Biotechnology

What the Hell Is Human Dignity Anyway?

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Friend of reason Steven Pinker plows into the mushy category of "human dignity"—routinely invoked to argue against advances in science and medicine that will enliven and lengthen our lives—like nobody's business here:

Many people are vaguely disquieted by developments (real or imagined) that could alter minds and bodies in novel ways. Romantics and Greens tend to idealize the natural and demonize technology. Traditionalists and conservatives by temperament distrust radical change. Egalitarians worry about an arms race in enhancement techniques. And anyone is likely to have a "yuck" response when contemplating unprecedented manipulations of our biology. The President's Council has become a forum for the airing of this disquiet, and the concept of "dignity" a rubric for expounding on it. This collection of essays is the culmination of a long effort by the Council to place dignity at the center of bioethics. The general feeling is that, even if a new technology would improve life and health and decrease suffering and waste, it might have to be rejected, or even outlawed, if it affronted human dignity.

Whatever that is. The problem is that "dignity" is a squishy, subjective notion, hardly up to the heavyweight moral demands assigned to it.

Whole thing in The New Republic, via Arts & Letters Daily, here.

Read Pinker's reason interview here.

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  1. Nice post. “It may violate human diginity” is one of the most overused “arguments” against technological advancement, second only to the usually equally meaningless “it may violate nature/God’s will.”

    Liberal argument against technology: “It may cause more inequality.”

    Conservative argument against technology: “It is different and new (and thus may hurt the traditional order of things I am hell bent on “conserving”)”

    Both are usually lame arguments that usually just reflect the “things will be different and therefore possibly worse, hold me I’m scared” mentality of the one putting the argument forward.

  2. I applaud the coming fetus-powered time machine.

  3. When it comes to rhetorical tactics, Pinker is making a huge mistake. There’s nothing inherently inane about “dignity,” and being anti-dignity is not a winning position. Unless you simply want to be a darling of contrarians and other educated people, Pinker has foolishly chosen a much harder row to hoe.

    Dignity is what every human being is entitled to simply by virtue of being human. A very basic core of human rights is easy to define. Persons may not be murdered, tortured, or enslaved. Persons have the right, upon reaching adulthood, to broadly control their own lives. Persons are ends in themselves-not merely means created for the accomplishment of other peoples’ goals.

    Dignity, in short, is both why people get a certain respect simply for being human, and it is what they get by virtue of being persons. One of the most important thing about dignity is that it’s a comprehensible, useful, and easily defensible concept with regards to adults but it’s a bit of a mash when it comes to children, let alone fetuses. (E.g., you can’t force adults to sit silently in a row of desks for 8 hours a day, listening to some old spinster. With children, we think it’s neglect if you don’t do that! Likewise children can be yelled at, punished, grounded, put to bed, etc. etc. We understand why, if not how, children are a special case. A fortiori. the “fetus dignity” of bioconservatives is plainly indefensible and usually downright moronic.)

    Is the concept broad and a bit nebulous, fuzzy at the edges? Sure. But that’s because its core is so solid that many charlatans and morons have tried to usurp it. Surrendering the concept to its worst abusers, as Pinker does, is worse than a crime-it’s a mistake.

    If you cede dignity, you give up the game. But this game-the progress of biotechnology, including regenerative medicine, gene therapy, treatments and cures for chronic disease and debilitating injury-is too damn important to give up.

    Advocates of scientific progress should not disdain arguments for morality, we should seize them. In the coming decades, science will save many lives and alleviate much suffering-unless we actively sabotage the project.

  4. I have no dog in this fight, but couldn’t the same criticism be leveled on this forum, i.e., “What the hell is freedom anyway?”

  5. CK,

    If you read the article, you would see that what you are describing – “Persons may not be murdered, tortured, or enslaved. Persons have the right, upon reaching adulthood, to broadly control their own lives. Persons are ends in themselves-not merely means created for the accomplishment of other peoples’ goals,” – is actually autonomy, and what the advocates of “dignity” are describing is something quite different, and something that stands in opposition to autonomy, as a limit to it.

    Although Pinker seems to disdain Huxley, I think he did a great service by giving us a very accessible book that illuminates this issue nicely.

    The conflict between autonomy and dignity comes down to a question of happiness. We can imagine things one might do to manipulate human biology and psychology that would increase happiness, and therefore might be freely chosen by people who are completely autonomous, but which seem to go against basic concepts of human dignity. And Huxley provides examples of this quite well: he imagines a society where human happiness has been increased by fundamentally diminishing man biologically and psychologically to make him “fit” better into a modern technological society. I think Huxley’s novel cuts right to the heart of the issue here and Pinker is wrong to dismiss it.

