Enhancement of the physical and cognitive performance of humans is an increasingly topical field. With that reality we can assume that the enhancement of animals will also increase. One can only hope that the discourse around the subject of enhancement of animals will dramatically increase. This should be visible even sooner than the human debate, since:
- many procedures that might lead to performance enhancement in humans are tried and tested first on animals (for example, the brain machine interface and the artificial hippocampus);
- with cognitive modification, or human-animal hybrids (the subject of a future column), one can envision an increase in the debate around speciesism and the boundary between humans and animals (non-human animals and human animals);
- one can envision the emergence of a market for value-added animals’ with many enhancements appearing in animals long before they are widespread in humans or are used in humans at all;
- the market for animal care products increases in value year after year making animal enhancement a lucrative market with less ethical and regulatory hindrance than the human counterpart.
In the piece “Human Enhancement and the Emergent Technopolitics of the 21st Century” by James Hughes (1) reprinted by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), we see the phrase… “The intellectual enhancement of animals, forcing a clarification of the citizenship status of intelligent non-humans.”
Guido David Núñez-Mujica (2) — Winner of the 2006 J.B.S. Haldane Award given at Transvision 2006 (a conference organized by the World Transhumanist Association) uses the following arguments in favor of enhancing animals:
- Enhancing the great apes will give another species the ability to choose their own future.
- Enhancing the great apes will make us more aware that we share the world with other beings and make us more tolerant.
- It will help us to better understand ourselves and the nature of consciousness and intelligence.
- We will have the opportunity to enrich our lives with new, diverse points of view. We will have new art and new ways of thinking about the world.
- It will give more rights to the enhanced species.
He states further that it would be unethical to not enhance apes.
“We in the West make it mandatory for children to go to school because education is the path for a sentient human being to reach his or her full potential. Avoiding enhancing is like preventing chimpanzees from reaching their full potential and preventing them from attaining greater rights… Enhancing could be the only way to correct our previous mistakes to the apes. Extinction of the great apes would be a terrific loss of diversity and of several amazing species. If enhancing the apes will grant more rights to animals and possibly save them from extinction, it just might be unethical to prevent or avoid it.”
In general, however, there is not much discourse around the enhancement of animals - especially cognitive enhancements.
I have covered the issues around personhood and speciesism in previous columns. Below I have highlighted three position papers from the veterinary field and leave it to the reader to reflect on how these statements might be impacted.
One interesting question is whether the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights and animal rights groups in general might be moved towards enhancement — in particular the cognitive enhancement of animals — as the ultimate tool to liberate the animal from the existing specieism’ as Guido David Núñez-Mujica suggests, and making them equals to humans.’
Another interesting question is what position the American Veterinary Medical Association might take. Language such as responsible use of animals for human purposes’ such as companionship, food, fiber, and research conducted for the benefit of both humans and animals’ in the statement below might include the acceptance of animal enhancement.
The term patient’ is often used for animals. This may have consequences with respect to policies related to the enhancement of animals. I have outlined elsewhere (3) that it is untenable to draw a line between therapy and enhancement, or therapeutic and non-therapeutic enhancement, in regard to human patients. Therefore the question arises: is this just as untenable for animal patients’?
The Choice is Yours
I think that the discourse on the possible enhancement of animals has to intensify, so we can debate what should be allowed, how far enhancements should go, and what are the likely consequences.
