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"Human existence shall not be changed without reflection"

Dr. Dr. Fischer, strategic foresight focusses on plausible future developments and scenarios. What does this mean for military medicine, and what particular challenge comes to your mind?
In military medicine, I consider the question of human enhancement as crucial. As in civil life we get more and more confronted with different forms of optimization and enhancement of the human being in the military. A well-known example might be the call for neuroenhancement, which is today a pharmacological improvement of psychological skills and vigilance in particular. Beside this, there is a number of non-pharmacological techniques to be found which allow to improve the soldiers’ capacities in nearly every human sphere. Think of exoskeletons, deep brain stimulation or brain-machine-interfaces. To develop future scenarios with regard to human optimization and human enhancement is an important task for military medical ethics.

Do you see a difference between optimization and enhancement?
In my opinion it is very important to differentiate techniques helping to support naturally given skills from those which implement a new trait. The latter might be characterized as an invasive technique. Based on this idea I propose the following definition: human enhancement means the invention and application of invasive technical methods and tools to surpass qualitatively any natural given limit of human beings who thereby enter a new stage of existence. After having taking up a method or tool of human enhancement being human means something different than before.

Does this mean that applying those methods challenges our self-understanding as human beings?
It certainly does. What is brought to our mind here in a very impressive way is nothing less than the question of what it means to be a human being. Natural given limits in this context do not refer to quantitative, but qualitative traits, that is to say skills man originally does not have as a member of the species homo sapiens. 

What might be the consequence of human enhancement as you defined before? 
Apart from the discussion on human enhancement in the transhumanism debate, which I do not like to comment on right here, human enhancement as an invasive technique will lead to a challenge not only for the individual human being, but also for society in general. Though the development of enhancement techniques seems to be important from the point of view of military necessity, a fundamental change of human existence has to be a line which shall not be crossed without further reflection. Think of the consequences the development of a posthuman super-soldier might have on the law of armed conflict as we know it today and its underlying human ethos. Though I am not capable to line out the characteristics of the development of enhancing techniques to come, I am deeply convinced that this topic will preoccupy us tremendously in the future, and therefore should be part of strategic foresight. 

Is this topic already part of the military medical ethical debate?
Over the last few years the question of human enhancement has become more and more important. An enormous amount of research is done all over the world to profit from this development, particularly in military scenarios. The role military medical personnel have to face in this context still needs to be defined. As they are obliged to serve humanity, they will raise their voice in any case where a human being is at stake. Along with other institutions, at the Teaching and Research Unit for Military Medical Ethics at the Military Medical Academy in Munich we stress the need for further reflection on human enhancement and improve the research on this topic. 

Dr. Dr. Fischer, thank you very much for the interview!

Author

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Dr. Dr. Rupert Dirk Fischer studied medicine, ­philosophy and catholic theology and gained a doctoral degree in medicine and catholic theology. He serves as spiritual director at the Herzogliche Georgianum in Munich, medical ethics consultant in the medical service of the Bundeswehr as well as head of the Teaching and Research Unit for Military Medical Ethics at the Bundeswehr Medical Academy in Munich.

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