I agree with Miller’s main points, but differ on the specifics. He correctly observes that the military needs are irreconcilable with the Helsinki Declaration on ethical human subject research. Secrecy, hierarchy, and mission focus do not align with protecting the health of subjects, informed consent, or the requirement that “in medical research involving human subjects, the well-being of the individual research subject must take precedence over all other interests.” Yet, this argument does not hold up. On a strict reading of the Helsinki Declaration, all research for the purposes of human enhancement is unethical. War is an inherently dangerous endeavor, and different rules apply in combat than in the civilian sphere. Is there a moral difference between undergoing an enhancement trial, and being ordered to take a fortified strongpoint? The dark past of military medical experiments is a cautionary signal, but not one that necessarily demands the radical step of civilian oversight board.
Miller’s second point about the threat to democracy is more interesting. I agree with him that human enhancement technology potentially undermines core assumptions of western democracy. In America, we have been blessed with a strong sense of the citizen-soldier. Military personnel remain apolitical in the spirit that their service will be appreciated in the tradition of George Washington and Cincinnatus. This tradition has sheltered America from military coup and disaster, but it is predicated on the notion that once the soldier leaves the military, he becomes an ordinary civilian, with no special status other than the respect we accord him of our free will. Military human enhancement draws a clear line between the soldier and citizen, a divide which can only prove hazardous to the historically tranquil relationship between the American state and its military. The democratic consequences of military human enhancement are impossible to predict, but we are right to be fearful of them.
Do we need civilian oversight? We obviously need de-militarized human enhancement, as the early subordination of nuclear power to military needs in the United States, and its current sad status, shows. Human enhancement focused only on military needs would be a tragedy, and the time to avert that is now, in the early days of the field. But I also believe that an approach focused solely on regulating the military is doomed to failure. We need “pull” for civilian human enhancement applications, to create an industry and market capable of every type of innovation. But given the consequences, there should be some kind of oversight and regulation on human enhancement. What kind of regulatory agency can move fast enough to keep up with technology, impartial enough not to get bogged down in the grinding issues of day-to-day politics, and yet remain responsive to the will of the people.
Is human enhancement with democratic control possible, or does human enhancement imply a new form of governance?