Technology and Human Dignity

The flip side of technological progress is frequently the erosion of human dignity. Immortality is not likely to be any different, and debates over human dignity surrounding immortality are not likely to be resolved to everyone's satisfaction.

Controversy over artificial means of controlling human life generally settles on two problems (which may be one and the same): objections to human experimentation and to treating human beings as means to ends (objectification).14 I can offer no solution to the problem posed by human experimentation without indulging in self-contradiction, since achieving immortality will inevitably require human experimentation. I would imagine that, contrary to the experience with other forms of cyborgian birthing, such as in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer, experiments with other animals will precede human experimentation.15 Current law would seem to preclude the possibility of using human beings in experimentation on immortality until research on other animals has demonstrated the efficacy and safety of the procedure.

My guess is that the first efforts at internalizing a generator of es cells will be for treating a human embryo or fetus having a genetic disease such as progeria (rapid, abnormal aging). Experimentation has always been tolerated more readily for treating a life-threatening condition than purely for learning something new.

The problem of objectification, however, remains open. The most exacting version of the problem is drawn around the Kantian principle that a human being should never be thought of as a means toward an end but always granted the dignity and status of an end in itself. This principle is invoked when ethi-cists proscribe the use of human beings for experimentation without informed consent. Thus, if embryos and fetuses are considered human beings incapable of granting informed consent, they could not be used in experiments to immortalize and could hardly serve as sources of clones and stem cells.

More than one individual would be involved in the process of immortalization, and the problem of informed consent hinges on a larger issue, namely, the status of individuals involved in pregnancy. Certainly a woman is generally capable of giving informed consent and, if it is her individuality and dignity that is to be respected, the Kantian objection may be surmountable. Her donation of an egg for the purpose of creating a cloned generator would be as legitimate as any adult donating an organ. Indeed, the state warrants organ donation, providing the donor-card is attached by individuals to their driving license. How large a leap is it then to the legitimacy of the same woman giving informed consent to have the generator she spawned inserted in the blastocyst implanted in her womb? The only issue remaining would be that the process is initially "experimental," but even were the process to fail, one might rationalize it if "some good came out of the loss," that is, if something were learned from the experiment.

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