Leon Kass and Ronald Bailey have, of course, very divergent views on the challenge transhumanism poses to human dignity. Here’s Bailey’s side of the story, with a link to Kass’s side. Permit me to say I think they’re both wrong. Bailey is naive about what the biotechnological project to turn human beings into something better could conceivably accomplish, either on the happiness or the dignity front. Kass worries too much about the very future of our dignity; all that Brave New World stuff contradicts what we’ve seen so far about human nature’s capacity to be screwed up but not obliterated by techno-manipulation. See, for example, Ronald W. Dworkin (no, not THE famous D), ARTIFICIAL HAPPINESS (Carol and Graf, 2006), which chronicles the effort by M.D.’s, led by family practitioners, to turn human happiness into an engineering problem, by detaching it from the real events of one’s life.
According to Dworkin: "Yet the inexplicable human spirit has eluded them; doctors have utterly misjudged human beings. And nothing is more tellng than the fact that doctors, despite all their accomplishments, remain unable to answer the most basic question of life, the question that gives life its coherence and when answered makes happiness and contentment possible. That question is: How should one live?"
Actually, I think that edifying statement is a bit corny and simple. So let me also give you Dworkin’s account of "the Happy Senior," the American-to-come who has spent his life sort of artifically happy on Prozac:
"...the Happy Senior’s heart is wholly unacquainted with life’s tribulations, leaving him unprepared for the crisis now upon him. With nothing in his inner experience to comfort him, he falls back on
more medication....This works for a time, but eventually the Happy Senior’s health worsens and the ends looms. The Happy Senior struggles psychologically in a way that he never has before. Panicking, he thinks to himself: I will cease to be; I will die; all that I value in life will die; my happiness will die; I should not die; yet I am dying. He tries to hide’s death approach with more medication, but no amount of Artificial Happiness works; he knows his annihilation is imminent. He seeks consolation in religion’s idea of a happy life, but medical science has governed his whole outlook on life and the lie is too hard to him to swallow. In the end, unable to uphold any delusion and now quite afraid, the Happy Senior reaches for death the way some people, fearing for their lives, commit suicide to escape torture."