This is the second part of my project description for the Ph.D.-project called ‘A genealogical study of the concept of ’successful aging’ and its relation to the idea of ‘human enhancement’. See the first part here.
The relation between ’successful aging’ and ‘human enhancement’
The project will particularly focus on an analysis of the possible connection between ideas about the prevention and treatment of age-related diseases, on the one hand, and the current merging discourse on ‘human enhancement’, on the other. Like ‘successful aging’, the notion of ‘human enhancement’ — including a large variety of different ideas about the future possibilities for technological improvements of human bodies — became widely spread in the 1980’s and 1990’s .
A preliminary survey of the literature indicates that the notions of ‘successful aging’ and ‘human enhancement’ often seem to appear together in the scientific literature and in medical and health policy documents. For example both the European Union (EU) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) have published reports that deal with so called ‘converging technologies’, usually defined as a convergence of nano-, bio-, info-, and cogno-sciences and technologies (NBIC). In such reports, the notion of ‘human enhancement’ is a central concept, around which the discussion of the aging population in the developed countries revolves , cf. also . As a study commissioned by the EU Parliament says, “it is safe to say that a side effect of the fast-growing research and development into pharmaceuticals for age-related neurodegenerative diseases will be a number of new drugs which can be used for the enhancement of performance of young, healthy people.” [21:7]
Similarly, in a large number of websites and blogs published by organisations and individuals that support and promote the notion of ‘human enhancement’, the possibility for using such technologies as life extension devices and for delaying age-related physical and/or cognitive decline constitutes one of the central arguments for developing enhancement technologies . Websites that express the opinions of the so called transhumanist (posthumanist) movement is one of the most vociferous exponents of this argument. Both these pro-enhancement advocates and science policy reports (like the EU parliament study and the NSF reports) emphasize the fact that the biomedical sciences, biotechnologies and medicotechnical technologies are increasingly producing new technologies capable of simultaneously enhancing the capacities of healthy people and treating diseases, especially age-related diseases . Thus the discourse about ‘human enhancement’ and ‘successful aging’ are discursively intimately connected.
In addition, this integration of the ‘human enhancement’ and ‘successful aging’ discourses seem to have a strong element of user involvement. The strong ideological commitment to the integration between the two notions among individuals that view themselves as members of a loose ‘transhumanist’ intellectual movement is probably the best example of user involvement. It is unclear, however, to what extent the scientific community, the ‘transhumanist’ intellectual movement and the public at large differ with respect to an active commitment to integrating the two notions. However, I will suggest that the increasing use of performance-enhancing drugs in the general population (especially among young people) and the increasing dissemination of pro-enhancement policies and visions that challenge traditional views of the use of medicine both work in favour of a similar integration between the two notions.
Furthermore one might expect that the general and widely spread popular attitude to performance-enhancing drugs in Western cultures is an underlying Zeitgeist which supports the current political, scientific (and ethical) discussions about the integration of the two notions in the ‘transhumanist’ movement and among scientists. Finally, one might also expect that such popular attitudes will effect strategic market evaluations in the pharmaceutical industry and thus spill over to strategies for future drug pipelines. In all these respects, the integration of the notions of ‘human enhancement’ and ‘successful ageing’ may well be framed with reference to broader user involvement and user driven innovation (cf. ). These are preliminary hypotheses only, however, which need further empirical substantiation.
11. Bostrom, N. (2005). A History of Transhumanist Thought. Journal of Evolution and Technology, 14(1).
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14. Greely et al. (2008). Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy. Nature, 456, 702-705.
15. Roco, M and Bainbridge, W (2002) (eds.). Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance. NSF/DOC-sponsored report. Awailable at http://www.wtec.org/ConvergingTechnologies/Report/NBIC_report.pdf. (29.05.2009)
16. Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research, 20(4) (December 2007). Special Issue: Converging Science and Technologies: Research Trajectories and Institutional Settings.
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18. Det Strategiske Forskningsråd (2006). Det aldrende samfund 2030 – Rapport fra Styregruppen for det strategiske fremsyn om det aldrende samfund 2030. Awailable at http://fi.dk/publikationer/2006/det-aldrende-samfund-2030-rapport-fra-styregruppen/det-aldrende-samfund-2030.pdf (29.05.2009)
19. Murphy, T. F.(1986). A cure for aging? The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 11(3): 237-255
20. Veatch, R.M. (1979). Life Span: the Hastings Center report on values and life-extending technologies. New York: Harper and Row.
21. European Parliament Science and Technology Options Assessment (2009). Human Enhancement Study. Awailable at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/stoa/publications/studies/stoa2007-13_en.pdf (14.08.09)
22. http://www.humanityplus.org/learn/philosophy/transhumanist-values (14.08.09)
23. http://www.humanityplus.org/read/2009/07/human-enhancement-what-should-be-permitted-geneva-october-20-21-2009/ (14.08.09)
24. Maher, Brendan (2008). Poll results: Look who’s doping. Nature, 452, 674-675