In Enhancing Evolution, leading bioethicist John Harris dismantles objections to genetic engineering, stem-cell research, designer babies, and cloning and makes an ethical case for biotechnology that is both forthright and rigorous. Human enhancement, Harris argues, is a good thing--good morally, good for individuals, good as social policy, and good for a genetic heritage that needs serious improvement. Enhancing Evolution defends biotechnological interventions that could allow us to live longer, healthier, and even happier lives by, for example, providing us with immunity (...) from cancer and HIV/AIDS. Further, Harris champions the possibility of influencing the very course of evolution to give us increased mental and physical powers--from reasoning, concentration, and memory to strength, stamina, and reaction speed. Indeed, he says, it's not only morally defensible to enhance ourselves; in some cases, it's morally obligatory. In a new preface, Harris offers a glimpse at the new science and technology to come, equipping readers with the knowledge to assess the ethics and policy dimensions of future forms of human enhancement. (shrink)
This paper identifies human enhancement as one of the most significant areas of bioethical interest in the last twenty years. It discusses in more detail one area, namely moral enhancement, which is generating significant contemporary interest. The author argues that so far from being susceptible to new forms of high tech manipulation, either genetic, chemical, surgical or neurological, the only reliable methods of moral enhancement, either now or for the foreseeable future, are either those that have been in human and (...) animal use for millennia, namely socialization, education and parental supervision or those high tech methods that are general in their application. By that is meant those forms of cognitive enhancement that operate across a wide range of cognitive abilities and do not target specifically ‘ethical’ capacities. The paper analyses the work of some of the leading contemporary advocates of moral enhancement and finds that in so far as they identify moral qualities or moral emotions for enhancement they have little prospect of success. (shrink)
Knowing how to be good, or knowing how to go about trying to be good, is of immense theoretical and practical importance. And what goes for trying to be good oneself, goes also for trying to provide others with ways of being good, and for trying to make them good whether they like it or not. This is what is meant by 'moral enhancement'. John Harris explores the many proposed methodologies or technologies for moral enhancement: traditional ones like good parenting (...) and education; newer ones like chemical or biological intervention; modifying the environment to make bad outcomes of all sorts less likely; experimentation with political and social systems. The issue of whether and to what extent moral enhancement is possible is the subject of this book. (shrink)
Two genetic technologies capable of making heritable changes to the human genome have revived interest in, and in some quarters a very familiar panic concerning, so-called germline interventions. These technologies are: most recently the use of CRISPR/Cas9 to edit genes in non-viable IVF zygotes and Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy the use of which was approved in principle in a landmark vote earlier this year by the United Kingdom Parliament. The possibility of using either of these techniques in humans has encountered the (...) most violent hostility and suspicion. However it is important to be aware that much of this hostility dates back to the fears associated with In Vitro Fertilization and other reproductive technologies and by cloning; fears which were baseless at the time concerning both IVF and cloning the use of both of which have proved to be highly beneficial to humanity and which have been effectively regulated and controlled. This paper argues that CRISPR should by pursued through res.. (shrink)
Since the birth of the first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, in 1977, we have seen truly remarkable advances in biotechnology. We can now screen the fetus for Down Syndrome, Spina Bifida, and a wide range of genetic disorders. We can rearrange genes in DNA chains and redirect the evolution of species. We can record an individual's genetic fingerprint. And we can potentially insert genes into human DNA that will produce physical warning signs of cancer, allowing early detection. In fact, biotechnology (...) has progressed to such a point that virtually any kind of genetic manipulation, if not already possible, is just around the corner. But these breakthroughs also raise serious ethical and moral dilemmas that we are only now beginning to confront. In Wonderwoman and Superman, noted medical ethicist John Harris offers the first thorough analysis of the moral dilemmas created by the revolution in molecular biology. Covering a wide array of recent innovations, Harris discusses, for example, the moral decisions involved and the consequences of creating egg and embryo banks. Who should be allowed to use such resources? Should recipients be screened? Should such banks be open for public or private use? And does it cheapen life to make embryos available for sale? In another chapter, Harris examines the question of conceiving children chiefly for organ donation, focusing on the recent case of a woman who wanted to have a second child to provide a bone marrow donor for her first child sick with leukemia (she intended to abort the fetus if its bone marrow did not genetically match that of her living child). In this case, the medical staff had to decide whether they should perform in-vitro fertilization, knowing that the mother did not satisfy the clinic's criteria (there was no father), and also knowing the potential for abortion. Discussing the ethics of the mother's choice and the clinic's choice, Harris asks whether it is morally correct to create a child as an organ donor, whether the future child would suffer, whether it is worth any suffering to be born, and who has the right to weigh the various factors (both moral and physiological) involved in making these decisions. Delving into a multitude of issues such as when life begins, when suffering is needless, and whether we should play God, Wonderwoman and Superman provides not only a thought-provoking inquiry into the potential and actual ethical dilemmas created by the many advances in biotechnology, but challenges us to learn to choose responsibly and to face the moral implications of the choices that confront us. (shrink)
