Who's right in the bioethics debates.

Science, technology, and life.
Oct. 14 2005 9:04 AM

Home Field

Who's right in the bioethics debates.

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Kass and the Bush council make similar arguments in their report on enhancement technology. But Murray draws a distinction between his view and theirs. They rely on a theory of human nature, he says. He doesn't like that idea, because human nature is full of bad things like cruelty, treachery, and deception. Instead, he relies on a theory of the practice at hand. The difference is enormous. It's the difference between opposing enhancement in sports and opposing enhancement in humans generally.

Murray makes this point to separate himself from conservatives outside the room. But what's more striking is how it separates him from liberals inside. Sweeney keeps trying to broaden the discussion of performance enhancement to contexts beyond sports. He says society will accept muscle-building gene transfer for old folks, then for younger folks, and sports will have to follow. Sauce for the geezer is sauce for the Goose. When Murray draws the distinction between sports and surgery, Sweeney retorts, "Surgery isn't a sport. Neither is getting old."

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But that's the point. If you don't want old age to be treated like a sport, don't treat sports like old age. Organized sports are a human invention. We set the stakes and can limit them at will. We make the rules and can change them at will. We have every right to restrict what the players can do to improve their chances. None of this is true in conception, gestation, aging, or death. Maybe we need to think less about how everything in life fits together, and more about how it doesn't.

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