Cloning, Designer Babies, Enhancement and Transhumanism
Wednesday 27 July 2011, 9:00am - 10:20am


In the late 1990s, developments involving mammalian reproductive cloning and pluripotent embryonic stem cells sparked widespread concern about the prospect of human applications leading to new, high-tech eugenic practices and associated ideologies. Noted scientists, bioethicists and journalists repeatedly proclaimed that human clones and designer babies were “inevitable.” Commissions were appointed, conferences held, and – to varying degrees – laws adopted.

Now, some 15 years on, early predictions of the “post-human future” have not been realized, and press  attention to human cloning and designer babies has declined. At the same time, the idea that it is desirable to attempt to radically modify human attributes by technological means has become widely accepted among influential sectors of society, and “transhumanism” has been established as a growing, albeit still small, social movement. The related notion of “The Singularity” has likewise been established as part of an ideological vision of the human future over the coming decades.

This session assessed the technical, social, cultural, commercial, and political landscape bearing on the prospects for a post-human future. Presenters reviewed the full range of relevant technologies and applications and assessed how likely or not they are to become clinically practicable. Questions included: what is the current state of the science? What is the cultural dynamic that drives so many families to think that they have to create the perfect human being? Where do we draw the lines regarding human enhancements? What is the status of the transhumanist and “Singulatarian” movements and their leading institutions? How are these being funded? What are the implications for our own work? Are these movements sideshows that should be ignored? Or are they the seeds of potentially influential social forces that should be countered and contained, and sooner rather than later? How do these arguably fringe movements relate to seemingly more mainstream networks such as those associated with the development of synthetic biology?

The session included discussion of preparing significant reports, whitepapers, or articles that will communicate what we believe to be the most important findings of our review to key audiences.