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Putting Makeup on a Pig

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on July 9th, 2008

Sometimes, it seems, honesty is not the best policy. Proponents of controversial ideas or products often learn that while a direct description may elicit backlash, a kinder, gentler euphemism may play better. No one supports torture, so the Bush Administration praises "enhanced interrogation." In the face of growing environmental consciousness, the oil company British Petroleum is now just BP, along with a green color scheme, a flower icon, and a "beyond petroleum" tagline. Corporate firings became layoffs, then downsizing, and now resizing.

It seems that advocates of using emerging technologies to create a new type of human have realized that "transhuman" doesn't go over well. The World Transhumanist Association is undergoing a rebranding. It is asking its members to vote on a proposal to leave behind "transhumanism" in favor of "H+" or "humanity plus." It seems the problem, according to the proposal (no link available), is that:

Most thought leaders (especially in science and technology) do not explicitly identify themselves as "transhumanists," and some, by association, have been unwilling to affiliate with the World Transhumanist Association. This is also true for graduate students who may consider it detrimental to their careers to associate with transhumanism in light of possible negative connotations.
However, the proposal does not consider the possibility that it's the actual premise of transhumanism that is unappealing - not its name. Few people besides Lee Silver giddily look forward to a future where the genetically enhanced and the natural have diverged into distinct ruling and proletariat species.

Hopefully, when thought leaders learn of "humanity plus," they will see it for what it is: Not enhancing humanity, but splitting and undermining it.

In the News this Week

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on July 4th, 2008

  • A US congressional subcommittee held a hearing on the need for international agreements regulating human biotechnologies; CGS's Richard Hayes and others testified.
  • The world sports anti-doping watchdog is on the lookout for new high-tech doping techniques that could be used by cheats at the Beijing Olympics.
  • Concerned with the increasing number of foreigners coming to India to rent a womb, the government is planning regulations to ensure legal and medical rights to surrogate mothers and children born to them.
You can stay up-to-date with the CGS newswire, also available via RSS.

Sperm on the high seas

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on July 2nd, 2008

When Women on Waves take their ship into international waters off the coasts of countries where abortion is illegal, and offer early-term non-surgical abortions to women otherwise unable to obtain them, reproductive rights advocates cheer.

When wealthy patients in need of a kidney transplant travel overseas and arrange through brokers to obtain one from an invariably poor "donor" (as portrayed in the film Dirty Pretty Things), social justice advocates squirm.

A related scenario is the "sperm ship" launched by the founder of Denmark's Cryos International, one of the world's largest sperm banks. Cryos sent the ship and se(a)men into international waters off the coast of the UK to circumvent its 2005 decision lifting anonymity from gamete donors. This decision allows children born from donated gametes to request identifying information about their biological parents when they reach age 18, on the grounds that they have a right to know their genetic heritage; controversy over whether the rule is the cause of a shortage of donors continues.

How to think about the social and ethical issues raised by the sperm ship and other varieties of medical tourism that are designed to make end runs around national regulations? Two UK bioethicists discuss the problems and possible regulatory solutions in "The challenge of `sperm ships': The need for the global regulation of medical technology" in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Hat tips to Keri Zug and Emily Galpern of Generations Ahead, and Susan Fogel of Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research.

Pap smears or Botox? Cosmetic makeovers and conflicts of interest

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on June 30th, 2008

Women showing up for routine gynecological and medical appointments are increasingly being offered Botox, liposuction, breast augmentation, chemical peels, and other cosmetic procedures by their personal physicians. Kathryn Hinsch of the Women's Bioethics Project examines this disturbing trend in a new white paper titled "Do You Tip Your Doc for Botox?"

Why would doctors choose to muddy the integrity of their relationship to their patients by pushing cosmetic makeovers? According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, which itself offers continuing education courses on a variety of cosmetic procedures, "a family practitioner can easily bring in an additional $10,000 to $20,000 a month." As Hinsch points out,

Adding cosmetic procedures might be a ready remedy for a physician's salary boost, but the potential ethical issues it raises are alarming: conflict of interest, exploitation of patient trust, and demeaning the practice of medicine to name just a few.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

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