Danila Medvedev is the head of the Russian Chapter of Humanity+. The organization has recently taken on an important project – to oppose a proposed law to ban several biomedical technologies. But let’s let him tell it.
H+: Tell us a bit about transhumanism in Russia. How has the movement come together and what sorts of people are involved?
DANILA MEDVEDEV: It all started back in 2003, when the first explicitly transhumanist community was formed online. Originally most of us were interested in life extension, but quickly realized that the issues are much broader. The next step was the monthly seminar in Moscow that was started in 2005. Half a year later we started organizing the movement. In 2006 we launched the Russian cryonics company KrioRus.
From the start the progress depended on our committment. Several people, including myself, Valerija Pride and a few others dedicated their lives to the movement, working without pay, nearly full-time to bring the organization forward. The efforts start to pay back now.
A lot of thought went into organizational design and management, although we are still a long way from being done with it. One of our other successes was how we nurtured the media interest. We are mini-celebrities with hundreds of TV stories and thousands of print and online publications about transhumanism and its various aspects.
Today the movement comprises very different people, including scientists, students, businessmen, managers, artists, writers, musicians, philosophers, workers, government officials, etc. We have always realized that our main strength is unity and the ability to work together on promoting and realising transhumanist aspirations, despite sometimes having quite different aspirations.
There are hundreds of people who are actively involved and thousands of supporters.
H+: There is some legislation pending that would make advances in biotech research difficult. Can you tell us about the legislation?
DM: The Ministry of Health and Social Development have proposed two laws — a law on health protection and a law on biomedical technologies. It’s the second law that we are mostly opposed to, but the first law has its problems, in particular it bans cloning.
The second law reaffirms the ban, also banning embryonic stem cells and over-regulating the industry. The comments we got from experts, researchers and government officials are almost universally negative.
To begin with, the law is not specific enough about what it bans. It’s not clear what is meant by cloning, embryos, etc. The definitions of biomedical technologies and biomedical products are circular. The law effectively bans popular science magazines and other media from writing about biomedical technologies. It even bans using iodine for disinfection (it’s a biomedical technology that activates cellular processes) and requires that human donors of cells be liquidated.
The serious problem is that it appears to ban any use of embryonic stem cells. It does so quite vaguely, so practically everything is probably banned. Embryonic stem cells are vital to our ability to regenerate human tissues and organs. Even if one objects to their medical use (for stupid irrational reasons) it’s clear that we need to be able to do research on them to, for example, further develop IPSC. The law bans any use, including all fundamental research (it doesn’t distinguish between research and medical applications).
Also the law bans human cloning, even though such ban appears to be unconstitutional.
Finally, the law creates extremely rigid and limiting regulation of the industry. According to one government official provisions in the proposed law to create a new entity granting permissions to use biomedical cellular technologies will lead to 100% corruption in this area, while a new ethical commission will bring corruption to 200%. The law contradicts the government attempts to move towards open licensing, where you notify the regulatory organs and start working without waiting for countless permissions. The law is extremely specific in what can and cannot be done about cell tech, but the problem is it gets many things wrong and after a few years almost everything can change, while the law will still demand compliance with outdated norms.
We want to stop the law at least until all the problematic parts are taken out.
H+: How do you go about fighting this legislation in Russia?
DM: This problem necessitates a complex strategy. We have several lobbysts who help us on an ongoing basis with planning. Lawyers write opinions and suggestions, we uncover relevant information through media requests (similar to the FOIA) from our contacts, we work directly with large organizations which will be affected by the proposed law — the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences. We have found several influential GR experts who help us as well.
Our outreach team orchestrates blogging activity, allowing us to bring the topic to public attention. The first time we posted about it, it raised to the 2nd most discussed topic on livejournal (the most popular blogging platform in Russia) — right after the topic about riots on Manegnaya square (right next to Kremlin). We give interviews to the media as well.
The most important thing is that we monitor the progress of the draft legislation through the bureaucratic system and intervene at every stage.
H+: What can you tell us about Russian attitudes toward technological change? Is there a traditional attitude… and is it changing?
DM: The public is not very future oriented. The discourse about the future is almost absent. We plant to work on that. In regards to individual technologies, people usually don’t object, but aren’t too interested either.
H+: Why do you think you’ve received a lot of media attention in Russia?
DM: Freezing old ladies’ heads is cool and a great conversation starter. That was an excellent starting point for promoting transhumanism and growing our influence.
H+: Who are some of the influences on Russian transhumanism?
DM: Obviously we benefited a lot from the work done in 1990s by Bostrom and other people in the WTA. But I believe we have put a lot of original ideas and visions into transhumanism in Russia.
H+: So… Danila Medvedev. Any relation to the President?
DM: We don’t discuss things like that. 🙂