Computing Ethics Research

Ethical issues with advances in medical technology

I’d like to discuss the issue outlined as follows:

“Medical treatment has advanced to the point that numerous parts of the human body can now be replaced with artificial parts or parts from human donors. It is conceivable that this might someday include parts of the brain. What ethical problems would such capabilities raise? If a patient’s neurons were replaced one at a time with artificial neurons, would the patient remain the same person? Would the patient ever notice a difference? Would the patient remain human?” Brookshear (2009, p.553).

The ethical problems with replacing parts of the brain by “artificial” parts would be those of “playing God”. The beliefs behind God and religion would play a large role in the ethics behind this, defeating death when many may turn to the belief that we die at a certain time for a reason.

Aside from that, there is also the issue that prolonging the lives of beings can aid to over population. The more living beings there are on the planet the more resources are required to sustain the living, this would eat into the earths already limited resources.

If a patient had artificial neurons replacing their existing ones, the theory behind the neurons themselves are that they ‘learn’ from experience, if the artificial neurons are placed with the other neurons, they should learn from the other neurons and therefore the person should remain the same. Although this depends on the question of how many neurons are replaced and what ‘intelligence’ did the neurons contain that were lost may definitely affect the person.

I have done some research on the question of ‘What makes us human?’, briefed over a few websites on the discussion, which I will list:

Interestingly enough none of them really delved into the topic of us being living, breathing organisms (thus, making us human) – more so they bridge on the idea that our intelligence is what makes us human, our emotions and creativity.

With the dawn of this new era of AI (even though it dates back to the 1950’s), I think that we are going to have to re-visit our definition of what makes us a human to include the above.

Personally, I think if we maintain our emotion, unique personality and creativity, we are still humans, irrelevant of the fact that we may have some artificial organs. If we lose the ability to have emotion, feelings and ideas then I feel we have lost what makes us human. What is the point of replacing an entire brain if the result is a totally different ‘person’ in the same skin? I do believe there are boundaries that should be kept. This subject is huge and I don’t think it is quite as easy as one may imagine to answer whether it is right or wrong. Personally, I lean towards being in favour of it, but then, as I mentioned above, how are we going to tackle overpopulation and the diminishing resources of this planet?


Brookshear, J.G (2009) Computer Science: An Overview. 10th ed. China: Pearson Education Asia Ltd