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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Suppose that you are soon to be a parent and you learn that there are some simple measures that you can take to make sure that your child will be healthy. In particular, suppose that by following the doctor’s advice, you can prevent your child from having a disability, you can make your child immune from a number of dangerous diseases and you can even enhance its future intelligence. All that is required for this to happen is that you (or (...) your partner) comply with lifestyle and dietary requirements. Do you and your partner have any moral reasons (or moral obligations) to follow the doctor’s advice? Would it make a difference if, instead of following some simple dietary requirements, you consented to genetic engineering to make sure that your child was free from disabilities, healthy and with above average intelligence? In this paper we develop a framework for dealing with these questions and we suggest some directions the answers might take. (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)
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.
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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)
: 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)
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)
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)
The question of whether or not either elderly people or those whose life expectancy is short have commensurately reduced claims on their fellows, have, in short, fewer or less powerful rights than others, is of vital importance but is one that has seldom been adequately examined. Despite ringing proclamations of justice and equality for all, the fact is that most societies discriminate between citizens on the basis both of age and life expectancy.
Matti Häyry’s new book is deliberately challenging; it tells six contemporary bioethicists, and all who share their methodologies or even their general approach, that they have got it badly wrong. From the striking photograph of Häyry himself on the front cover to the very last line, the genetic challenge is issued and elaborated. Häyry has divided his protagonists into three pairs, of which I find myself a member, and this makes responding a duty as well as a pleasure. Although I (...) cannot speak for my partner in crime, Jonathan Glover, I am at least in the very best of all possible company. (shrink)