Reproductive Rights and Transhumanism
[The following is the opinion of the author and not an official position of the organization Humanity+]
Individual reproductive rights and reproductive freedom should be an important principle for transhumanists, but the topic is widely misunderstood. While some argue for restricting parental rights, restrictions on reproductive rights also leads to restrictions in scientific research, medical treatments, and correspondingly, a reduction in longevity.
The World Health Organization defines reproductive rights as follows:
Reproductive rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence.
First and foremost, transhumanism includes as a central notion morphological freedom, the freedom of the individual decide and shape who we are and whom we might want to become. Becoming a parent, whether biological or adoptive, is clearly an important individual choice about what to do with one’s own body and life. Transhumanists believe the individual should decide this. Transhumanism is also about realizing our dreams and desires, and it presents a fundamentally optimistic view of the future and our potential within it. Transhumanism also suggests that individuals should be the ones that decide how to implement the philosophy in our own situation, our own daily lives, and it further suggests education and cognitive enhancement as tools to help people make good decisions as opposed to government regulation or authoritarian coercion.
Second, the proactionary principle due to Max More suggests that we consider both the risks and the rewards of any technology, action, or decision rather than merely following a fear based and precautionary approach. As is now apparent, funding restrictions related to beliefs about reproductive rights had quite significant negative impacts on research, denying many people useful medical treatments. This was largely ignored in the debates at the time in part because the discussion was not really about the science, but also because the potential of as yet undeveloped embryonic stem cell therapies was thought to be unknown and unknowable at the time.
Restrictions on reproductive freedom do not reduce unplanned pregnancies, but they do reduce investment into related research and science. Unintended pregnancy in the United States rose during the Bush years, while educational resources and scientific access were restricted. While recognizing that some individuals are born with extreme handicaps and in impossible conditions, transhumanism suggests that we seek innovative solutions to these problems rather than restricting individual desires and freedoms if possible. Transhumanism suggests that we obsolete the dilemma, and asks us to imagine innovative ways to do it.
Third, application of reason and critical thinking suggests that we look to historical examples of restrictions and their impacts, as well as working from first principles and hypotheses, to assess future possibilities. In the U.K. various restrictions were placed on the birth of “three parent” babies that were recently lifted as a number of the children born via this technique came of age and found to be healthy. But what were the results of the most recent and wide sweeping restriction of reproductive rights and related scientific research funding in the U.S.?
In 2001, then President George W. Bush stated his opinion about embryonic stem cell research, “At its core, this issue forces us to confront fundamental questions about the beginnings of life and the ends of science,” In issuing his ban on U.S. research funding , he explained “My position on these issues is shaped by deeply held beliefs,” that “human life is a sacred gift from our creator.” Thus began the ban enacted by Bush in 2001 which restricted federal funding for research using stem cells obtained from human embryos, because the technology required the destruction of a human life. In other words, this was about the hot button political topic of abortion and individual abortion rights, also an aspect of reproductive freedom under the WHO definition.
Regardless of his beliefs, Bush’s decision prevented ongoing research in the field across the board and led to a significant reduction in research activities that lasted eight years. This led directly to the ongoing illness and suffering of thousands if not millions of people. In fairness the Bush ban never made research illegal, but it did place significant restrictions on funding and use of stem cells in research. The cuts resulted directly in delays of a variety of research and experiments across the entire field until, in 2009, President Barack Obama lifted the Bush ban.
What has happened since 2009 is simply astounding.
Harvard’s recently announced research which showed that stem cells could be coaxed into producing insulin, suggests the potential. Use of stem cells might cure diabetes, a disease that afflicts around 29.1 million Americans alone. It’s the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S., and sufferers endure a variety of unpleasant effects and ongoing health problems reducing their quality of life.
Another recent stem cell announcement was about curing the blind.
Autogolous stem cell transplants are done by using the patient’s own stem cells, and have been shown to prolong survival of patients with multiple myeloma, a malignant blood disorder that causes bone destruction.
Dr. Richard Burt has pioneered a stem cell therapy called Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant (HSCT) to treat patients suffering with systemic scleroderma, a rare auto-immune disease. In HSCT, the patient’s own stem cells are harvested, then, the existing immune system is wiped out. The previously harvested stem cells are then used to “reset” the immune system. The success rate of this procedure is reportedly around 70%.
In France, six people were treated for heart disease with a stem cell based method.
Embryonic stem cells are now proving themselves safe and effective for a wide variety of illnesses and the full range of possible benefits for longevity and healthspan enhancement are still to be determined. I think it is pretty obvious even to a lay person that these are really significant developments in medical science and health extension technology.
While research involving embryonic stem cells is moving forward in the United Stated since 2009, elsewhere restrictions still apply and are debated. The Italian government just restricted something called the Stamina Treatment and prosecutors in Turin seized vials containing patient cells and tissues from a hospital involved in the research.
We seek to expand and enhance life, not regulate and restrict it.
Governmental restrictions on your reproductive rights also impact legal reasoning about scientific research including research into life saving and life extending medical treatments. Transhumanists should therefore view calls to restrict reproductive freedoms and individual morphological choices with extreme caution and instead support the development of these life saving medical treatments.
“George W. Bush and the Stem Cell Research Funding Ban”, retrieved from http://healthland.time.com/2012/08/21/legitimate-rape-todd-akin-and-other-politicians-who-confuse-science/slide/bush-bans-stem-cell-research/
“Stem cell laws and policy in the United States”, retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stem_cell_laws_and_policy_in_the_United_States
“Statistics About Diabetes”, retrived from http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/