    If there are going to be any occasions where dignity trumps autonomy, I think they will be instances where new technologies are used to reduce human capacities instead of enhance them. If scientists want to develop technologies to make people more intelligent, that is not an offense against dignity; if they want to develop technologies to make people more stupid, it is. Even if that technology might make the recipient “happier”, and would therefore possibly be freely chosen in some instances.

    This fairly basic and common-sense rule of thumb would help clarify the issues around dignity quite a bit.

    Even after adopting such a basic rule, there are still many unanswered questions: it’s hard to say, for example, whether a technological advance that allowed for discrete control of brain chemistry to eliminate “negative emotions” would violate the rule or not. In some ways, this advance can be depicted as an enhancement, because it would make many peoples’ emotional lives more rewarding. OTOH, it can be seen as a reduction in capacity, since it is eliminating certain areas of those emotional lives.

    But it’s a start.

  6. Wouldn’t it be funny if politicians were asked to define their terms?

  7. Fucking Luddites. Tell you what, you go sit in the corner with your dignity. I’ll just suffer the humiliation of longer life and improved health.

    Asshats.

  8. The concept of “human dignity” can cut a number of ways, just like any other sufficiently nebulous concept.

  9. The debate over “dignity” is as irrelevant as it is amusing. If anybody thinks they can stop the ensuing “enhancements” then they probably think Prohibition worked great and the WoD is a success.

    If I can’t get my wetwiring legally, I’ll just get it illegally, like anything else.

  10. If scientists want to develop technologies to make people more intelligent, that is not an offense against dignity; if they want to develop technologies to make people more stupid, it is. Even if that technology might make the recipient “happier”, and would therefore possibly be freely chosen in some instances.

    Fluffy, are you saying that when I choose to take a cold medication that has the side effect of making me groggy (stupid), it is an offense to my human dignity?

    One could argue that the President’s Council is against pregnancy, since it clearly makes women less dignified.

  11. Epis,

    Yeah, they do.

    Remember our current “leadership” believes prohibition was a success and the WoD is as well.

  12. I haven’t red the 500+ page book Pinker is reviewing, and Pinker doesn’t actually tell us much of what’s actually in it. There are numerous contributors, but the one contributor Pinker focuses on is Leon Kass. Although Pinker fusses about Catholic influence, Kass himself is Jewish. And as Kass himself admits, his anti-life views aren’t supported by the rabbis he talked to. So Kass doesn’t seem to be representative of the Jewish tradition, he represents the Leon Kass tradition.

    Using the wonders of modern medicine to extend human life is a good thing. Kass speaks disparagingly about more years to play tennis. But what about more years to do good in the world?

    If everyone on the Council thought like Kass, they’d be wrong. Pinker doesn’t claim this, which leads me to wonder what the specific positions of the other Council members actually are. Beyond denouncing the concept of dignity and employing a variety of guilt-by-association arguments, Pinker seems vaguer than one might like on the actual views of the various contributors. The main impression we get is that they aren’t waving the pom-poms and uncritically cheering each and every new development which Pinker approves of.

    Pinker seems to employ an innocence-by-association tactic. Over the wide range of bioethical subjects, he just assumes that each new development is a good thing. He gives attention to life-prolonging technologies. He also discusses IVF, which must be good because so many people use it. Then he rattles off lists of other procedures which are supposedly ethically unproblematic.

    If he’s going to say that the concept of dignity is meaningless and/or dangerous, maybe he should give more examples of the actual, substantive, dignity-based posotions held by the contributors. He might have to expand the length of his review, but he would be able to provide numerous practical examples of the evil implications of the dignity concept. Wouldn’t it help his case to do this?

  13. Wow, nothing like an apologist for child-rapists weighing in on the side of “dignity” to give it some gravitas.

  14. What gave away the fact that I was an apologist for child rapists? Maybe the time I compared the American bishops’ cover-up of the priest scandal to the Watergate cover-up?

    Never mind, you are beyond the reach of rational argument.

  15. Another interesting point about Pinker’s article – he deplores the ethicists’ citation of a non-scholarly work like Aldous Huxley’s *Brave New World* – then Pinker quotes lyrics from that famous scientist, Cole Porter.

  16. How about lying about the fact that the children were “teenage boys” (They were not all boys, and many were younger than teens). Then comparing that to consensual homosexual relations.

    We agree on one thing – we have no need to talk to each other, ever. You worthless fuck.

  17. The general feeling is that, even if a new technology would improve life and health and decrease suffering and waste, it might have to be rejected, or even outlawed, if it affronted human dignity.

