human experimentation designed to facilitate “transgender transitions?” Are these transgender transition just a way to normalize the military’s research into human augmentation?
If so, this is pure madness.
“In our business of national defense, it’s imperative that we embrace this new age, lest we fall behind our strategic competitors,” Mozer said (in 2021).
What more needs to be said?