IEET > Rights > HealthLongevity > Staff > Kristi Scott > Innovation > Disability
Body parts get options: which one will you choose?
Kristi Scott   Jul 16, 2010   The Yellow Canary  

Designer body parts took a step closer a reality this week.

The Telegraph reports:

Banks of off-the-shelf body parts could be created for transplants: researcher

Off-the-shelf body parts could soon be available for surgeons to use to repair injuries or patch-up worn out organs, researchers claim.

Scientists are perfecting ways of creating bare ‘scaffold’ building blocks of body parts which can then be used as a frame for a patient’s own cells to grow around.

The technique involves taking a piece of dead donor or animal body part and removing all the soft tissue so just the bare structure is left. Stem cells from the patient can then be placed on the frame and will regrow into a new body part for them.

The technique has already been successful in creating a new section of windpipe for patients who have suffered injury or disease and it is hoped it can be used for a wider set of organs.

If off-the-shelf body parts become a viable option, does that also mean the option for what type of body part we want is an option? Will there be a divide between those who prefer replacement limbs in metal and plastic vs. blood and bone?

You lose an arm you are getting ready for surgery and the surgeon comes in to talk about the options: A) you can have a bionic prosthetic arm or B) you can have an arm similar to the one you have. What do you choose?

The decision is hard, which limb will you choose?

Moreover, why? I did a little anecdotal experiment in my home and asked my 11 yr old which he would prefer. His response was:

“I’d like to be a normal human not a ¾ human robotic. More of a human than a robot.”

My 4 yr old daughter’s response:

“Bionicle. Cause I want to be strong. I’ve never been strong before.”

Now, these are kids and this is anecdotal, but the point is that there is more to it than choosing plastic or bone. It’s a choice of being more than human, “Bionicle”, and being Other, the inhuman. So why do we need a choice? It’s a choice that defines what you want your “human” self to be. We don’t have the same preference on hair, teeth, breasts, etc. We have options. So it seems that when an option for a biologically replicated arm comes about, then we have the right to choose what parts we want or don’t want on our bodies.

With the prosthetic arm, you can have increased capabilities. In addition to these capabilities, a prosthetic arm is customizable. As prosthetic skin options improve so do the aesthetic options. Think Aimee Mullins.

You can have a different arm for every occasion.

Super Human” was the title of an article in the February 2010 issue of Fast Company. It was about emergence of envy and sexiness towards those with prosthetics. I was honestly a little bit jealous of Carrie Davis’ sexy black arm in the magazine.

My arm will never look as good as hers does, even if I dipped it in latex and even then, not nearly as sexy. A great image captures what it can be to have options with your prosthetics. The article interviews Hugh Herr who has a lot to say about the potential for prosthetics that are not just limited to function, but are opened up to enhanced capabilities and appearance.

Now, the option discussed in the article. You can have artificial limb or you can have essentially “your” arm back. It does what you can do now. The capabilities are the same and the options are relatively limited, at least for now.

Looking at the option again, does this expand to a deeper decision? Do we want to be part robot? I am completely for the option, but like any form of body modification or enhancement, I think people have the right to have this option. What we can take away then is that we are on our way to having options and therefore need to have the right to choose what we want based on our needs and desires. It is handy for a surgeon to have access to parts for replacement, but people should have the option to choose what replacement part they want, or at the very least the option to discuss it with the surgeon beforehand.

Kristi Scott
Kristi Scott M.A. is an IEET Affiliate Scholar. Her work centers on the way popular culture presents issues of identity, body modification, cosmetic surgery, and emerging technologies. She has been a freelance writer since 2003 writing for a variety of magazines over the years, most recently as a writer and copy-editor for h+ magazine.


Why stop at mere replacement?  I’ve made very few attempts to hide the fact that as morphological freedom becomes more and more a reality, I plan to begin adding wings, a tail, a pair of horns, and even change my current human feet in for a pair of cloven hooves.

The scaffolding technique is just one among many advancements trending towards morphological enhancement, like bioprinters, and even the portentials of stem cells.  We are rapidly reaching an age where we can alter the body as easily as we can our cars.

And dividing it into cybernetics and biological replacement is placing an artificial distinction.  With the advances in artificial muscles, biofuel cells, even transistors which can work from ATP, we are blurring the boundaries of cyber and bio.  Why not an arm with artificial muscle and biological skin? Why not have your skin laying over a thin layer of quantum dot “ink” which could enable you to control the physical appearance of your entire body?  Wy not eyes with a quantum dot retina that enables you to have macro and microscopic vision, as well as IR and UV?

