Enhancement technologies and human identity

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This project will examine new medical treatments and technologies that can be used not simply for treating illness and disability, but also for enhancing human capacities and characteristics. Some of these enhancement technologies have been with us for some time already, such as cosmetic surgery and drugs to enhance athletic performance. Others have generated controversy only in recent years, such as the possibility of giving children human growth hormone to make them grow taller, or using antidepressants such as Prozac to make people more outgoing and self-confident. Still other technologies are as yet only possibilities for the future, such as using genetic technologies to improve people's intelligence or physical appearance, or to slow down the effects of aging and extend the human life-span, or using drugs to improve a person's memory. These enhancement technologies and others raise important philosophical questions about what it means to be a human being and the ethical implications of using biomedical technologies to alter human beings in such fundamental ways.

This project will focus on three areas: 1) mental enhancement, or the use of technologies to alter intelligence, personality, memory, and other mental capacities; 2) genetics and aging, or the use of genetic technologies and other treatments to slow down aging and its effects, and 3) gender identity. This last category refers to the use of surgery and hormonal treatments to alter a person's sexual identity -- for example, to alter the appearance of children who, as a result of genetic conditions, are born with both male and female sexual characteristics.

The overall purpose of the project is 1) to explore the philosophical and ethical implications of a range of enhancement technologies, 2) to generate case studies and clinical examples of enhancement technologies, 3) to consider questions about the definition of enhancement technologies and how they differ from treatment, especially in relation to clinical research, and 4) to consider how society should respond to such technologies in areas such as regulation, funding, prohibition and/or promotion.

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