The ability to enhance one’s physical, psychological or social capability has long been in our imagination, and there are quite a lot of science fiction books dealing with that scenario.
The meaning of human enhancement refers to the changing of what is considered "normal".
Human enhancement may be achieved through plastic surgery, prosthetics, medical implants, medical drugs, and now genetic engineering, as well.
Human Enhancement of genetic engineering
The impending technological revolution of HHGE has the potential to transform every aspect of our lives. The process of using the HHGE technology for enhancement of human performance, whether it would be physically or psychologically, would transform society thoroughly.
Human enhancement could become an application of genetic engineering. Human Enhancement is not per se about germline genome editing. (Germline genome editing refers to modification of reproductive cells. Germline modification affects all cells in the individual and the change is passed on to future generation). Genome editing in somatic (and so not hereditary) cells for the treatment of diseases is already in clinical trials. But the lines between therapy, prevention and enhancement are blurred. "Treating disease" or "preventing disability" would merges with “enhancement”.
Gene editing can change the core characteristics of an individual and would alter their narrative identity and can alter the individual's self to a completely different person. This means the social relationships around this person is changed as well. The human enhancement process through genetic engineering may attract lots of people.
Wealthy individuals are most like to be adopters of human enhancement wanting their children to acquire superior abilities to entrench their status. This would lead to an elite overclass, genetically distinct from the rest of humanity. An un-enhanced underclass would experience disadvantages as the techno-poor disabled . It could exacerbate exiting inequalities.
Ableism would become more prevalent with the anticipated human enhancement.
Currently a non-impaired person is someone whose body functioning is seen as performing within acceptable parameters. But the HHGE technology would make it possible to modify the appearance of the human body and its functioning beyond existing norms. It allows for a redefinition of what it means to be non-impaired.
The proponents of gene editing enhancement would like to improve the human body and mind to its utmost. They conceive all human body as limited, defective and in need of improvement and they support the functioning beyond species-typical boundaries. This emerging field of enhancement medicine will push the boundaries through genetic manipulation and will apply a shift of what is the human norm .
This form of ableism would give preference to enhanced humans and individuals which are un-enhanced are seen as individuals with a diminished state of being.
There is public disquiet about the use of genome editing for enhancement. The concern is that genome editing is “meddling with nature”, and therefore should be avoided. Otherwise we would cross a line where we wouldn't be able to turn the clock back.
Whether the application of enhancement of HHGE should be prohibited or significantly restricted is something the broader public should be included in deciding.
Decisions about these powerful HHGE techniques shouldn't be made by scientist alone. Public involvement is necessary with serious deliberations and shared decision-making to really promote democratic governance. We cannot wait for the ethics of genome editing to be decided for us, we must be part of the conversation now.