    Yes, when my father broke his neck and had to spend the rest of his miserable life as a pain-wracked quadriplegic, I’m sure he thought “Thank God nobody is robbing me of my dignity by giving back my lost power to stand, walk, move my arms and legs, feed myself, scratch my own damned nose when it itches or wipe my own ass after I shit. No, the dignified thing to do is spend the rest of my life in motionless agony until my bodily systems mercifully quit working and I die over a decade later.”

    As for those people who oppose “unnatural” medical advances . . . once they become quadriplegics and still insist medical research to help them is wrong, THEN I’ll give a rat’s ass about what they have to say.

  18. In a free society, one cannot empower the government to outlaw any behavior that offends someone just because the offendee can pull a hypothetical future injury out of the air.

    Wow. There go 90% of U.S. laws.

    Brave New World, a work of fiction, is treated as inerrant prophesy.

    I guess I need to go read BNW again. How can it possibly be used to encourage central control and praise conformity?

    Over the wide range of bioethical subjects, he (Pinker) just assumes that each new development is a good thing.

    Each new development is a “good thing” in some way. Even those that don’t work teach us what not to do. Kass’s viewpoint is that Government should correct God’s mistake in giving us free will and regulate our behavior down to outlawing ice cream cones. For our own good, of course. Kass’s concept of “dignity” is that everyone should do what he thinks is correct. He hates anyone who disagrees.

    Actually, he hates everyone, probably including himself.

  19. BP,

    I’m still curious how comparing someone’s conduct to the Watergate cover-up constitutes being an apologist for that behavior.

    But that’s OK, you’re in your Special Place, where the harsh blasts of reason, logic and evidence cannot reach you.

  20. Fluffy, are you saying that when I choose to take a cold medication that has the side effect of making me groggy (stupid), it is an offense to my human dignity?

    Well, obviously not, because you sleep every day. Getting sleepy for a few hours is already part of your standard experience.

    I’m thinking more along the lines of chemical lobotomy, and less along the lines of “Boy, these antihystemines really make me yawny.”

  21. In a free society, one cannot empower the government to outlaw any behavior that offends someone just because the offendee can pull a hypothetical future injury out of the air.

    Wow. There go 90% of U.S. laws.

    Now you’re catching on, Larry.

  22. I also think one has to consider not only the consumer of certain technologies, but the medical practicioners who would provide these technologies.

    To use a non-brain example to mix up my post content a little, consider the rapid advances being made in leg prosthetics. There was recently a case where a runner was disqualified from a race because he had prosthetic limbs, which in some respects were superior to real limbs.

    I can easily foresee a circumstance where these prosthetics continue to improve, and we reach a point where some people would want to have their real legs amputated and replaced with prosthetics. [In a nation of hundreds of millions eventually SOMEONE will make that consumer choice.]

    Contemplating the removal of healthy tissue, organs, or appendages in order to enhance them seems problematic to me. We may recognize the autonomy of the individual to wish to receive such treatment, while finding it ethically questionable for medical professionals to provide such treatment. This may be a case where a concept that arises from an idea of general human dignity – that medicine is about healing the person, and not about altering the person for amusement – is in conflict with autonomy. It’s a difficult issue.

  23. I’m always amazed at the “icky!” and “unatural!” reactions of people to cloning.

    I point out to them that cloning people isn’t neccessarily the end result, that instead, people could conceivably have gentetically identical new arms, hearts, legs and livers cloned for them to replace damaged parts. They can be spared a lifetime of suppressed immune systems from anti-rejection drugs and have their shattered lives restored, rather than just adapt. It truly is a brave new world, one with considerably less suffering.

    At that point, they just kinda shuffle their feet, look at the ground and then respond with “icky!” or “unatural!”.

  24. even if a new technology would improve life and health and decrease suffering and waste, it might have to be rejected, or even outlawed, if it affronted human dignity.

    If you look at the history of medical research in this country, you can see that we have actually rejected some research avenues that would have brought us increases in health more quickly because they affronted human dignity.

    For example, it used to be common to use prisoners in medical research–it’s now illegal because it’s an affront to human dignity. Many research studies are delayed or even indefinitely suspended because it’s too expensive or difficult to get a research sample. No advocates solving that problem by doing the research on prisoners.

    Sure, there’s controversey about when something get’s tagged with “human dignity” (at conception, viability, birth, puberty?) but we all attach some value to this idea.

  25. These guys can have my spectacles when they pry them from my cold dead face.

  26. Contemplating the removal of healthy tissue, organs, or appendages in order to enhance them seems problematic to me.

    You want problematic? This is problematic.

  27. For example, it used to be common to use prisoners in medical research–it’s now illegal because it’s an affront to human dignity. Many research studies are delayed or even indefinitely suspended because it’s too expensive or difficult to get a research sample. No advocates solving that problem by doing the research on prisoners.

