I recently read, “The Future of Everything: The Cutting Edge of Health,” in The Wall Street Journal. I was a pediatric critical care nurse for many years, working in high-tech health care, where we were always pushing the technology envelope while trying to stay on the right side of the razor-thin line of ethics.
Could we, yes. Should we, maybe yes, maybe no. The point is, ethics mattered and guided each decision we made.
The Journal piece lays out some changes that are coming in the future of medicine in the field of robotics, stating that robots will be used to do some of the more mundane activities in the operating room, such as suturing, after the trained surgeon has done his work.
Researchers are even working on developing artificial skin for the robots, so they have a sense of touch and can distinguish between normal tissue or tumors when making incisions. While robots are now being used to assist in the operating room, doing the entire surgery by robots is still on the horizon.
Another recent study examines the attitudes around the use of robots for sex or for platonic friendship relationships. Robots are also being used to serve as companions to the elderly and to provide comfort to children, to which people seem to be warming.
But the whole sex robot field is receiving mixed reviews from men and women. The findings of this study showed that males had a more positive attitude toward sex robots than women (is anyone surprised by that?), but women favored platonic friendly robots.
Many of these advances in biotechnology aren’t new, in the sense that these technologies, artificial intelligence, robotics, and nanotechnology have been advancing for years.
They are already making a wonderful and positive difference in people’s lives, like all the amazing advancements in prosthesis development that are helping people with mobility issues. Biotechnological advances in cochlear implants are helping people hear again, and “bionic” retinas are restoring vision to the blind.
My work is predominantly focused on the ethics of advancements in biotechnology to ensure they don’t undermine the dignity of human beings. More specifically, most of my work is in the space of assisted reproductive biotechnologies, making and designing human life in the laboratory either with the egg and sperm from a couple trying to conceive, or third-party reproductive technologies that depend on egg and sperm “donors” and surrogate mothers willing to rent their womb.
What about the ethics that allow embryos to be frozen? And how long should embryos be frozen and will freezing them cause any long-term harm on the children born after being frozen for five, 10, or more years? A little-known fact is that we have nearly 1 million frozen embryos in the United States alone!
Adding to this list is the growing phenomenon of “egg freezing” parties, where predominantly affluent women choose to harvest and bank their eggs in order to preserve their fertility until they are ready to become a mother.
Biotechnological advancements are seen every day as technology leaps forward. In the space of assisted reproduction, scientists are working on artificial wombs, artificial ovaries, artificial eggs, and even artificial sperm.
But not all progress is good progress, and just because you can doesn’t always mean you should.
Perhaps it’s time to dust off your copy of C.S. Lewis’s book, “The Abolition of Man.” Lewis writes:
“I am only making clear what Man’s conquest of Nature really means and especially that final stage in the conquest, which perhaps, is not far off. The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by education and propaganda based on perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will then be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man.”
What will be next? Will we see artificial relationships with the development of humanlike robots called humanoids? Will we not even need human beings to make the next generation of human beings? Will new babies be raised and nurtured by these humanoids?
Lewis warns, “For the power of Man to make himself as he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.”
And then the punchline. Lewis asks, “But who, precisely, will have won?”
The goal of biotechnology must be to preserve and protect our humanness. Our human future depends on that. But will man’s final conquest be a technological abolition of man? Perhaps it will if we lose sight of the value and the beauty of our humanity. But maybe we should ask Siri?
First published by The Epoch Times
- Jennifer Lahl, MA, BSN, RN, is founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Lahl couples her 25 years of experience as a pediatric critical care nurse, a hospital administrator, and a senior-level nursing manager with a deep passion to speak for those who have no voice. Lahl’s writings have appeared in various publications including Cambridge University Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, and the American Journal of Bioethics. As a field expert, she is routinely interviewed on radio and television including ABC, CBS, PBS, and NPR. She is also called upon to speak alongside lawmakers and members of the scientific community, even being invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels to address issues of egg trafficking; she has three times addressed the United Nations during the Commission on the Status of Women on egg and womb trafficking.