Recent breakthroughs in stem cell differentiation and reprogramming suggest that functional human gametes could soon be created in vitro. While the ethical debate on the uses of in vitro generated gametes (IVG) was originally constrained by the fact that they could be derived only from embryonic stem cell lines, the advent of somatic cell reprogramming, with the possibility to easily derive human induced pluripotent stem cells from any individual, affords now a major leap in the feasibility of IVG derivation and (...) in the scope of their potential applications. In this paper we develop an ethical framework, rooted in recent scientific evidence, to support a robust experimental pipeline that could enable the first-in-human use of IVG. We then apply this framework to the following objectives: (1) a clarification of the genetic parenting options afforded by IVG, along with their ethical underpinnings; (2) a defence of the use of IVG to remedy infertility, broadening their scope to same-sex couples; (3) an assessment of the most far-reaching implications of IVG for multiplex parenting. These include, first, the liberation of parenting roles from the constraints of biological generations in vivo, allowing multiple individuals to engage in genetic parenting together, thus blurring the distinction between biological and social generations. Second, we discuss the conflation of IVG with sequencing technology and its implications for the possibility that prospective parents may choose among a hitherto unprecedented number of potential children. In view of these perspectives, we argue that, contrary to the exhausted paradigm according to which society lags behind science, IVG may represent instead a salient and most visible instance where biotechnological ingenuity could be used in pursuit of social experimentation. (shrink)
Cloning - few words have as much potential to grip our imagination or grab the headlines. No longer the stuff of science fiction or Star Wars - it is happening now. Yet human cloning is currently banned throughout the world, and therapeutic cloning banned in many countries. In this highly controversial book, John Harris does a lot more than ask why we are so afraid of cloning. He presents a deft and informed defence of human cloning, carefully exposing the rhetorical (...) and highly dubious arguments against it. He begins with an introduction to what a human clone is, before tackling some of the most common and frequently bizarre criticisms of cloning: Is it really wicked? Can we regulate it? What about the welfare of cloned children? Does it turn human beings into commodities? Dismissing one by one some of the myths about human cloning, in particular that it is degrading and unsafe, he astutely argues that some of our most cherished values, such as the freedom to start a family and the freedom from state control, actually support the case for human cloning. Offering a brave and lucid insight into this ethical minefield, John Harris at last shows that far from ending the diversity of human life or creating a race of super-clones, cloning has the power to improve and heal human life. (shrink)
In this issue of CQ we introduce a new feature, in which noted bioethicists are invited to reflect on vital current issues. Our first invitee, John Harris, will subsequently assume editorship of this section.
Moral enhancement is a topic that has sparked much current interest in the world of bioethics. The possibility of making people ‘better,’ not just in the conventional enhancement sense of improving health and other desirable qualities and capacities, but by making them somehow more moral, more decent, altogether better people, has attracted attention from both advocates 1 2 and sceptics 3 alike. The concept of moral enhancement, however, is fraught with difficult questions, theoretical and practical. What does it actually mean (...) to be ‘more moral’? How would moral enhancement be defined and would it necessarily, as some have claimed, make the world a better or safer place? How would or could such enhancement be achieved safely and without undue constraint on personal liberty and autonomy? On this subject, a recent paper by Crockett et al 4 investigating the effects of the neurotransmitter serotonin on moral decision-making provides an intriguing scientific basis for examining what might or might not constitute moral enhancement. The study involved treatment with citalopram, a drug that increases the action of serotonin in the brain, and subsequent analysis of participants' decision-making behaviour in two different situations involving moral dilemmas: the well-known ‘Trolley Problem’ 5 and the ‘Ultimatum Game’. 6 The researchers found that citalopram promoted what they call ‘prosocial behaviour’, increasing the participants' aversion to causing direct harm to others: in the first scenario, they were less likely to select the option that required killing one in order to save five, and in the second, less likely to reject unfair offers at the expense of others. The Crockett study is fascinating both for its insight into human behaviour and because it appears to demonstrate that, at least on some accounts of moral behaviour, serotonin may in fact be a …. (shrink)
