The scenario: You have carpal tunnel from repetitive tasks and your legs don’t have much muscle left because you sit all day long anyway. Don’t fret! Advances in prosthetics means cheap, easily attachable, bionic parts are available to you. Why not replace all your limbs? Mechanical hands can type faster than your stubby human ones, mechanical legs don’t get shin splints or bum knees, and a new metal elbow will make playing catch with your dog WAY more fun (especially since your dog is a robot). Prosthetics are better than your real limbs, they’re super cheap now, and it’s a simple in-and-out procedure. What do you do?
How Realistic is This?
In a lot of ways, prosthetic limbs are already starting to look better than the regular old boring human ones. All the way back in 2009, an arm prosthetic called the iLimb came equipped with its very own iPhone app that allowed its users to customize a variety of personalized grips. Today it’s able to gradually increase the strength of its grip to adjust to different activities (like tying a shoe versus picking up a glass). And that’s just arms. In 2012, Zac Vawter and his bionic leg climbed all 103-flight of Chicago’s Willis (aka Sears) Tower in just under an hour. His $8 million dollar prosthesis, made by the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago’s Center for Bionic Medicine, is connected directly to the nerves in his leg that would normally control his hamstring. Right now, the biggest hurdle preventing us all from replacing our limbs with bionic ones is the price tag.
The Ethical Conundrum
You’ll have to decide how you feel about cutting off your already working limbs. After all, they’ve served you well enough for this long. And you have no idea how you’ll actually feel about your bionic replacements. Remember, once your limbs are gone, there’s no going back (probably). And how prepared are you to come in for regular firmware and hardware upgrades? You’ll also have to decide how your friends and colleagues will feel about your modifications -- because once you’re part robot you’ll jump higher and run faster than any of them. Plus you’ll beat everyone in arm wrestling. But if you’re a reporter you’ll be able to type super fast, so maybe it’s worth it.
Much like in other elective surgeries, your doctor will have to decide how he feels about basically maiming you in order to enhance you.
Here's what ethicists have to say on the matter.
What the Ethicists Say
Shockingly, this is already an issue we’re already confronting. Partial amputees are opting to have more of their limbs removed in order to make their replacement limbs more comfortable and easier to use. And we all know about the Olympic argument about whether or not runner Oscar Pistorius had an advantage over other athletes thanks to his carbon fiber blade legs. But what about elective surgery in people that aren’t already injured?
"The human enhancement market will reveal the truth about our biological conditions – we are all disabled."
Some ethicists note that humankind is pretty well hindered by the limitations of our bodies. Talking to The Guardian, Andy Miah, director of the Creative Futures Institute and professor of ethics and emerging technologies at the University of the West of Scotland said: “What's crucial about these technologies is they don't just repair us, they make us better than well. The human enhancement market will reveal the truth about our biological conditions – we are all disabled."
But that seems to be something we already unconsciously know. Researchers studying human modification at the Swiss Center for Technology Assessment note that opting for artificial limb replacement isn’t all that much different than our use of computers or the chemical enhancements we currently make to improve our performance:
“Since the dawn of time, human beings have been striving to extend their capabilities and improve their achievement potential. The means to do this range from the earliest tools to computer technology, from the invention of printing to the wireless Internet. More recently, we have seen interventions that are designed to directly influence physical or intellectual performance. These are often applications that were originally developed for therapeutic purposes. There are, for instance, drugs which are helpful for “hyperactive” children, who find it difficult to concentrate on certain tasks. As a result of the therapy, their attention levels improve, for example learning in school. Recently, there has been a growing number of reports that healthy people are also taking such active substances in the hope of achieving greater success in study-based learning, or of improving their career achievement potential.”
So what say you? Is the elective surgery to replace our limbs just a natural extension of the way we already enhance ourselves? Does cutting off perfectly healthy parts of ourselves go too far? Fight it out in the comments!