The ethics of enhancement.

The quest to build better people.
March 12 2003 3:21 PM

The Ethics of Enhancement

We can make ourselves stronger, faster, smarter. Should we?

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Moreover, we should be so lucky that our societal problems concern people who are overqualified and hypertalented. It may be, in some sense, unfair to create a class of enhanced people, but that does not mean that it is wrong to do so. If enhancements do work, perhaps they ought not be banned or restricted to prevent inequality but made more readily available. We ought to want more of them, not fewer.

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My own views on the ethics of enhancement are situational. It depends on the kind of enhancement and the age of the person who wants it. I share the "Hubris" concern about all germline engineering. We don't know what damage we may do when we permanently change the human genome. One day, germline engineering could be a miracle for mankind. But before we would know it is safe, many babies would be put at risk, and some would almost certainly suffer and die.

As for enhancements that don't permanently amend DNA, I'm enough of a libertarian that I don't see any reason to stop adults from altering their bodies to suit themselves. If they want to take pills or add weird implants or even temporarily change genes with somatic therapy, good luck to them. They have nothing to lose but their brains.

But I don't feel the same way about enhancing kids. Parents always have unreasonable expectations for their children—you'll never go to medical school with those grades, young man—but enhancements represent a new and particularly dangerous form of those expectations. Don't tinker with your child to further your own ambitions. Tinker with yourself instead.

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