World Health Organization

Topic 1: Addressing Artificial Human Enhancement

Artificial human enhancement is not a new phenomenon. Depending on how broad your definition is, even everyday eyeglasses and tough boots for rough terrain could be considered enhancements.The Cambridge Dictionary defines transhumanism as “the theory that science and technology can help human beings develop beyond what is physically and mentally possible at the present time”. The transhumanist movement can involve anything from incredibly complex prosthetics to even binoculars. But enhancements don’t have to be purely external. Even certain drugs such as ritalin can be used to improve concentration and other cognitive abilities [1]. While some view the potential of enhancements as a groundbreaking opportunity, opponents of the movement are cautious against pushing human limits and weary of those who may abuse such technologies.

Such technology undoubtedly has benefits. Gene modification could create “designer babies” who are free of genetic diseases [2]. In the future, who’s to say that the same technology can’t also be used to select for better eyesight, faster runners, and smart students? While the potential is immense, the ethics and safety are also huge factors to consider. One scientist, He Jiankui, was given a prison sentence for genetically modifying babies in an attempt to confer resistance to HIV without following proper procedures for ethics approval [3]. Extra-bodily additions such as prosthetics also can positively impact people’s lives by recreating previously lost senses [4]. But what happens when you’re no longer replacing an arm, but rather creating a stronger indestructible version? How about when you’re no longer using a drug to treat ADHD, but rather to make those who can afford it study more effectively? The international community remains divided. Places like Canada and Japan have banned gene editing on human embryos, some countries including Russia and Argentina have more ambiguous rules, and the US has restrictive rules in place [5].

This complex issue cannot be answered with a simple yes or no to artificial human enhancement. Multiple facets including ethics, science, philosophy, health and safety, and security must be considered to create a guiding framework that balances the possibilities with the dangers of artificial human enhancement.

Questions to keep in mind:

  • How much enhancement is too much?
  • What types of enhancement are more acceptable?
  • Which are the least justifiable?
  • What should the ethical standard be for artificial human enhancement?
  • How can the international community ensure that such technology is not abused for malicious motives?

Further Reading/Watching:
UN Chronicle: Responsible Innovation for a New Era in Science and Technology
The Harvard Gazette: Perspectives on Gene Editing
The SIENNA project addressing ethics in human genomics, human enhancement, and human-machine interaction.
Pew Research Center: the scientific and ethical elements of Human Enhancement

References:

[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-41161425

[2] https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/19/health/designer-baby-analysis-scli-intl-scn/index.html

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/30/business/china-scientist-genetic-baby-prison.html

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/new-prosthetic-limbs-go-beyond-the-functional-to-allow-people-to-feel-again/2019/12/13/ac2fac10-d4ca-11e9-86ac-0f250cc91758_story.html

[5] https://www.businessinsider.com/what-countries-allow-researchers-to-edit-human-embryos-2015-10

 

Topic 2: The Question of Mandatory Vaccination

Vaccination in one form or another has existed in human history since at least 1000 CE. [1] Over time, technologies and more sophisticated methods have been developed to provide inoculation against various diseases and save countless lives. However, vaccination has also given rise to those opposing the practice, also know as anti-vaxxers. Major speaking points that this group has brought up previously include claims of increased autism risk, developmental disorders, and religious justification to name a few [2].

With the COVID-19 pandemic, discussions surrounding vaccination have only gotten fiercer as the international community races at an unprecedented speed for an effective vaccine [3]. However, not everyone is not eager and willing, with up to quarter of Canadians expressing hesitancy around a getting a COVID-19 vaccine [4]. This is concerning when considering that herd immunity is only possible when immunizations are applied to the majority of a population. The proportion of the population that neither agree nor disagree that vaccines work also differs vastly across the world, such as 9% in the US, 2% in India, 29% in Kazakhstan, and 13% in Germany [5]. The degree of use of vaccines also varies widely depending on where on the globe you look at.

Intensified by the current public health crisis, calls to make vaccines mandatory have been growing. Additionally, it is important to note that mandatory vaccination does not equate to forced vaccination [6]. Navigating the different laws globally remains challenging, and this is further exacerbated by the debate of personal freedoms versus public health and safety. There is a huge body of evidence with regards to many ailments that vaccines can save lives and mitigate illness for both the receiver and others [7]. However, conspiracy theories, risky expedited approval, religious reasons, other health conditions, and other factors present challenges in urging the public to get immunized. The local and broader context, individual circumstances, and risk versus reward are just some of the many factors that must be considered when debating mandatory vaccination.

Further reading/watching:
National Post, Sharon Kirkey: https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/who-are-the-anti-vaxxers
National Geographic: Covid-19 vaccines could become mandatory. Here’s how it might work by David Cheskin
Ourworldindata.org: Statistics on Vaccination by Samantha Vanderslott, Bernadeta Dadonaite, and Max Roser
WHO: Global Vaccine Safety
CMAJ: Mandatory vaccinations: The international landscape by Erin Walkinshaw
Healthline: Understanding Opposition to Vaccines by Amy Boulanger
CNN: How countries around the world try to encourage vaccination by Susan Scutti.

Guiding Questions:

  • Which sectors and or industries should require mandatory vaccinations? What are the penalties for non-compliance if any?
  • How will the pros and cons of mandatory vaccination be evaluated in order to adopt or reject compulsory vaccination?
  • What components and circumstances must be considered when debating to implement mandatory vaccination?
  • What exemptions, if any, should be applied?
  • Who should get priority to vaccines and why?
References:
[1] https://www.historyofvaccines.org/timeline/all
[2] https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/who-are-the-anti-vaxxers
[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/health/covid-vaccine-update-coronavirus/
[4] https://kitchener.ctvnews.ca/covid-19-vaccine-hesitancy-a-concern-for-some-experts-1.5084607
[5] https://ourworldindata.org/vaccination
[6] https://www.jccf.ca/the-issue-of-mandatory-and-forced-vaccination-in-light-of-covid-19/
[7] https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-03642-w