    That sounds more like an issue of “consent” rather than “dignity,” similar to the way consensual sex is not considered an affront to dignity (despite the rather undignified positions and sound effects involved), whereas being raped is.

  28. ck, Fluffy,

    I think your comments get to the heart of the issue.

    Dignity is a core concept, but is not a primitive concept. It includes autonomy, but has other dimensions. Defining dignity is similar to defining other composite notions (e.g., defining good). It is also, like many important notions, highly context dependent and subjective. Dignity is meaningless without inclusion of the subjective experience of the individual…taking away dignity can only be discussed meaningfully when embedded in the specifics of a particular context that includes the subjective experience of an individual who feels “undignified” or “dignified.”

    This means it is a difficult concept upon which to base policy decisions, but also, as CK points out, one that should always be included in out thinking about policy. But policy deals with fuzzy concepts all the time. The trick is to craft a process that highlights the important concepts and recognizes that a decision will be made on a case by case basis. No a priori rule will be crafted that handles all cases.

    So, for instance, laws that provide for restrictions on “unreasonable searches” require that the determination of “reasonable” be made on a case by case basis. Likewise a policy that prohibits technologies that limit dignity would lead to case by case determinations.

    That process would be imperfect, of course, but the underlying value of dignity as a rubric for evaluating the worth of a technology is not misguided.

    But it also presents no real danger to the progress of science or technology.

    ihmo

  29. Or a better analogy: the problem with making slaves pick cotton isn’t that picking cotton is inherently undignified; it’s that people should not be made slaves.

  30. Fluffy, what’s the difference between the plastic surgery that is available to us today and someone who wants to take a more drastic step? Your argument against voluntary augmentation is surprising.

  31. Neu Mejican,

    Well, more to the point, one might argue that since humans have been arguing about what dignity means since perhaps the start of the recorded word then there might be something important to the concept.

  32. Being a slave is problematic exactly because it does not respect an individual’s dignity. The loss of autonomy is the mechanism by which dignity is disrespected.

  33. I don’t think Fluffy was arguing against augmentation; it seemed like he was considering the Hippocratic tradition as applied to such augmentation. I don’t see it as an issue, because “damaging” your body to “improve” it is no different than getting a tattoo or having your wisdom teeth removed. However, I could see individual doctors having a problem with it and not wanting to do it.

  34. The is a large literature on the importance of “saving face” in human interaction. Dignity seems to be intimately involved in our need to control the face we present to others…taking away one’s ability to control the face they present to the world is one way to take away their dignity.

  35. There is a large…

    uhm…

    lost face their with my morning typing skills.

  36. lovely typo in my comment about typos…

    I feel so undignified…

  37. Being a slave is problematic exactly because it does not respect an individual’s dignity. The loss of autonomy is the mechanism by which dignity is disrespected.

    Exactly, as with using prisoners for medical experiments: being a willing volunteer is not a problem, but you can’t FORCE people to do it. That is the problem, not anything inherently undignified about medical experimentation.

  38. Contemplating the removal of healthy tissue, organs, or appendages in order to enhance them seems problematic to me. We may recognize the autonomy of the individual to wish to receive such treatment, while finding it ethically questionable for medical professionals to provide such treatment. This may be a case where a concept that arises from an idea of general human dignity – that medicine is about healing the person, and not about altering the person for amusement – is in conflict with autonomy. It’s a difficult issue.

    You mean like breast augmentation, and nose jobs, etc?

    How is that different than say removing a good leg to replace it with a superior prosthetic?

  39. Seems to me, if there is a difference between “we can do it” and “we should do it;” and if there is a difference between “it might lead to” and “it will lead to;” then there will be a role for consideration of dignity in decisions about specific courses of action.

    Dignity seems involved in the can/should distinction.

    It seems less directly related to the will/might distinction.

    Pinker seems to be conflating the two situations (or maybe it is Kass). Arguing against use of dignity in can/should decisions because it is a difficult concept to define seems unwarranted. Arguing against use of dignity in will/might decisions makes more sense, but would be based on the fact that dignity is tangential.

    No?

  40. Dignity is in the eye of the beholder. A Saudi woman might think me terribly undignified (even exploited) when I do things like go on job interviews and expose my face to men who are not my relatives. And I’m not even going to mention the full-frontal palm-on-palm handshakes I’ve promiscuously shared with such men. If SHE doesn’t want to do this because she thinks it’s undignified, that’s her prerogative. Problem is, too many people would gladly force me to stay home and hide my face as well, forcing their notions of dignity upon someone who wants no part of it.

    Sounds like these “medicine must remain dignified” people would fall into the latter category.

  41. Neu Mejican,

    A lot of how one comes down on this issue may depend on how one views the dissemination of technology (not in the normative sense though).

