Are there limits to human creativity

The new man

Jan-Christoph Heilinger

To person

is Academic Managing Director of the Munich Competence Center Ethics at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. [email protected]

We humans are constantly experiencing our limits. Wouldn't a biotechnological enhancement be desirable that would help you to be better both privately and professionally and to overcome your own limitations? For example a substance that reduces the need for sleep, increases emotional and cognitive abilities, also strengthens the immune system and maybe even extends a healthy and active life as a whole?

Individual experiences of their own limitations and the idea of ​​the possibility of their technical overcoming have a decisive share in the fascination that for many people emanates from biotechnological "enhancement interventions". There are also other reasons for the attraction of enhancement. In this post I ask about human limitations and the ethical evaluation of human enhancement interventions. To do this, I will first outline different types of enhancement and explain why they can appear attractive. I then differentiate between important elements of an ethical assessment of enhancement and outline the current research debate.

Enhancement Interventions

Advances in science and biotechnology mean that we can intervene in the human organism in new ways. Current research, especially in the field of biosciences, allows an ever more precise understanding of the human brain, the human genome and the processes in the human organism, such as metabolism and aging. This enables ever more precise interventions, which are mainly used in the field of medicine: New drugs are being developed that can alleviate or cure previously incurable diseases. The role that genes play in the development of diseases is recognized and interventions at the genetic level are developed. Great progress is also being made in the area of ​​external aids to alleviate illnesses and limitations, for example with the help of prostheses or brain-computer interfaces, which are intended to help people overcome undesirable disabilities.

The new biomedical and biotechnical intervention options can also be used outside of a therapeutic context. Then they aim to realize certain characteristics and abilities of people that are not to be understood as therapy or prevention of diseases. Such biotechnological interventions in the human organism, which take place with the intention of improving, are referred to as "human enhancement" interventions; an expression that has also established itself in the German-speaking bioethical debate. [1] Although humans have always tried to use the means at their disposal to bring out the desired properties, a new dimension seems to have been reached with the help of enhancement interventions that penetrate deeply into the human organism. More and more precise and powerful intervention options are available, with which people can shape themselves according to their own ideas. Obviously, this is a development that is important both socially and for the individual. The fundamental challenge posed by the mere possibility of enhancement interventions is to recognize that our ideas of ourselves as human beings and of the society in which we live are not without alternatives. Everything could look different if people decide to use biotechnologies on a large scale. A discussion with them is inevitable, because also a decision against their use must be justified.

Many intervention options are still in the development stage and are not yet available. Some of the current developments can still be controlled or at least influenced accordingly. The time is right for a broad social debate on this topic. The great interest shown by the public in research in neurosciences or genetics, for example, as well as the fact that the enhancement debate has become one of the most lively discussed areas of bioethics over the past 15 years.