We are currently living in a time when doctors, researchers, business people and politicians are promising an impending medical revolution (1). This future vision has names like 'personalized medicine', 'precision medicine', 'systems medicine' and 'digital health'.
The technologies that are driving this vision include artificial intelligence and computer-based mathematical modelling, which provide opportunities for interpretation of an increasing amount of big data from various sources, for example genetic sequencing, an increasing number of sensors for monitoring of different physiological processes, smartphones, health registries and social media (2). Additionally, we now have new tools for gene editing, such as CRISPR/Cas9, stem cell technology, nanotechnology, implant technology and synthetic biology (creation of new traits using living organisms).
This development should be understood in light of the concept of 'medicalization', meaning that aspects of human life and the human body are subjected to medical control. It is important to note that the medicine of the future will be directed particularly at well human beings, who will be measured and manipulated throughout life in an intensified attempt to detect and prevent disease before it develops. In the future, technology will enable a pervasive attempt at achieving total medical control of the human organism, an all-encompassing medicalization – with both positive opportunities and drawbacks (2).
The medical profession has traditionally been defined by the goal of prevention, amelioration or cure of disease. But definitions can be stretched, and give rise to new questions. For instance, what is disease? What is health? What (if anything) is good enough?
What now necessitates a discussion about the goals of medicine is the fact that different agents are seeking to radically expand them – based on new technological opportunities. We are seeing a growing emphasis on wellness, health maximisation and longevity, and there are explicit attempts to define and treat the ageing process as a disease (3).
We are seeing a renaissance of the explicit goal of enhancing humans seen in the interwar period. Eradicating death has even become an explicit objective for large biotechnology companies like Google-owned Calico (4). This represents the far reaches of this development, but it is our assertion that both medicine and health policies have long been characterised by boundlessness. Our question is: Should human enhancement, combating ageing and eternal life be medical goals?