  42. Colin,

    Could you elaborate.

    Technology will be disseminated once developed.

    That is a given.

    Whether there is a role for government in encouraging or discouraging that dissemination is distinct, I think, from whether or not there is a role for government in encouraging or discouraging the development of that technology.

    No?

  43. You mean like breast augmentation, and nose jobs, etc?

    How is that different than say removing a good leg to replace it with a superior prosthetic?

    Well, it’s different in degree. Implanting a pin in your knee to fix it when it wears down is different from taking healthy legs off to replace them with wheels and pogo sticks.

    Consider these two cases:

    1. A plastic surgeon reducing the size of someone’s nose.

    2. A plastic surgeon removing someone’s nose to replace it with one of those fake clown flowers that shoots water at people.

    I think that walking into the surgeon’s office to demand either one of these surgeries is a “consumer choice” and you would be perfectly entitled – and equally entitled – to seek out either on the basis of your own autonomy.

    But, from the perspective of the surgeon, the surgeon who indulges the consumer’s desires and performs #2 is a bit sick, and has questionable ethics.

    The funny thing is that I am very conflicted on this issue, because I can see myself volunteering to be “uploaded” into a computer environment [under the right set of circumstances] and that is essentially discarding one’s entire body. It is difficult for me to explain why I have no objection to “uploading”, but can see ethical issues in providing bizarre customization options to people with healthy and working “parts”.

  44. Sounds like these “medicine must remain dignified” people would fall into the latter category.

    Maybe some of them.
    But there are certainly some who don’t.
    It is, of course, easier to lump them all into the “coercive prior restraint crowd” than to take on the issue directly and address the legitimate concern they may be attempting to incorporate into the decision process. Recognizing the problem does not lead directly to a certain policy position.

  45. Dignity don’t matter all that much until you’ve lost yours. Then it becomes very apparent how important it is.

  46. TWC,

    True.

    It also falls into the “know it when I see it” category.

  47. Seems like the ‘dignity’ argument here revolves around the individualist and societal viewpoints.

    I think its pretty obvious that ‘human dignity’, is a very subjective, and thus individualustic concept. The problem arises when you assume that ‘your’ individual view of human dignity is the same as the common societal view, which doesnt exist. And the fact that this has been the subject of unending discussion from time immemorial should be clear indicator that while this is an important subject, it is strictly subjective, and cannot be pigeon-holled into any one definiton. It is a set of underlying principles, that includes different things to different people.

    As liberatarians, i.e. the most individualistic of politcal views, you would be hard pressed to deffend the one common, legislated view of human dignity. So the question is not “we can do it” and “we should do it” its, “you can do it” and “you should do it”.

    There is no we about it, if its between consenting adults, libertarians should keep their, freely augmented or not, noses out of it.

  48. “Dignity?” How quaint.

  49. NW,

    Just sayin’…..

    When you wake up in the back yard with the family dog licking barf off of your face, you know you’ve temporarily lost your dignity.

    Personally, I’m waiting for somebody to clone me some new eyeballs. In the meantime, I’m slowly working up the fortitude to let those guys laser my eyes. Not there yet, but less scared than two years ago.

  50. Sounds like these “medicine must remain dignified” people would fall into the latter category.

    Maybe some of them. But there are certainly some who don’t.

    How do you figure? They’re not saying “certain medical techniques must not be used on unwilling people,” they’re saying “techniques must not be used if they are undignified.” But who’s to say what dignity is? If you think a procedure is undignified and I disagree, then fine: you don’t have to have the undignified procedure done to you. I’ll have it done to me instead, and if you want to cry for my lost dignity you can join the Saudi women who pity me for going out in public with my face exposed. I’ll gladly live what others consider an undignified life, so long as I’m fine with that.

  51. Neu Mejican,

    Well, before dealing with an issue like dignity in the situations imagined here one might ask how do society and technology interact? I know it is a little artificial to make two seperate piles with one labelled technology and the other society, but it is a useful exercise I think.

  52. I also tend to agree that dignity is a squishy word used to justify any number of intrusions upon our liberties.

    That said, there are much worse words, like green, sustainable, & carbon footprint, whose mere utterance should be punishable by lethal injection.

  53. Neu Mejican,

    Anyway, a hard enough analysis of an issue like this will probably bring up all manner of related points, such as free will v. determinism, etc. That might make such an analysis unwieldy impractical and downright boring.

  54. How do you figure? They’re not saying “certain medical techniques must not be used on unwilling people,” they’re saying “techniques must not be used if they are undignified.” But who’s to say what dignity is? If you think a procedure is undignified and I disagree, then fine: you don’t have to have the undignified procedure done to you.

    Well’s, let’s use the most extraordinary Huxleyan examples and see if your analysis here has any problems.

