Research on making off-the-shelf body parts a reality came out this week in an article at Telegraph.co.uk, “Banks of off-the-shelf body parts could be created for transplants: researcher”
“Scientists are perfecting ways of creating bare ‘scaffold’ building blocks of body parts which can then be used as a frame for a patient’s own cells to grow around.”
This brings up an interesting discussion to have. If off-the-shelf body parts become a viable option, does that also mean the option for what type of body part we want is an option? With this option, will there be a divide between those who prefer replacement limbs metal and plastic vs. blood and bone?
You lose an arm you are getting ready for surgery and the surgeon comes in to talk about the options: A) you can have a bionic prosthetic arm or B) you can have an arm similar to the one you have. What do you choose?
Moreover, why? I did a little anecdotal experiment in my home and asked my 11 yr old which he would prefer. His response was:
“I’d like to be a normal human not a ¾ human robotic” “Like to be more of a human than a robot”
My 4 yr old daughter’s response:
“Bionicle. Cause I want to be strong. I’ve never been strong before”
Now, these are kids and this is anecdotal, but the point is that there is more to it than choosing plastic or bone. It’s a choice of being more than human, “Bionicle”, and being Other, the inhuman. So why do we need a choice? It’s a choice that defines what you want your “human” self to be. We don’t have the same preference on hair, teeth, breasts, etc. We have options. So it seems that when an option for a biologically replicated arm comes about, then we have the right to choose what parts we want or don’t want on our bodies.
With the prosthetic arm, you can have increased capabilities. In addition to these capabilities, a prosthetic arm is customizable. As prosthetic skin options improve so do the aesthetic options. Think Aimee Mullins.
You can have a different arm for every occasion.
In the February 2010 issue of Fast Company, they had an article “Super Human”. It was about emergence of envy and sexiness towards those with prosthetics. I was honestly a little bit jealous of Carrie Davis’ sexy black arm in the magazine.
My arm will never look as good as hers does, even if I dipped it in latex and even then, not nearly as sexy. A great image captures what it can be to have options with your prosthetics. The article interviews Hugh Herr who has a lot to say about the potential for prosthetics that are not just limited to function, but are opened up to enhanced capabilities and appearance.
Now, the option discussed in the Telegraph.co.uk article. You can have artificial or you can have essentially “your” arm back. It does what you can do now. The capabilities are the same and the options are relatively limited, at least for now.
Looking at the option again, does this expand to a deeper decision? Referring back to my anecdotal example, do we want explicitly to be part robot? I am completely for the option, but like any form of body modification or enhancement, I think people have the right to have this option. What we can take away then is that we are on our way to having options and therefore need to have the right to choose what we want based on our needs and desires. It is handy for a surgeon to have access to parts for replacement, but people should have the option to choose what replacement part they want, or at the very least the option to discuss it with the surgeon beforehand. This is only the one of many questions and issues to discuss.