It’s not a choice between cyber and bio, but of enhancement vs unenhanced. And even for those who chose to be “unenhanced” those enhancements could easily be gained through external devices like exoskeletons, Lenses, clothes, etc.

Yes Valkyrie, there are many scenarios and concepts for consideration. Out of curiosity, why have you not started your transformation already? If I was less reductive I could have written a book. In fact I had about 20 questions listed for exploration. As you point out, even the unenhanced would likely still be enhanced in some manner.

With all these advancements and enhancements we ultimately need the option to make the choice that is best for us. In addition, people need to be aware and educated on what these options are.

Quote - “Bionicle. Cause I want to be strong. I’ve never been strong before.”

Gotta love that answer Bless!

The amazing thing is that disabled folks will soon have all the options to fulfil their lives like any one of us. I am hoping that these kinds of options of limb replacement do not de-value our respect for flesh and lives, especially on the battlefields..“Don’t worry Jenkins if it blows your arm off, we’ll soon get you a new one, better, stronger than before.. and in shiny chrome or exotic black now stick your hand in there, that’s an order!”

Of course the best body of all is no body at all.. Transmigrate, transcend.. upload me mind now please. I want to be free of these bodily chains and free to roam without constraints. I wanna fly, let my spirit free from this worldly suffering!

But I’ll have to wait some.. [sighs]

Humm, mainly because I’m broke, and without insurance of any sort to pay a psychologist. And the last time I did have that, I was stuck with one who thought that the fact that I like prefer females as relationship partners meant I could not possibly be a “real” TS and refused to diagnose me, thus denying me treatment.

If I can ever manage to get back on my feet and make a semi decent income, I’m hoping that the changes in treatments and laws will be enough that I can finally begin treatments and be able to afford the needed “accessories” and eventually as it becomes possible to actually make the needed organs using techniques like those listed, I can hopefully afford to begin the process.

It’s not a lack of desire, it’s a lack of money.

@CygnusX1 Thanks, I test a lot of my ideas on the kids. Kids provide unique perspectives because they haven’t yet learned the “box” of adult-hood.

You are correct about the battlefield scenario, particularly knowing that DARPA is looking in to these things also, which was in the mentioned Fast Company article. The list of considerations is large and the battlefield scenario is an important one to consider.

Finally, your statement about wanting to be freed from your corporeal self makes me think of Neuromancer grin

@Valkyrie Ice, I am happy to hear that you included psychologist in your explanation. This, to me, is an important part of enhancement or bodily change. I’m sorry to hear they did not take you seriously. Broke/insurance, yes that is another topic that will need to be talked about. The closest I can think of would be insurance coverage of elective cosmetic surgery or possibly even sex change surgery….very interesting.

Have you looked into Stalking Cat’s transformation? He would be an interesting perspective.

Basically what I hear from you both is that what we need is the right to live “naturally”. Naturally being however you describe it to be, within limitations of human rights and considerations. It’s seems we define man/woman and now we have xie recognized in Australia. Each categorization of human outside of the white, heterosexual male has had to argue for inclusion in personhood rights. As we redefine what persons want to be or are, then we also need to redefine their inclusion for rights to be.

Great piece Kristi! And a good discussion too. Your daughter’s comment caught my eye. No doubt the implications are apparent to many but as I’d just read Kris Notaro’s piece on global revolution I couldn’t help but mischieviously wonder how the world would be IF your son’s and daughter’s positions were representative of the genders across the world! Morphological freedom changes much more than appearance. A shift in the age-old physical power balance between men and (most) women would be interesting even in Western societies.
Of course, a new arms race would soon begin, though I agree with Valkyrie that we might soon tire of it unless there was significant power at stake. And this race and reformation might have its own environmental effects as strength drives up nutrient needs…what constraints would shape the resulting humans?

For me it’s another natural arm, thanks.  I’m a musician.  I’m not about to spend another couple decades getting a robot arm to do what I’ve already spent a big chunk of my life getting my natural arm to do.  But others may make a different choice.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea of being “bionicle”, not because I am inherently anti-technology, or even anti-cyborg, but because of what’s revealed in the language when we talk about the option.

Take, for example, some of the phrases here:
“never look as good”
“even the unenhanced would likely be enhanced”
“disabled folks will soon have all the options to fulfil their lives like any one of us”

Do disabled people not have all the options to fulfill their lives like any one of us right now? Are the unenhanced really also likely to be enhanced (think about cost and access alone)? What about setting up increasingly unrealistic standards of what the body should look like or be?

I think that until society moves towards accepting difference as being a valid choice, we’re not going to have an awful lot of unjudged and unbiased choice happening.

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