Human enhancement refers to any attempt, whether temporary or permanent, to overcome the current limitations of the human body, whether through natural or artificial means. The term is sometimes applied to the use of technological means to select or alter human aptitudes and other phenotypical characteristics, whether or not the alteration results in characteristics that lie beyond the existing human range. Here, the test is whether the technology is used for non-therapeutic purposes. Some bioethicists restrict the term to the non-therapeutic application of specific technologies — neuro-, cyber-, gene-, and nano-technologies — to human biology.
While in some circles the expression "human enhancement" is roughly synonymous with human genetic engineering, it is used most often to refer to the general application of the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science (NBIC) to improve human performance.
Since the 1990s, several academics (such as some of the fellows of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies) have risen to become cogent advocates of the case for human enhancement while other academics (such as the members of President Bush's Council on Bioethics) have become its most outspoken critics.
Advocacy of the case for human enhancement is increasingly becoming synonymous with “transhumanism”, which is a controversial ideology and movement which has emerged to support the recognition and protection of the right of citizens to either maintain or modify their own minds and bodies; so as to guarantee them the freedom of choice and informed consent of using human enhancement technologies on themselves and their children.
Neuromarketing consultant Zack Lynch argues that neurotechnologies will have a more immediate effect on society than gene therapy and will face less resistance as a pathway of radical human enhancement. He also argues that the concept of "enablement" needs to be added to the debate over "therapy" versus "enhancement".
Many critics argue that "human enhancement" is a loaded term which has eugenic overtones because it may imply the improvement of human hereditary traits to attain a universally accepted norm of biological fitness (at the possible expense of human biodiversity and neurodiversity), and therefore can evoke negative reactions far beyond the specific meaning of the term. Furthermore, they conclude that enhancements which are self-evidently good, like "fewer diseases", are more the exception than the norm and even these may involve ethical tradeoffs, as the controversy about ADHD arguably demonstrates.
However, the most common criticism of human enhancement is that it is or will often be practiced with a reckless and selfish short-term perspective that is ignorant of the long-term consequences on individuals and the rest of society, such as the fear that some enhancements will create unfair physical or mental advantages to those who can and will use them, or unequal access to such enhancements can and will further the gulf between the "haves" and "have-nots".
Accordingly, some advocates, who want to use language which provides a minimum of offense, and advance the public interest in so-called "human enhancement technologies", prefer the term "modification" and "enablement" over "enhancement"; defend and promote rigorous, independent safety testing of enabling technologies; as well as affordable, universal access to these technologies.
Human enhancement technologies (HET) are techniques that can be used not simply for treating illness and disability, but also for enhancing human capacities and characteristics. In some circles, the expression "human enhancement technologies" is synonymous with emerging technologies or converging technologies.
The major methodologies that allow these enhancements include:
- Embryo selection by preimplantation genetic diagnosis
- Genetic modifications by gene therapy
- Performance enhancing drugs
- Plastic surgery
- Neural implants
- Hughes, James (2004). "Human Enhancement on the Agenda". Retrieved on 2007-02-02.
- Agar, Nicholas (2004). Liberal Eugenics: In Defence of Human Enhancement. ISBN 1-4051-2390-7.
- Parens, Erik (2000). Enhancing Human Traits: Ethical and Social Implications. Georgetown University Press. ISBN 0-87840-780-4.
- Roco, Mihail C. and Bainbridge, William Sims, eds. (2004). Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance. Springer. ISBN 1402012543.
- Bailey, Ronald (2006). "The Right to Human Enhancement: And also uplifting animals and the rapture of the nerds". Retrieved on 2007-03-03.
- Members of the President's Council on Bioethics (2003). Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness. President's Council on Bioethics. External link in
- Hughes, James (2004). Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future. Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-4198-1.
- Ford, Alyssa (May / June 2005). "Humanity: The Remix". Utne Magazine. Retrieved 2007-03-03. Check date values in:
- R. U. Sirius (2005). "The NeuroAge: Zack Lynch In Conversation With R.U. Sirius". Life Enhancement Products. Retrieved 2007-02-02.
- The Royal Society & The Royal Academy of Engineering (2004). "Nanoscience and nanotechnologies (Ch. 6)". Retrieved on 2006-12-05.
- European Parliament (2006). "Technology Assessment on Converging Technologies". Retrieved on 2006-12-06.
- Carrico, Dale (2007). "Modification, Consent, and Prosthetic Self-Determination". Retrieved on 2007-04-03.
- Mooney, Pat Roy (2002). "Beyong Cloning: Making Well People "Better"". Retrieved on 2007-02-02.
- Fukuyama, Francis (2002). Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution. Farrar Straus & Giroux. ISBN 0-374-23643-7.
- Institute on Biotechnology and the Human Future. "Human "Enhancement"". Retrieved on 2007-02-02.
- Enhancement Technologies Group (1998). "Writings by group participants". Retrieved on 2007-02-02.
- Naam, Ramez (2004). More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement. Broadway Press. ISBN 0-7679-1843-6.
- Enhancement Technologies Group
- Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
- World Transhumanist Association
-  RTE Radio 1, Ireland's radio programme on Human Enhancement: Making People Better or Making Better People? Hosted by Pat Kenny with Kevin Warwick, John Harris, Maureen Junker Kenny and Donald Fitzmaurice. Podcast mp3 download - http://www.rte.ie/radio1/podcast/podcast_sciencedebate.xml