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Human enhancement (HE) refers to any attempt to temporarily or permanently overcome the current limitations of the human body through natural or artificial means. The term is applied to the use of technological means to select or alter human characteristics and capacities, whether or not the alteration results in characteristics and capacities that lie beyond the existing human range.
Some bioethicists restrict the term to the non-therapeutic application of specific technologies neuro-, cyber-, gene-, and nano-technologies to human biology. However, eliminating such distinctions between enhancement and therapy would prevent medical insures from denying coverage for certain enhancement procedures.
Human enhancement refers to the general application of the convergence of nanotechnology, Biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science (NBIC) to improve human performance. Human enhancement technologies (HET) are techniques that can be used not simply for treating illness and disability, but also for enhancing human characteristics and capacities. The expression “human enhancement technologies” is sometimes synonymous with Emerging technologies or converging technologies.
Existing human enhancement technologies include reproductive technology, embryo selection by preimplantation genetic diagnosis, physically enhancing drugs, cognitive enhancers, and plastic surgery. Emerging technologies include human genetic engineering and neural implants, as well as speculative technologies such as mind Uploading.
Since the 1990s, several academics (such as some of the fellows of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies) have risen to become cogent advocates of the case for human enhancement while other academics (such as the members of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics) have become its most outspoken critics.
Advocacy of the case for human enhancement is increasingly becoming synonymous with”Transhumanism.” Although many proposals of human enhancement rely on undeveloped speculative science, the very notion and prospect of human enhancement has sparked public controversy.
Critics argue that “human enhancement” is a loaded term which has eugenic overtones because it may imply the improvement of human hereditary traits to attain a universally accepted norm of biological fitness (at the possible expense of human biodiversity and neurodiversity), and therefore can evoke negative reactions far beyond the specific meaning of the term.
However, the most common criticism of human enhancement is that it is or will often be practiced with a reckless and selfish short-term perspective that is ignorant of the long-term consequences on individuals and the rest of society, such as the fear that some enhancements will create unfair physical or mental advantages to those who can and will use them, or unequal access to such enhancements can and will further the gulf between the “haves” and “have-nots.”
Organizations such as the IEET work to ensure equal access to and minimize the risks of such technologies, not only for individuals but for society as a whole. Furthermore, if enhancement technologies are made freely or cheaply available, they could lessen the already substantial gap between the “haves” and “have-nots.”