Moral And Ethical Challenges

A number of these new technologies will be raising moral and ethical questions that have never been considered before. Success with nanotechnology will be forthcoming rather soon, with a significant amount of speculation on the role of "nanomachines"— tiny systems that are injected into the blood stream or other areas of the body, for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes. The long-term effect of such systems will not be known for decades to come, however, there will be pressure to begin inserting them. Should surgeons comply with their patients' requests, even in the fact of unconvincing evidence of efficacy, or if efficacy is shown but long-term results are not known? Robotics is moving forward deliberately, but a new dimension will likely be soon available— femtosecond lasers to operate within the cell and even upon the nucleus and DNA. Although, it seems reasonable to remove a gene that leads to a congenital defect, should surgeons be tinkering with genes directly, and leading to the purposeful genetic design of children for characteristics such as eye or hair color? Or perhaps provide genetic material, such as the sequence that allows the pit viper snake to use infrared vision to see in the dark, to have characteristics that humans do not naturally have? With smart prostheses and artificial organs, it may be possible to extend life beyond the average life span for humans—to 150 or 200 years. What would the consequences to society be of such a prolonged lifespan, and will a person retire at age 65 with 90 to 100 years of "retirement?" The results of the research in today's laboratories are providing potential not only to change an individual or even society, but also to define what it means to be human. If 90% of our body parts are replaced with artificial organs or prostheses, will we still be human—is it the flesh and blood that we were born with determine whether we are "human?" While these have previously been mere speculations of fantasy, the scientific underpinnings are being created in the laboratory today, and the students we are training today will have to answer the above questions, and more. How can we prepare for such a future challenge?

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