    Say there was a medical procedure that could transform you into a Brave New World “delta” – a functional, but severely limited, mongoloid, with additional tinkering Huxley didn’t anticipate done to your brain chemistry so that your life was essentially one long Ecstasy trip. Would it be ethical for such a procedure to be offered on the market?

    On the basis of pure autonomy, of course it would be. If that’s what you want to be, that’s what you should get to be. If I don’t like it, I don’t have to choose it. Right? You should also be able to choose it for your children. Right?

    And I can see both the logic and justice of that argument, but at the same time I think that there would be extraordinary ethical problems with actually supplying you with that treatment, that its widespread use would create a nightmare dystopian landscape, and that it would be an affront to human dignity.

    I also think that it is a dangerous area to even research, because if the technology comes into use, it is extremely likely that its use will not be confined to willing participants. This is true of any technology, of course, and is not by itself an argument against that technology, but in an instance where the “good” uses of the technology are themselves problematic I am more prone to worrying about the “bad” uses of the technology.

  55. Where do you draw the line though? You can get your ribs removed to appear small-waisted. You can have pieces of plastic inserted into your pectorals or calves to make them appear larger. Sure, amputating an entire limb might be excessive, but hands and feet can be surgically attached to those who actually want them, right? This may be a misunderstanding on my part, but still. Where does a doctor get to say what is a violation of the Hippocratic oath when the patient is voluntary and the procedure is safe?

  56. Fluffy,

    I was gonna bring up clowning as I think it speaks to the heart of this issue.

    Clowning as an art form is both ancient and dignified, but seems nothing more nor less than an artistic examination of the concept of dignity.

    It is dignified to choose to be a clown.
    It is not dignified to be made a clown by someone else (figuratively).

    A technology that made one a clown in actuality when it was not your choice is more complicated to judge. Of course, an augmented nose does not make one a clown…round it goes.

    Val,
    Good points…but I do think that the concept of “we as actor” is relevant in any discussion of policy.

    Jennifer,
    Sure, nothing is undignified without considering the subjective experience, but technologies can potential make the choice for you prior to you having the capacity to form an opinion about whether or not the results diminish your dignity. At that point it is up to an outside observer to judge whether the potential harm to your dignity is justified.

    No?

  57. I hate to double post, but wouldn’t a procedure like that be likened to child abuse, as a parent is not free to violently cause danger to their children, wouldn’t the non-violent version be just as illegal?

  58. Fluffy,

    Another excellent examination of that issue can be found in Samuel Delany’s Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand

    It also examines how a bureaucracy might implement/regulate such technology and the incentives that would be involved for the society and the individual.

    I can’t recommend it highly enough.

  59. I hate to double post, but wouldn’t a procedure like that be likened to child abuse, as a parent is not free to violently cause danger to their children, wouldn’t the non-violent version be just as illegal?

    I don’t think we can rely on that.

    As the current debate surrounding cochlear implants shows, we really can’t rely on the law to take the really amazingly obvious position that turning your kid into a “Delta” is a “harm”. It would be easy to see people arguing that these “Deltas” were merely “different”.

  60. Fluffy, you speak only of self-detrimental augmentation to back up your arguments. Would it still be affront to human dignity if I underwent a procedure that made significantly more intelligent then the average “human”? What if I chose it for my children?

    Also lets take it to an even larger self-detrimental extreme. Do you support an individual’s right to end their own life, the most ‘self-detrimental’ and permanent procedure you can currently undergo?

    Many many people would consider euthanasia an affront to ‘human dignity’. They would consider research into this area an affront to ethics. And the practice of assissted suicide a violation of the hypocratic oath. They would take the fuzzy and vague concept of ‘human dignity’ and legislate it. Suddenly the patient and doctor, both humans, are pariahs, even those both acting in what they feel is an ethical manner

  61. There’s nothing inherently inane about “dignity,” and being anti-dignity is not a winning position.

    Maybe it’s different wher you live, but I don’t detect a whole lot of “dignity” in Homo sapiens. I’d trot out examples of the specvies lack of dignity, but I fear once started, I might be unable to stop.

  62. also wanted to mention, that the “how can we be sure that people are not abused” and the “how can we be sure that people are not forced to undergo the procedure” arguments are currently both commonly used against assissted suicide, market incentives for organ donation and, luckily not so much anymore, invitro fertilization and surogacy

  63. Fluffy:
    I’m not familiar with the cochlear implant debate. Care to enlighten me?

    And I’m not sure if I agree with you that people would go so far in their ‘everyone is a special snowflake’ mentality to declare intentional mental retardedness as ‘different’ without any negative sort of judgment or outrage. People are usually appalled at child abuse and I would think this would elicit the same reaction.

