[Post-Human] Post-human Era, The development of medical technology that shakes human existence and values

2021.2.24

Is the human body an imperfection and deficient? In the post-human era, advanced medical technology has been used beyond the fence of hospitals, causing changes in the lives and society of individuals, and furthermore, it is turning into a problem of redefining the value and meaning of human beings as social beings. What criticism do we need now?

(by Professor Shim Ji-Won, Humanities Content Research Institute, Chung-Ang University)

Medicine seems to guarantee objectivity. However, the limitations of human knowledge or perception have also shown that as technology develops, the objectivity of such medicine is not permanent and firm. Sometimes, people’s “intention” was clothed with objectivity called medicine. The distinction between males and females was not merely ‘explaining’ the biological differences between men and women, but intentionally ‘designing’ the differences between males and females (a case in which the egg was given a modest character and the sperm was given an active character during fertilization), and an ideological attempt to re-verify the superiority of men. At the extreme, there have also been attempts to define racial superiority and inferiority based on eugenics. Meanwhile, the development of medical technology has achieved the result of self-dismantling, the representative achievement (?) that medicine has accumulated. Proposing the possibility that medical technology obscures the boundaries of “demarcation”, which has been conducted based on the group to which the existing strong individual exists, is related to the use of medical interventions for the purpose of human improvement.

The original purpose of medicine is to relieve pain and cure illness. However, medical technology is being used not only for a sick body but also for a ‘healthy body’. Human Enhancement refers to the use of medical interventions not to alleviate pain or for treatment, but to maintain health or to improve an individual’s appearance, cognitive abilities, records or performance, even happiness or relationships. The area in which technology intervenes in the human body has expanded and the degree has been deepened. In addition to organ transplants, facial transplants and arm transplants can be done, and further, discuss a torso transplant (the problem of transplanting the body of the dead and the head with a disability: Heaven Project). If a woman of childbearing potential uses a procedure that relieves or suppresses menstruation for the improvement in quality of life (the number of menses of a woman of childbearing age is about 400 times, and if all of her menstruation periods are combined, it is about 10 years), menstruation may be not be a woman’s typical biological trait but become an option. Also, because of the use of prosthetic limbs or prosthetics with excellent performance, such as robotic arms, humans are considered to be “repaired” from “treatment” targets. These changes are not just for the individual body’s mode of existence. This is turning into a problem of redefining the life and social changes of individual human beings, and furthermore, human values and meanings as social beings.

The problem of medical intervention in a healthy body (consumer’s) rather than a sick body (patient’s) first causes some changes in the medical environment. First, it affects the relationship between doctors and patients. Patients used to depend on doctors for treatment. Though, consumers who visit hospitals as to satisfy personal needs or wishes, see doctors as service providers. Second, there is a change in perception of the body. It can also be an opportunity to perceive the body as being able to choose from what is given. If the body can be transformed and viewed as a selectable object, bodies that do not meet the standards required by society are sometimes criticized. If the child is not growing well, the child’s parents are sometimes criticized for not trying growth hormone drugs. This change in the perception of the body also leads to the birth of the new word “good body”. A good body is a word that says that the body looks very good, and often refers to a slender woman (when a man has a good body, he uses a newly coined term such as beasty man rather than a good body). If there are good bodies, there will be bad bodies too, but if you follow this criterion, the majority will fall under bad body. The word “good”, which denotes a moral evaluation of an action, is used together with a “body” that cannot be subject to moral evaluation. The word “good body” is a cross-section showing the change in perception of the body. Third is the question of the doctor’s extent of responsibility. In the case of ‘preliminary patients’ who want breast removal surgery as a prophylactic measure even though they do not have breast cancer, or they want to take medicines taken by people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to strengthen concentration and get higher test scores, or in the case of ‘medical consumers’ who want breast reduction surgery in order to break their record in athletic events, doctors are pressured to make a decision.

Doctors are not the only people who are confused by this problem as the advanced medical technology is used beyond the fence of the hospital. Questions are being raised about the various social environments and institutions themselves, which are organized based on classification. The Olympics are divided into Paralympic Games and Non-Disabled Olympics. This would have been a device to realize the spirit of sports that values fairness. However, it has proven that disabled people with prosthetic limbs, such as Oscar Pistorius, may have better records than non-disabled individuals with biological legs. It has shown that a disability can be superability. Then, how can we find the fairness we are missing in the distinction between the Paralympic Games and the Non-Disabled Olympics prepared for fairness?

In addition, when a person with a prosthetic leg attempts to board an airplane, an unreasonable request is made to separate the prosthetic leg and place it in the luggage compartment. Those who made this request make excuses for giving passengers a sense of threat that the prosthetic leg could be used for weapons or terrorism. Since there is no flight boarding manual for prosthetic legs, it is difficult for practitioners to make decisions in the first case. This problem is also related to the actual insurance problem, depending on whether or not a person with a prosthetic leg is injured (or damaged) while performing snow removal work. In other words, many problems related to the prosthetic leg are reduced to the question of whether it is possible to recognize it as a part of the body, such as whether it is a crime of injury or a crime of theft when someone takes it.

The majority of sports also distinguish between men and women. This would also have been for fairness. When transgender athletes (male to female) won multiple championships in athletics, three US high school female track and field athletes and their parents insisted that their participation in the competition be restricted. Their argument is based on the logic that transgender athletes who were men in the past who had undergone sex change surgery and now become women are against fairness against congenital women. In response to this, human rights organizations also refuted that restrictions on participation in the game are discrimination and against fairness. Both positions argue on the basis of fairness, and neither the position of female transgender nor the position of congenital women is wrong on this issue. In the end, this problem is not a confrontation between right and wrong, but how to adjust between right and right, and therefore, it is not easy to solve the problem. The ambiguity of the male-female boundary is calling for many changes in the rules for men and women in sports as the possibility of gender-to-gender mobility is expanded due to the development of medical technology. This raises problems not only in sports, but also in social environments such as the division of male and female toilets, division of male and female prisons, and resident registration numbers classified by gender.

We criticize the use of medical technology to recognize the human body as imperfect and deficient. If medical technology can work as a mechanism that can complement the equality and rights of the socially underprivileged who are perceived as minorities or non-mainstreamers out of the standard of existing humanism, in such a society, those who are excluded from ‘demarcation’ can be a little happier. In a society where medicine is used not only to distinguish but also to dismantle, medical interventions are regarded as medical control and those who do not allow such interventions, that is, those who live with a given body and those who actively utilize medical interventions to live with a body of choice will coexist. Those who choose a body for those who live with a given body are strangers and they are. And one day, the people who live with the body given to those who choose the body are strangers and will become them. We have to think about how to live together with the countless “them” who are new to each other. Without this recognition, philosophical contemplation about what humanity is, would be nothing more than intellectual curiosity.

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