Wednesday, April 22

Response to Group 2's Presentation

After Group 2’s presentation on human enhancement, I came to the same conclusion I usually do about most ethical topics: they must be dealt with case-by-case. Of course that is probably just because of my moderate nature—I don’t like to have clear-cut situations. I am a firm believer in discussion and whether or not we pursue human enhancement should be discussed thoroughly every time an ethical question arises. Some cases are clear: if cancer treatments can be created through biotechnology that does not consist of taking poison then it should be our priority to do so. Allowing a parent to choose the aesthetic features of their children is an example of enhancements we should not employ as there really are not any tangible benefits to society or the individual.
Kind of brings me to my whole thought on the matter of enhancement: we already do it. I did not want to get into this in class due to time so here’s a good place to put my thoughts. Our only purpose, with comparison to the rest of nature, is to reproduce and raise our young to the point that they can reproduce. I am ignoring the fact that a lot of animals do not raise their young. So is it much more to say that we should do everything in our power to make life easier for the next generation? This, of course, is not always the case as with pollution or big-bank CEOs. Curing and treating disease is just one way we do that. So, in this regard, medicine is natural. Biotechnology is just an extension of medicine that involves new science. As history tells us, new science can appear to be bad and unnatural. Therefore, it is safe to say human enhancement already happens. For example, vaccines enhance our ability to develop immunities to disease.
However, there must be a limit. That limit should be heavily discussed by both sides of the issue. Thinking that aging is a disease is probably up there on craziest things said. Could write a book about why not dying is actually a bad thing. I’ll go with just saying that over-population is enough evidence against it. Also, I firmly believe that enhancement in sports beyond proper nutrition and hard work is wrong. I think that the flaws in athletes are what make the sport worth watching. It is nice to see great performances every now and then but everyone being perfect would take away the point of watching. Sorry, Matthew.
Guess that is just my idea on the matter: Beat the topic down with discussion until a course of action can be made.


  1. Dave, I like your thoughts. Especially the need to look at enhancement issues on a case by case basis. That is actaully what Parens argues for in one of his papers. Bioethicists need to engage with smaller issues in greater depth to truly provide an accurate understanding. But,in addition to this focus on the individual cases, it seems like there must also be some kind of overarching principles which you are applying in those specific cases.

    For example, in the specific case of aesthetic enhancements for children, you are applying the principle that for an enhancement to be good it must be a "tangible benefit to society or the individual." Or in the basketball example, you are applying the principle that "bodily perfection in atheletes detracts from the sport."

    Aren't these criteria somewhat universal. Can't they be applied across multiple cases?

    I agree that we must look at the issues case by case. But we must also bring at least somewhat broad criteria describing the value or danger of the enhancement to bear. If we have no such principles, all we are left with is saying that "I like this enhancement and don't like that one." There must be a reason for the like or dislike.

    And when you say that the reason you don't like a particular enhancement is that it doesn't benefit the society or the individual...then shouldn't all other enhancements which don't benefit the society or the individual also be disliked.

  2. If the broad criteria is "tangible benefit to society or the individual" I don't think denying aesthetic enhancements is consistent with this criteria. Whether something benefits the individual depends on the goals and psyche of the individual (at least partially). If calf-implants or a nose job gives someone more confidence and self-esteem, who are we to argue with that. Or in cases where the individual is a actor/actress, model, news reporter having aesthetic enhancements might directly benefit their careers and their flourishing. Some people value beauty and athleticism more than intellectualism and longevity. If the argument is that people should be free to re-invent themselves, how can we tell them they can have intellectual or longevity related enhancements but not aesthetic enhancements? Especially when considering that we are biologically programmed to literally "desire beauty."

  3. I agree with you Roger that if an individual wants to or decides to aesthetically enhance them self then why are we to stop them, especially if we allow intellectual or longevity enhancements. For to the individual it may be beneficial. But it should stop at the individual. An individual should not be able to choose/design someone else's aesthetic features. Like Dave noted, which I agree with, it is hard to see what is beneficial in parents choosing their child's aesthetic features.

    One response may be that a parent may choose their child’s aesthetics so they can be more successful, have more friends, etc. However, I do not see how one can justify such reasoning. First, how do the parents know that the aesthetics they choose will allow their child to be more successful or fit in better? Second, how do they know that is what their child would want?

    Another response may be that parents already choose their child’s aesthetic features, because they choose who to reproduce with. However, the difference is that parents cannot predict what exact features their child will get. Also, to extend this argument to aesthetic enhancement seems to be fallacious.

    In the end, I think that when deciding what type of, even specific, enhancement to pursue you do have to ensure that there is some “benefit to society or the individual.” But, there must be more than this broad criteria, there need to be some standards that can be used to look at what count as benefits and what count as harms.


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