The continuing debate between Persson and Savulescu and myself over moral enhancement concerns two dimensions of a very large question. The large question is: what exactly makes something a moral enhancement? This large question needs a book length study and this I provide in my How to be Good, Oxford 2016.. In their latest paper Moral Bioenhancement, Freedom and Reason take my book as their point of departure and the first dimension of the big question they address is one that (...) emphasizes a distinction, not highlighted in their original 2008 paper, between a moral enhancement that will ensure an improvement in morality and one that will simply make people more motivated to be moral. The second issue concerns whether anything that would be a “moral enhancement” properly so called, could involve denying moral agents the very possibility of autonomously choosing to try to be good. In this response, although P&S cover a number of other related issues, I shall concentrate on these two points. (shrink)
People have a powerful interest in geneticprivacy and its associated claim to ignorance,and some equally powerful desires to beshielded from disturbing information are oftenvoiced. We argue, however, that there is nosuch thing as a right to remain in ignorance,where a right is understood as an entitlementthat trumps competing claims. This doesnot of course mean that information must alwaysbe forced upon unwilling recipients, only thatthere is no prima facie entitlement to beprotected from true or honest information aboutoneself. Any claims to be (...) shielded frominformation about the self must compete onequal terms with claims based in the rights andinterests of others. In balancing the weightand importance of rival considerations aboutgiving or withholding information, if rightsclaims have any place, rights are more likelyto be defensible on the side of honestcommunication of information rather than indefence of ignorance. The right to free speechand the right to decline to acceptresponsibility to take decisions for othersimposed by those others seem to us moreplausible candidates for fully fledged rightsin this field than any purported right toignorance. Finally, and most importantly, ifthe right to autonomy is invoked, a properunderstanding of the distinction between claimsto liberty and claims to autonomy show that theprinciple of autonomy, as it is understood incontemporary social ethics and English law,supports the giving rather than the withholdingof information in most circumstances. (shrink)
The task of combatting and defeating Covid-19 calls for drastic measures as well as cool heads. It also requires that we keep our nerve and our moral integrity. In the fight for survival, as individuals and as societies, we must not lose our grip on the values and the compassion that make individual and collective survival worth fighting for, or indeed worth having.1.
We argue in this essay that (1) the embryo is an irredeemably ambiguous entity and its ambiguity casts serious doubt on the arguments claiming its full protection or, at least, its protection against its use as a means fo research, (2) those who claim the embryo should be protected as "one of us" are committed to a position even they do not uphold in their practices, (3) views that defend the protection of the embryo in virtue of its potentiality to (...) become a person fail, and (4) the embryo does not have any rights or interests to be protected. Given that many are willing to treat the embryo as a means in other practices, and that human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research holds the potential to benefit many people, one cannot but conclude that hESC research is permissible and, because of its immense promise for alleviating human even obligatory. (shrink)
In his ‘Moral Enhancement, Freedom, and What We Value in Moral Behaviour’,1 David DeGrazia sets out to defend moral bioenhancement from a number of critics, me prominently among them. Here he sets out his stall: "Many scholars doubt what I assert: that there is nothing inherently wrong with MB. Some doubt this on the basis of a conviction that there is something inherently wrong with biomedical enhancement technologies in general. Chief among their objections are the charges that biomedical enhancement is (...) unnatural, use of biomedical enhancements evinces an insufficient appreciation for human “giftedness”, and biomedical enhancements pose a threat to personal identity. Elsewhere I have attempted to neutralize these objections. Here I will address a set of concerns that are directed at MB in particular and appeal to the nature and value of human freedom."Let me make clear at once that I do not believe there is anything inherently wrong with MB. I have been an advocate for human enhancement for over 30 years writing four books defending such enhancements.2–⇓4 The most recent of these published in 2007 covers much the same ground as Allen Buchanan's 2011 book cited by DeGrazia,5 but, unlike Buchanan, I do not define enhancements in terms of the intention or the motivation of those who produce them but rather in terms of their effect. I must also make clear that, like DeGrazia, I have also, for a very long time, attempted to neutralise objections 1–3 listed in the above passage.2–⇓4DeGrazia introduces his critique of my approach like this: "I will construe Harris’ argument and similar arguments as directed entirely at motivation-based MB—though I will hereafter omit the qualifier, “motivation-based.” (Certainly, these arguments do not apply to embryo selection, which … ". (shrink)
This paper argues that a precautionary approach to scientific progress of the sort advocated by Walter Glannon with respect to life-extending therapies involves both incoherence and irresolvable paradox. This paper demonstrates the incoherence of the precautionary approach in many circumstances and argues that with respect to life-extending therapies we have at present no persuasive reasons for a moratorium on such research.
