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Zack Lynch is author of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World (St. Martin's Press, July 2009).
He is the founder and executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) and co-founder of NeuroInsights. He serves on the advisory boards of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Science Progress, and SocialText, a social software company. Please send newsworthy items or feedback - to Zack Lynch.
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October 20, 2003

The Pursuit of BioHappiness

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Last week the President's Council on Bioethics released "Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness, a 300 page report containing the following chapters:

1. Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness
2. Better Children
3. Superior Performance
4. Ageless Bodies
5. Happy Souls
6. "Beyond Therapy": General Reflections

Here are a few excerpts from chairman Leon R. Kass' editorial in the Washington Post introducing the report:

"By all accounts, we are entering the golden age of biotechnology. Advances in genetics, drug discovery and regenerative medicine promise cures for dreaded diseases and relief for terrible suffering. Advances in neuroscience and psychopharmacology promise better treatments for the mentally ill."

"For the past 16 months, the President's Council on Bioethics has explored the ethical and social meanings of using biotechnologies for purposes "beyond therapy." Our report, released today, tries to show what is increasingly at stake when biotechnology meets the pursuit of happiness. Lacking prophetic powers, no one can say for certain what life in the age of biotechnology holds in store. Most likely it will be the usual mix of unforeseen burdens and unexpected blessings. But we must begin thinking about these issues now, lest we build a future for ourselves that cheapens, rather than enriches, America's most cherished ideals."

"But there are reasons to wonder whether life will really be better if we turn to biotechnology to fulfill our deepest human desires. There is an old expression: To a man armed with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To a society armed with biotechnology, the activities of human life may seem more amenable to improvement than they really are. Or we may imagine ourselves wiser than we really are. Or we may get more easily what we asked for only to realize it is much less than what we really wanted.

"We want better children -- but not by turning procreation into manufacture or by altering their brains to give them an edge over their peers. We want to perform better in the activities of life -- but not by becoming mere creatures of our chemists or by turning ourselves into tools designed to win and achieve in inhuman ways. We want longer lives -- but not at the cost of living carelessly or shallowly with diminished aspiration for living well, and not by becoming people so obsessed with our own longevity that we care little about the next generations. We want to be happy -- but not because of a drug that gives us happy feelings without the real loves, attachments and achievements that are essential for true human flourishing."

This report will have important implications for American society in the years to come. Please take a look at the report and share your thoughts.

Update: Check out William Safire's NYTimes Op-Ed piece on the same topic today, Of Mice and Men.

Update 2: Check out Gregory Stock's comments at brother Kling's site.

Comments (4) | Category: Neuropolicy


COMMENTS

1. Rob on October 21, 2003 8:10 PM writes...

Very interesting stuff. I only read chapter 6, but I think despite the warnings of "playing god" and all that, we will see a future where we change ourselves neurologically. The primary reason will be our need to compete with the artificial intelligence we develop. We will have to make ourselves smarter in order to stay on top.

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2. aaron wall on October 22, 2003 9:46 AM writes...

I do not necisarily agree with the statement we are entering the golden age of anything. There is a ton of messed up stuff going on. Like why do so many people get SSRIs when they could just have 5HTP.

The problem is not wether we have the ability to make something, but if it is an economically viable situation for those who know what is best for the minds of others.

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3. Zack Lynch on October 22, 2003 3:54 PM writes...

More information:

For therapy vs. enhancement discussion see --http://www.corante.com/brainwaves/20030901.shtml#51201

For more current discussions of the report:

Susan Greenfield--http://www.townhall.com/columnists/suzannefields/sf20031022.shtml

Arnold Kling--http://www.corante.com/bottomline/archives/000500.html

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4. Ramez Naam on October 28, 2003 8:28 AM writes...

You take the President's Council on Bioethics report out of context. It is not a report that paints neurotechnology or biotechnology in a glowing light. Rather, it's a fairly aggressive condemnation of any attempt to use technology to enhance ourselves.

I find the report (and the last year of reports and transcripts coming out of the PCBE) occassionally insightful but mostly full of the same old fear of change that has greated every new technological wave.

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