  64. In the meantime, I’m slowly working up the fortitude to let those guys laser my eyes. Not there yet, but less scared than two years ago.

    I know what you mean, TWC. I made my wife go first. When hers turned out OK, I got my eyes lasered.

    And am I ever glad I did.

  65. Contemplating the removal of healthy tissue, organs, or appendages in order to enhance them seems problematic to me.

    How do you feel about boob jobs? Birth mark removal? Nose bobs? Liposuction? Stomach stapling? While hardly a complete list, it’s a start.

  66. If dignity is what every human being is entitled to simply by virtue of being human why is it a bit of a mash when it comes to children?

    Unless there’s some question about whether children are human.

  67. Fluffy, you speak only of self-detrimental augmentation to back up your arguments. Would it still be affront to human dignity if I underwent a procedure that made significantly more intelligent then the average “human”? What if I chose it for my children?

    No, I don’t think it would be.

    Way back at the beginning of the thread I wrote:

    If there are going to be any occasions where dignity trumps autonomy, I think they will be instances where new technologies are used to reduce human capacities instead of enhance them.

    But that puts us in an area where we have to decide what is and what isn’t an enhancement. And that’s going to be messy.

    I’m not familiar with the cochlear implant debate. Care to enlighten me?

    And I’m not sure if I agree with you that people would go so far in their ‘everyone is a special snowflake’ mentality to declare intentional mental retardedness as ‘different’ without any negative sort of judgment or outrage. People are usually appalled at child abuse and I would think this would elicit the same reaction.

    Well, I will probably summarize it badly, and people will jump in and call me an asshole, but in broad strokes:

    Cochlear implants can grant the ability to hear to people who are deaf. You might think, “Woo hoo! Good work, scientists! Now the deaf will be able to hear!” But many deaf people have become so caught up in the, as you put it, “everyone is a special snowflake’ mentality” that they actually oppose the treatment. Deafness is a “culture”, and that culture deserves to survive, and by providing a treatment for the disability of deafness science is threatening that culture. So these activists oppose the use of this treatment.

    I can easily see this kind of thinking getting to the point where some deaf “culturists” want their children engineered to be deaf, to preserve the “culture”. And if that’s possible, “delta”-izing children is possible too.

  68. I know what you mean, TWC. I made my wife go first. When hers turned out OK, I got my eyes lasered.

    quick, anyone know RC’s wife, send her a link

  69. Cochlear implants can grant the ability to hear to people who are deaf. You might think, “Woo hoo! Good work, scientists! Now the deaf will be able to hear!” But many deaf people have become so caught up in the, as you put it, “everyone is a special snowflake’ mentality” that they actually oppose the treatment

    Just to clarify, from my own understanding. Its not so much that the adults refuse treatment for themselves, its that they refuse treatment for their children, who need to undergo the procedure very early but can grow up almost completely normal interms of hearing, verbal comprehension and speech.

  70. I’ll decide if a medical procedure for me is dignified or not. Thanks for all of your concern, now butt out.

    Just a random thought, wouldn’t wheels instaed of feet be worth considering?

  71. I certainly don’t want to stop anyone from freely taking advantage of whatever technology they want, but I am not as wildly optimistic about this sort of stuff as many of you seem to be either.
    There are a lot of things out there which make people live longer and to some extent better, but I don’t see much progress on stopping people from getting old. Having seen a number of people who lived too long, until we can really crack that nut, I am not too keen on living past the normal 70-80 years I expect at this point.

  72. , wouldn’t wheels instaed of feet be worth considering?

    You better include brakes as well. Dont want you rolling down hill in a parking lot, messing up my paint job. And I dont even know how you are going to handle stairs. Maybe wheels in addition to feet, so you can switch as required.

  73. I’ll decide if a medical procedure for me is dignified or not. Thanks for all of your concern, now butt out.

    Here’s a question that will piss libertarians off. And I’m just putting it out there to see it discussed.

    Autonomy obviously is an individual possession. Is dignity? Does dignity belong to the individual the way that all of the classical rights do?

    If all of you guys decided to get gene therapy to turn yourselves in “deltas”, and I didn’t, have you only harmed your own dignity or mine as well? Am I entitled to be pissed at you?

    Since I consider libertarian ethics to be based in natural law, that implies that if you clowns fundamentally alter the nature of Man that ethics is no more. So it may be that I am ethically bound to recognize your autonomy, unless the choice you want to autonomously make involves debasing man beyond the point at which his nature entitles him to autonomy.

    Just a hypothetical. Not sure if I think that or not.

  74. Does dignity belong to the individual the way that all of the classical rights do?

    Dignity is a social construct. Dignity only matters in how others perceive you. If you give blowjobs in alleys and like it, if others find out about it you will be considered as having no dignity. However if only you know about it and you enjoy it, it’s perfectly dignified as you are doing something you like.