: The concept of the person has come to be intimately connected with questions about the value of life. It is applied to those sorts of beings who have some special value or moral importance and where we need to prioritize the needs or claims of different sorts of individuals. "Person" is a concept designating individuals like us in some important respects, but possibly including individuals who are very unlike us in other respects. What are these respects and why are (...) they important? This paper sets out to answer these questions and to develop a coherent and useful concept of the person. (shrink)
Human rights are universally acknowledged to be important, although they are, of course, by no means universally respected. This universality has helped to combat racism and sexism and other arbitrary and vicious forms of discrimination. Unfortunately, as we shall see, the universality of human rights is both too universal and not universal enough. It is time to take the “human” out of human rights. Indeed, it is very probable that in the future there will be no more humans as we (...) know them now, because the further evolution of our species, either Darwinian or more likely determined by human choices, will, we must hope, result in the emergence of new sorts of beings better able to cope with the intellectual and physical challenges of the future. One example of the ways in which this is already happening is the sorts of cognitive enhancement that are already coming on stream. Another is signaled by stem cell research and the birth of regenerative medicine. (shrink)
The prospect of using genome technologies to modify the human germline has raised profound moral disagreement but also emphasizes the need for wide-ranging discussion and a well-informed policy response. The Hinxton Group brought together scientists, ethicists, policymakers, and journal editors for an international, interdisciplinary meeting on this subject. This consensus statement formulated by the group calls for support of genome editing research and the development of a scientific roadmap for safety and efficacy; recognizes the ethical challenges involved in clinical reproductive (...) applications of genome editing but, importantly, rejects the idea that human reproductive germline modification is necessarily morally unacceptable; and highlights the importance of meaningful engagement in discussions of genome editing and the development of regulation and oversight mechanisms to govern future uses of such technologies. (shrink)
Has the time come to put to bed the concept of a harm threshold when discussing the ethics of reproductive decision making and the legal limits that should be placed upon it? In this commentary, we defend the claim that there exist good moral reasons, despite the conclusions of the non-identity problem, based on the interests of those we might create, to refrain from bringing to birth individuals whose lives are often described in the philosophical literature as ‘less than worth (...) living’. (shrink)
John Harris has previously proposed that there is a moral duty to participate in scientific research. This concept has recently been challenged by Iain Brassington, who asserts that the principles cited by Harris in support of the duty to research fail to establish its existence. In this paper we address these criticisms and provide new arguments for the existence of a moral obligation to research participation. This obligation, we argue, arises from two separate but related principles. The principle of fairness (...) obliges us to support the social institutions which sustain us, of which research is one; while the principle of beneficence, or the duty of rescue, imposes upon us a duty to prevent harm to others, including by supporting potentially beneficial, even life-saving research. We argue that both these lines of argument support the duty to research, and explore further aspects of this duty, such as to whom it is owed and how it might be discharged. (shrink)
Sex is not the answer to everything, though young men think it is, but it may be the answer to the intractable debate over the ethics of human embryonic stem cell research. In this paper, I advance one ethical principle that, as yet, has not received the attention its platitudinous character would seem to merit. If found acceptable, this principle would permit the beneficial use of any embryonic or fetal tissue that would, by default, be lost or destroyed. More important, (...) I make two appeals to consistency, or to parity of reasoning, that I believe show that no one who either has used or intends to use sexual reproduction as their means of procreation, nor indeed anyone who has unprotected heterosexual intercourse, nor anyone who finds in vitro fertilization acceptable, nor anyone who believes that abortion is ever permissible can consistently object on principle to human embryo research nor to the use of embryonic stem cells for research or therapy. (shrink)
:In a recent paper in Nature1 entitled The Moral Machine Experiment, Edmond Awad, et al. make a number of breathtakingly reckless assumptions, both about the decisionmaking capacities of current so-called “autonomous vehicles” and about the nature of morality and the law. Accepting their bizarre premise that the holy grail is to find out how to obtain cognizance of public morality and then program driverless vehicles accordingly, the following are the four steps to the Moral Machinists argument:1)Find out what “public morality” (...) will prefer to see happen.2)On the basis of this discovery, claim both popular acceptance of the preferences and persuade would-be owners and manufacturers that the vehicles are programmed with the best solutions to any survival dilemmas they might face.3)Citizen agreement thus characterized is then presumed to deliver moral license for the chosen preferences.4)This yields “permission” to program vehicles to spare or condemn those outside the vehicles when their deaths will preserve vehicle and occupants.This paper argues that the Moral Machine Experiment fails dramatically on all four counts. (shrink)
Framed with a substantial introduction by the editor, this new book brings together the key articles written on bioethics over recent years. Subjects covered include the beginnings of life, the end of life, quality of life, value of life, future generations, and professional ethics.
