Cutting-edge biomedical technologies that could push the boundaries of human abilities may soon be available, making people’s minds sharper and their bodies stronger and healthier than ever before. But a new Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults shows that majorities greet the possibility of these breakthroughs with more wariness and worry than enthusiasm and hope.
When Americans are questioned about the prospect of these specific kinds of enhancements for healthy people, their views are cautious and often resistant:
- Majorities of U.S. adults say they would be “very” or “somewhat” worried about gene editing (68%), brain chips (69%) and synthetic blood (63%), while no more than half say they would be enthusiastic about each of these developments. Some people say they would be both enthusiastic and worried, but, overall, concern outpaces excitement.
- More say they would not want enhancements of their brains and their blood (66% and 63%, respectively) than say they would want them (32% and 35%). U.S. adults are closely split on the question of whether they would want gene editing to help prevent diseases for their babies (48% would, 50% would not).
- At least seven-in-ten adults predict each of these new technologies will become available before they have been fully tested or understood. Some 73% say this about gene editing, while an identical share says the same about synthetic blood; 74% says this about brain chip implants.
- Majorities say these enhancements could exacerbate the divide between haves and have-nots. For instance, 73% believe inequality will increase if brain chips become available because initially they will be obtainable only by the wealthy.
- In addition, many Americans think recipients of enhancements will feel superior to those who have not received them; 63% say this about synthetic blood transfusions in particular. By the same token, but more optimistically, half of Americans or more think recipients of enhancements will feel more confident about themselves.
- Substantial shares say they are not sure whether these interventions are morally acceptable. But among those who express an opinion, more people say brain and blood enhancements would be morally unacceptable than say they are acceptable.
- More adults say the downsides of brain and blood enhancements would outweigh the benefits for society than vice versa. Americans are a bit more positive about the possibility of gene editing to reduce disease; 36% think it will have more benefits than downsides, while 28% think it will have more downsides than benefits.
- Opinion is closely divided when it comes to the fundamental question of whether these potential developments are “meddling with nature” and cross a line that should not be crossed, or whether they are “no different” from other ways that humans have tried to better themselves over time.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016