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EMBL/EMBO Joint Conference 2006

Paul Root Wolpe, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA

p_wolpe

Paul Root Wolpe

Biography

Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D., holds appointments in the Department of Psychiatry, the Department of Medical Ethics, and the Department of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a Senior Fellow of Penn's Center for Bioethics, is the Director of the Program in Psychiatry and Ethics at the School of Medicine, and is a Senior Fellow of the Leonard Davis Institute for Health Economics.  Dr. Wolpe serves as the first Chief of Bioethics for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and is also the first National Bioethics Advisor to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.  He is President-Elect of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities, and is Associate Editor of the American Journal of Bioethics.

Dr. Wolpe is the author of over 75 articles and book chapters in sociology, medicine, and bioethics, and has contributed to a variety of encyclopaedias on bioethical issues. His research examines the role of ideology, religion, and culture in medical thought, especially in relation to emerging biotechnologies, including neurotechnology, reproductive and genetic technology, and nanotechnology. He is the author of the textbook Sexuality and Gender in Society and the end-of-life guide In the Winter of Life, and is currently writing a book on emerging biotechnologies.

Abstract

Bioethics, Biotechnology, and the Brain

With the advent of brain imaging, implantable brain chips, neural tissue transplants, brain-computer interfaces, and psychopharmaceutical advances, human beings will soon be able to micromanage their moods, enhance cognitive and affective skills and traits, "mind-read" through brain scanning, and replace brain functions with brain prostheses. The ability to read and alter brain function is an incursion into the seat of our personhood, our sense of identity, and the locus of that which makes us most human.

A literature has emerged that talks of the modern human as a nascent cyborg, a being that integrates technology into its flesh and becomes a hybrid of organic and information technologies. Humans are demonstrating an emerging capacity for self-design that is the harbinger of a new stage of human evolution, where we ourselves are the shapers of species morphology and functioning. The transformation of the human being into a hybrid of organic and technological parts has implications for questions such as the nature of selfhood, the politics of the body, the modification of free will, and the proper limits of human enhancement, among others.

What are the implications of this new, radical evolution for the future of the human organism? What are the ethical challenges that confront those who see a compelling case for human technological transformation? What are the ethical arguments of those who see danger in altering the human form? The international reaction to the cloning of Dolly, the stem cell controversy, and other high profile biotechnologies show that these questions may very well form the core of the ethical debates of the coming decades.