    Dignity is a combination of others’ perceptions of your status plus your own perception of their perception.

  75. quick, anyone know RC’s wife, send her a link

    Not to worry. She already knows.

    Autonomy obviously is an individual possession. Is dignity? Does dignity belong to the individual the way that all of the classical rights do?

    Yes.

    Dignity is a social construct. Dignity only matters in how others perceive you.

    I don’t think so, at least not entirely. Dignity is like honesty or trustworthiness. You have it whether others recognize it or not. Others can try to strip you of dignity, but they only succeed when you let them. Otherwise, the only loss of dignity is theirs.

  76. Just a random thought, wouldn’t wheels instead of feet be worth considering?

    If the world was flat.

    I just got back from the Grand Canyon. A member of my family uses a walker with wheels. Feet work much better.

    She also has a new hip, which makes the walker possible instead of a wheelchair.

    Luddites suck.

  77. Dignity is a social construct. Dignity only matters in how others perceive you. If you give blowjobs in alleys and like it, if others find out about it you will be considered as having no dignity.

    intersting, so in this case, whose dignity has been affronted, the knee-jockey from the alley, or the witness??

    Dignity is like honesty or trustworthiness

    I diagree. Honesty, is fairly concrete concept, “you do what you say you will do”, is about the best I can sum it up.

    Trustworthiness on the other hand is definetely a product of others perception of you, ideally based on your honesty. But you can be the most honest person and another will not trust you with a dollar, or you can be a shister getting old ladies to trust you with their fortunes.

  78. You have it whether others recognize it or not. Others can try to strip you of dignity, but they only succeed when you let them.

    Not true. NAMBLA members are universally viewed as not having dignity. Whether they feel they have dignity doesn’t really matter.

    Your supposition only applies when there are some people who will recognize your dignity and some who won’t. If no one will, it’s really pretty meaningless. Which makes it a social construct.

  79. Regarding Cochlear Implants:

    This one has already made it into the courts with a lesbian couple trying to intentionally have a deaf child.

    Details are available deep in the H&R archive somewhere…A Bailey post.

    Jennifer, iirc, was in the “this is abuse” camp. It was a pretty heated discussion.

  80. There is a real distinction between different and deficient that the Deaf Culture debate highlights.

    It is particularly heated because of the involvement of children and reproductive choice.

  81. I think a lot of people are equating “dignity” with the idea of “being dignified”.

    “Being dignified” is a social construct. You are dignified to the extent that other people find you to be dignified.

    But I think “dignity” as a moral concept is a different thing, not very closely related to “being dignified” at all. “Dignity” is that quality or combination of qualities that makes Man a being worthy of moral notice.

    That’s what gets people agitated about embryo experimentation. If you think that embryos with a few cells are human, then treating them as beneath moral notice harms human dignity in general. I don’t personally think embryos at that stage of development are human yet – but by thinking that human “dignity” is exactly what I am denying them.

  82. Where does a doctor get to say what is a violation of the Hippocratic oath when the patient is voluntary and the procedure is safe?

    In a free society, that would be at whatever place she wants to.

    Sorry, sir, we don’t do pogo stick surgeries here. (nod to Fluff)

  83. I know what you mean, TWC. I made my wife go first. When hers turned out OK, I got my eyes lasered.

    LOL, a 6′ 6″ truck driving, gun nut of a Harley riding friend of mine used to make his 5′ 1″ Mexican wife go through the front door first, once it was safe, he’d saunter on in, all macho and stuff.

    Thanks for the tip on the Lasik. Gene Trosper, who posts here sometimes, also had a good experience. First hand positives is a help in getting over the irrational fear of being blinded.

  84. The Fluffster says what I was trying to get at.

    Trustworthiness on the other hand is definetely a product of others perception of you, ideally based on your honesty.

    No, being trustworthy is an inherent quality. Being trusted depends on other people trusting you.

  85. wouldn’t wheels instaed of feet be worth considering

    Not where I live, or in San Francisco.

    But, what if your knees and ankles could go either direction and could automatically lock out the other direction when needed? And you had feet that pointed forward and backward with the ankle joint in the middle? Twenty toes to clip though.

  86. If there are going to be any occasions where dignity trumps autonomy, I think they will be instances where new technologies are used to reduce human capacities instead of enhance them.

    Human autonomy comes from human capacities. Thus, isn’t that just a case of choosing to reduce your own autonomy. If that’s an ethical dilemma, it’s a dilemma relating to autonomy, not dignity per se.

    Further, throwing in the issue of children doesn’t make it any more about dignity rather than autonomy.

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