When children are too young to make their ownautonomous decisions, decisions have to be madefor them. In certain contexts we allow parentsand others to make these decisions, and do notinterfere unless the decision clearly violatesthe best interest of the child. In othercontexts we put a priori limits on whatkind of decisions parents can make, and/or whatkinds of considerations they have to take intoaccount. Consent to medical research currentlyfalls into the second group mentioned here. Wewant to consider and ultimately reject one (...) ofthe arguments put forward for putting medicalresearch into the second category. We willargue that some objections to children'sparticipation in research are either based onan implausibly restrictive conception of whatis in fact in the child's best interests orthat there is an implicit and false premisehidden in this argument; i.e., the premise thatour children have so deeply fallen into moralturpitude that we must assume that they wouldnot want to fulfill their moral obligations,or, that they will grow up to be morallydeficient and will then wish not to have actedwell while a child. (shrink)
It appears that utilitarian arguments in favor of moral vegetarianism cannot justify a complete prohibition of eating meat. This is because, in certain circumstances, forgoing meat will prevent no pain, and so, on utilitarian grounds, we should be opportunistic carnivores rather than moral vegetarians. In his paper, ‘Puppies, pigs, and people: Eating meat and marginal cases,’ Alastair Norcross argues that causal impotence arguments like these are misguided. First, he presents an analogous situation, the case of chocolate mousse a-la-bama, in order (...) to argue that we, individually, are not causally impotent. Second, Norcross offers a threshold argument in which he argues that while we may individually be causally impotent, when we adopt moral vegetarianism in concert with others, we become causally potent in preventing harms by factory farming. We argue that Norcross's responses ultimately fail to address the causal impotence objection. The former argument fails because it vastly oversimplifies the world in which we find ourselves. Given the size of factory farming, the reasonable conclusion is that we are in fact powerless to prevent harms to animals in factory farms in many or most cases. The latter argument fails because even if collective action will have an impact on factory farming, this does not provide us with an argument against being carnivores in certain circumstances. (shrink)
In a number of papers, including the one published in this journal, Robert Sparrow has mounted attacks on consequentialism using principally what he takes to be an important fact, which he believes constitutes a reductio ad absurdum of consequentialism in its many forms and of this author's approach to enhancement and disability in particular (see page 276). This fact is the current longer life expectancy of women when compared with men. Here the author argues that Sparrow's arguments and entire approach (...) utterly fail. In doing so the author hopes to shed further light on the role of normalcy, normal species functioning and species-typical functioning in debates about enhancement and disability. (shrink)
In this paper the permissibility of stem cell research on early human embryos is defended. It is argued that, in order to have moral status, an individual must have an interest in its own wellbeing. Sentience is a prerequisite for having an interest in avoiding pain, and personhood is a prerequisite for having an interest in the continuation of one's own existence. Early human embryos are not sentient and therefore they are not recipients of direct moral consideration. Early human embryos (...) do not satisfy the requirements for personhood, but there are arguments to the effect that they should be treated as persons nonetheless. These are the arguments from potentiality, symbolic value and the principle of human dignity. These arguments are challenged in this paper and it is claimed that they offer us no good reason to believe that early human embryos should be treated as persons. (shrink)
Vaccines, when available, will prove to be crucial in the fight against Covid-19. All societies will face acute dilemmas in allocating scarce lifesaving resources in the form of vaccines for Covid-19. The author proposes The Value of Lives Principle as a just and workable plan for equitable and efficient access. After describing what the principle entails, the author contrasts the advantage of this approach with other current proposals such as the Fair Priority Model.
Animals, in the age of biotechnology, are the subjects of a myriad of scientific procedures, interventions, and modifications. They are created, altered, and experimented upon—often with highly beneficial outcomes for humans in terms of knowledge gained and applied, yet not without concern also for the effects upon the experimental subjects themselves: consideration of the use of animals in research remains an intensely debated topic. Concerns for animal welfare in scientific research have, however, been primarily directed at harm to and suffering (...) of animal subjects and their prevention. Little attention has been paid to the benefits research might potentially produce for animals themselves and the interests that some animals may therefore have in the furtherance of particular avenues of science. (shrink)