Monthly Archives: August 2011
I was scanning and found a few articles about elective amputation. Electing to amputate a limb? Well, official elective amputation is reserved for those with diminished use of a limb when even a dumb prosthetic, much less a modern prosthetic capable of reaching and grabbing, would actually be better than their own limb. However, there was some suggestion that a minority of people might want to volunteer to amputate their completely healthy limbs. These people are dominated by a condition called body integrity identity disorder. They are usually completely normal in all or most respects with the exception of this one very odd obsession, amputating a specific limb at a specific point. In the above link, Dr. Michael First says one man with the disorder lost his arm in a car crash. Did he feel suddenly normal with a loss of a limb? No, because he wanted to lose his legs. He yearned to be a double leg amputee, and losing his arm did nothing to diminish this desire. The disorder has been known for decades, but prostheses are only now coming to a point where sympathizers might defend the ethics of allowing such extreme desires.
I combined this strange disorder with Anonym’s story for my latest trend alert for Shaping Tomorrow which I will reprint below. Anonym is a biohacker. She is going straight DIY punk style to enhance her body to feel something beyond current human limitations like magnetic fields. She has approached doctors, but they do not want to help her for ethical reasons. So she has resorted to implanting herself with special magnets using an anatomy book, scalpels, and buckets of vodka.
People with body integrity identity disorder may not believe themselves to be transhumanists, but any transhumanist who wants to be a cyborg may benefit from the ethical discussions these people pose. Actually, I found that Kyle Munkittrick beat me to the punch. While I was trying to write this trend alert, I found his blog post in Discover Magazine’s Science Not Fiction. I have a few reservations with Munkittrick’s narrow view of society, but he brings up some important questions about what the legal and ethical ramifications are of allowing people to do what they wilt in regards to asking doctors for help.
To see the rest of the sources for my trend alert, you may have to login to Shaping Tomorrow, but here is the alert as it appears in ST:
My body, my choice?
As technology advances to a point of enhancing human functionality and not just adornment or redressing loss, technology and the philosophy of transhumanism are influencing the way we define the human body by raising new ethical boundaries and issues about personal choice and control.
Body modification has been happening for centuries with ear piercings and tattoos. Recent decades have even brought about the legitimate medical practice of gender reassignment in some countries. Yet when a young woman wants to extend her senses to feel magnetic fields, doctors refuse to help. Anonym is a biohacker who is implanting her fingertips with magnets in her own kitchen with medical books, scalpels, and buckets of vodka. Seeking to enhance her human experience, she is also working on a way to internally sense the magnetic poles–something scientists believe humans could be biologically enabled to do.
Prostheses are going fashion forward and adding greater benefit to the lives of the disabled. The curved blades worn by paraplegic Olympic hopeful, Oscar Pistorius, are a prime example of practical prostheses which function better than those that look like natural legs, hands, etc. Researchers are developing prostheses with an increasing range of motions and functions which could eventually strengthen the ethical argument for voluntary amputation for people with body integrity identity disorder, a psychiatric condition marked by an overwhelming desire to have one or more limbs amputated. Official elective surgery is reserved for those patients with lost or reduced functionality in an attached limb, but some people with body integrity identity disorder are voluntarily freezing and damaging their limbs—often having to do so more than once—to force doctors to amputate.
Voluntary amputation and DIY implantation may be extreme examples, but gene therapy, brain enhancements, and possibly certain forms of life extension will also be part of the ongoing and ever more complex debate over what an individual can do to themselves or what they should be allowed to have a doctor more safely do for them. The behavior of such people is being defended and heralded by some bioethicists who align the individual’s right to amputation and implantation with abortion, euthanasia, etc. “My body, my choice” is the rallying cry for a growing number of people seeking more personal freedoms regarding health.
In the future, there may be specialist doctors specifically trained to handle the needs of people seeking “transhumanist operations”. Transhumanists anticipate a time when technology is able to do more than supplement a lost limb but actually grant humans greater functionality, both mentally and physically, than that which nature provides. Eventually, society will have to address the concerns of transhumanists medically and legally, potentially revolutionizing society. Should legal and ethical systems protect individuals from themselves, or should personal rights prevail in voluntary extreme body modification and other elected enhancements?
Enhanced humans could play a mediator role between humans and robot workers. Eventually, people with certain prostheses may be sought out by employers to perform particular functions more efficiently. If that should happen, employers may even be willing to pay for an employee’s required procedure. Like most technologies, countries which do not allow such augmentations may cause greater social disparities, and such disparities would be heightened even more once scientists are able to enhance the brain.
An android is a robot that resembles a human, and their potential applications include customer service, communication technologies, education, and health care. Japan has produced a number of androids, but they still only look like humans. They still feel, smell, sound, and presumably taste synthetic. My latest trend alert shows where researchers are advancing in the work to make robots resemble humans: http://www.shapingtomorrow.com/trendAlert.cfm?id=21015. But, is it all for nothing? Scientists at the University of California, San Diego have shown how and why people are often creeped out by robots that too closely resemble human beings. Essentially the androids do not match what people expect of them, http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/newsrel/soc/20110714BrainAndroids.asp. So, robots used in public places will not only require extra safety precautions but also satisfy the public’s expectations either through the design of the robot or through extensive marketing to adjust public attitudes.
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