A cure or a disappointment?

Transhumanists believe science and technology can transform the human condition and cure all our ills. But are they right?

"The biggest risk of transhumanism is that it will disappoint us," claims French neurosurgeon and doctor in philosophy Anne-Laure Boch, as reported by magazine Sciences et Avenir.

Transhumanism (sometimes abbreviated as H+ or h+) is an intellectual movement that sees in new technologies such as organ transplants, artificial limbs, organ regeneration and nanodrugs the solution to all of humanity’s health concerns. At its extreme, it sees humans vanquishing the ultimate foe: death.

There is still a wide gap between what "transhumanist" therapies promise to deliver and what they actually do deliver, Boch says. "Patients who are fitted with artificial hands think they will recover a lot of independence," she says, "but in fact, they can only make one or two moves with their fingers that are often not very useful."

Beyond medical factors, there are costs and energy requirements to consider. As Boch points out, a pacemaker battery currently needs to be changed every three years. "So imagine how much energy all these promised future technologies will require," she says.

And then there are all the side effects. The technology of nanodrugs is promising, but it many are raising red flags because of its potential toxicity. The latest in treatment for Parkinson’s disease is deep brain stimulation, which involves implanting two electrodes in the brain. The treatment leads to risks of infection in 5% of patients, according to Boch — simply because they scratch themselves.

And organ transplant will most likely not extend life very significantly. "After the age of 90, death usually comes as a result of organ breakdown," notes Boch. "If you replace one organ, there’s always another that will fail."