A wise old man once said, “Darth Vader is more machine now than man”. Darth Vader is a good example of what synthetic body parts could do for us. Anakin Skywalker lost both of his legs as well as a good portion of his right forearm and hand. On top of losing limbs, he suffered from third-degree burns on most of his skin as well as the damage done to his respiratory tract. But synthetic body parts were not only able to keep him alive but capable of maintaining the title of Supreme Commander of the Imperial Fleet.
Early Egyptians were among the first to record the use of prosthetics. Of course, those prosthetics were as simple as a crutch tied to a leg or a hook tied to the arm.
Modern prosthetics are beginning to tap into the brain for function. Placing sensors at various strategic places on and in the body, a modern hand prosthetic can now open and close to grasp objects without any other help other than thought. So far, this movement is slow and still clunky, but we have only been developing this tech for the past decade. With the rate that tech develops, we will soon see prosthetics that move both quick and naturally.
Cloning tissue is another form of a synthetic body part that we are currently seeing developed. For the most part, this field has seen the most success with skin. We have already seen the use of cloning epidural tissue for the use of transplanting damaged skin on burn victims. Noses and ears have also seen limited successes. The future for synthetic cloning of body parts is entire organs.
Renal failure, the kidney’s inability to filter waste, would become a thing of the past if we were able to grow a kidney from our own cells. Diabetes wouldn’t be a concern if we could grow a pancreas. The liver is another organ that filter waste from our body. These are only a few examples of organs that we could replace. If we could replace them, we would live healthier and longer lives. Yet we are still far from having the first successful transplant of a major organ in a human.
But if we were replacing organs, why not improve on their functions? Instead of cloning and growing those organs, what if we built them? Plastics and simple computers would advance the function of an organ greatly. A kidney made out of synthetic materials, rather than lab grown, could send real-time information about what it is filtering out of the blood. A built pancreas could create the desired glucose levels in our blood, even if we weren’t eating healthy.
We could build eyes that were capable of multiple levels of sight. Telescopic sight would allow us to see further. Heat sensing vision and night vision would also be possibilities. Our built eyes could give us augmented reality, placing computer-enhanced images over the actual background. This wouldn’t only be used with military and the police but would help our doctors to perform more accurate surgeries. And the advancements that this could have on our entertainment are near limitless.
When it comes to building organs and body parts the major road bump is rejection. We have all been rejected at some point in our lives, but if an organ is rejected, it could mean death.
Our immune systems protect us from foreign objects such as germs, poisons, and sometimes cancer cells. They are programmed to find things in the body that don’t have the same antibodies that are commonly found in our bodies. Before we were transplanting organs and blood, this was almost universally a good thing. It kept us from dying of infections and other very painful deaths.
When we began to transplant organs, we soon found that we had a higher chance of success if we could suppress the immune system. However, suppressing the immune system opens a whole new possibility of problems. First of all, the chances of getting an infection greatly increase while on suppression drugs. Another problem is that suppressing the immune system allows certain cancers to grow rapidly.
Someday, a brilliant doctor will invent an artificial way to mock individual antibodies. If this were done successfully, the risk of rejection would decrease dramatically.
Science has proven that we can overcome a lot of obstacles. But, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they never stopped to think about if they should.” – Ian Malcolm. There are many ethical questions when it comes to replacing parts of a body.
There are many religions that are opposed to donating or receiving organs for transplant. They will not be the only ones to voice objections with new tech and advancements in this field.
Advancing knowledge in the field of growing or cloning parts has been slow. It’s been slow due to the ethical arguments over if it should be allowed or not. Most aren’t arguing against growing organs but what it could lead to, growing humans. While we are far from resolving those issues, this puts more focus on building the organs.
Built organs have its own set of issues to deal with. If an organ has the electronics to send out information, then it could potentially also receive it too. The possibility of hacking an organ is a reality that scientists are taking a serious look at.
Also, at what point do we cease to be humans and become something else? Replacing a limb or an organ technically makes that person a cyborg. Should we start looking at creating equal rights laws regarding cyborgs? In my mind, the answer is yes.
If an athlete has his legs replaced with synthetic ones, should he be allowed to run in the same races as non-enhanced humans? What about the heart? A synthetic heart could increase the efficiency of blood flow and theoretically increase the endurance of that person, should they be allowed in the same race?
Scientists have grown a portion of a brain in a lab. If part of the brain is replaced, is that person still the same person? What if we are able to replace the whole brain, at that point, would they still be human?
There will always be groups of people who are looking to take advantage of others. If we don’t create laws that protect everyone equally, then it is only a matter of time before we start seeing this happening with people who have replaced body parts. I will not be surprised the first time an insurance company refuses to pay life insurance for someone because the are “no longer human”.
If we somehow get around most of these issues, what happens when we begin to live much longer lives? Carrying Capacity is the limit to how many people can live on earth without causing a lack of resources. Depending on what we are talking about, that amount changes. There are roughly seven and a half billion people on the earth right now. But as far as food is concerned, the earth’s carrying capacity is at ten billion. We are fast approaching the limit of people we can feed on this planet. If we start living longer, it would only take years to surpass the carrying capacity. If that happens we would see an increase in violence in areas where food is hard to come by. So should we limit the use of synthetic parts to slow the increase of population?
There are no easy answers, but one thing is certain, things need to change. We can’t continue as we currently are. The Earth simply won’t maintain us as a species long if we do.