Gregor Wolbring is a biochemist, bioethicist, science and technology ethicist, disability/vari-ability studies scholar, and health policy and science and technology studies researcher at the University of Calgary. He is a member of the Center for Nanotechnology and Society at Arizona State University; Member CAC/ISO - Canadian Advisory Committees for the International Organization for Standardization section TC229 Nanotechnologies; Member of the editorial team for the Nanotechnology for Development portal of the Development Gateway Foundation; Chair of the Bioethics Taskforce of Disabled People’s International; and Member of the Executive of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO. He publishes the Bioethics, Culture and Disability website, moderates a weblog for the International Network for Social Research on Diasbility, and authors a weblog on NBICS and its social implications.
|American Veterinary Medical Association|
Biotechnology - Derived Veterinary Medicinal Products
(approved by the Executive Board in November 2005)
The AVMA is committed to the availability of medicinal products that are pure, safe, potent and efficacious for animals. The Association supports the use of biotechnology where it benefits the production of animal medicinal products… The AVMA supports a science-based regulatory system for the approval of products developed through biotechnology. Current regulation requires USDA and FDA to approve these products for safety and efficacy before they can be marketed for animal use… Biotechnology methods may allow the production of medicinal products that could not be developed by older technology. Biotechnology also may increase the efficacy and/or manufacturing efficiency of current products. The AVMA urges that any additional regulation of products developed through biotechnology be risk-based and science-based.
|American Veterinary Medical Association|
Policy on Animal Welfare and Animal Rights
(current as of June 2005)
Animal welfare is a human responsibility that encompasses all aspects of animal well being, including proper housing, management, nutrition, disease prevention and treatment, responsible care, humane handling, and, when necessary, humane euthanasia… Animal rights is a philosophical view and personal value characterized by statements by various animal rights groups. Animal welfare and animal rights are not synonymous terms. The AVMA wholeheartedly endorses and adopts promotion of animal welfare as official policy; however, the AVMA cannot endorse the philosophical views and personal values of animal rights advocates when they are incompatible with the responsible use of animals for human purposes, such as companionship, food, fiber, and research conducted for the benefit of both humans and animals.
|Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights|
Genetic Engineering of Nonhuman Animals
(adopted by the Board of Directors December 1987)
The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights is in principle opposed to the genetic engineering of nonhuman animals. Our primary concern is that this technology will result in an intensification of nonhuman animal exploitation. In addition, humans simply do not have the capacity to fully evaluate and predict the effects that genetic engineering will have on the world and its inhabitants. Even though short-term good may come from genetic engineering, we believe that the long-term implications are too uncertain to be justified by these momentary gains.
With the advent of genetic engineering (transgenic) research on nonhuman animals, we fear a dramatic increase in the use of nonhuman animals for agricultural, biomedical and industrial experimentation. This experimentation cannot be effectively regulated because the outcome of such genetic experiments cannot be predicted in relation to animal health and welfare. Because some genetic alterations will alter nonhuman animal structure and physiology, new health problems will arise, resulting in suffering that may involve generations of animals. Even if veterinary medicine kept pace with these new problems, we believe this would be an inappropriate use of our skills and resources because the problems would be a direct result of artificial interference. Furthermore, there will be essentially no possibility of preventive therapy because the problems will be unknown until they occur. Because of the cost, the creators and ‘owners’ of transgenic nonhuman animals are likely not to aggressively seek solutions to these problems. This will serve to contribute to the sickness and suffering in these animals.
Because genetic engineering will largely be a commercial enterprise, this will likely result in monopoly of genetic stock and predominance of certain genetic lines of animals over others, resulting in an acceleration of the loss of genetic diversity already occurring within various species. This ultimately would have major adverse effects on agriculture with resultant adverse social, economic and ecological consequences. There also is the problem of the escape of genetically engineered animals into the environment. As history has shown in the case of other non-indigenous animals who have intruded into the free-living state, this is not an idle concern and the consequences are potentially disastrous.
Finally, there is the issue of respect for life. We believe that genetic engineering cannot be condoned on ethical grounds. We believe that change in the genetic composition of nonhuman animal species rightly should occur gradually over time in concert with natural forces (evolution). It is inappropriate and arrogant of humans to begin making ‘new’ species of nonhuman animals.
Reposted with permission from Innovation Watch (http://www.innovationwatch.com/)
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© Gregor Wolbring, All Rights Reserved, 2007. Please contact the author for permission to reprint.