All aboard the Research Vessel Transhuman!

Wednesday, 2 July, 2008

A recent article in the July issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics is about the so-called ‘sperm ships’ – sperm banks located on ships in international waters. Apparently, international law states that a ship in international waters is under the jurisdiction of the country whose flag is flown by that ship. So, ships moor just outside the UK’s territorial waters and fly Danish flags, so that both anonymous donation and sex selection (both of which aren’t allowed in Britain). Such tactics are also being used for providing euthanasia and abortion to countries that don’t allow it.

This article, by Dr David Hunter and Dr Stuart Oultram, is titled “The challenge of “sperm ships”: the need for the global regulation of medical technology”, which should give a clue to the conclusions of the article.

As the authors see it, the options are:

  • Change international shipping legislation to make a ship in international waters be ruled by the closest country – but given the problems this would create for industries and freight heading past strict countries, this is not a good solution
  • Increase the size of territorial waters, therefore shrinking international waters – same problems as above
  • Regulating tourism so that one cannot leave the country for medical reasons – but again, this could cause problems and isn’t enforceable anyway (at least without mind reading technology)
  • Banning certain biotechnologies universally under international law, or every country’s own laws – highly unlikely, and a scary thought to contemplate (in my opinion)

This just shows how hard it will be to prevent human enhancement technologies – i.e. next to impossible. So, maybe we should not be looking at how to best prevent such technologies from happening altogether, but instead focus on how those technologies may be used with the maximum amount of oversight. Because, after all, if you keep driving these technologies further underground, they will just become more and more unsafe and dangerous (leading to them being pushed further underground).

For the sake of all those who will be harmed by such a vicious circle, we should just allow the technologies to proceed in countries where there will be ethical oversight, enforceable safety regulations and legal accountability.

(Note: the ship pictured above is actually the Sorcerer II, not a sperm ship).


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