Moral Enhancement and Designer Babies

It is in the nature of academic ethicists to test their arguments by pushing to the boundaries of what we consider acceptable (often with an open mind as to whether it is their own arguments or our intuitive limits which are at fault when they go “too far for comfort”).

A case in point: Moral enhancement, freedom, and what we (should) value in moral behaviour — DeGrazia — Journal of Medical Ethics argues that parents already engage in various methods of moral enhancement of offspring (eg via both explicit education and implicit learning from manipulated experience and examples) and so, since they also use various biomedical interventions for physical enhancement, then if there is a possibility for comparable interventions of “moral bioenhancement” perhaps “we should open-mindedly consider this non-traditional means of moral enhancement.

This arguably happens already with certain kinds of mental health treatment which could be considered as moral bioenhancement, but it could perhaps also include the use of empathy enhancing drugs on those who are perceived to “need” them and extends also to the use of genetic selection (for those who are prepared to use it for physical features) if  any of the suggestive correlations that have been observed ever actually turn out to be reliable predictors of aberrant behaviour.

Biomedical enhancement of any feature is disapproved of by some if the need for improvement is not sufficiently pressing, but it is generally accepted for life threatening conditions and widely accepted even for purely cosmetic purposes.  Perhaps tinkering with the “personality” itself might be more widely rejected, but there will inevitably be disagreements and I am pretty sure that the academic philosophers will not actually resolve them (though if they avoid over-claiming their own expertise they might well be able to help people see where one another are “coming from”).

A completely separate issue is whether or not the specific method of genetic selection is acceptable for *any* purpose.  Of course, those who consider every stage of embryo to be a “person” cannot accept the selection process at all,  but others such as Julian Savulescu insist that “It’s Our Duty to Have Designer Babies”.

Any such discussion inevitably gets labelled as “Eugenics”,  but regardless of whether or not it’s acceptable, allowing or even encouraging the selection of “designer babies”  is *not* the same as forcibly restricting the right to breed, and recommending the consideration of  “moral bioenhancement” per se does *not* necessarily entail the use of genetic selection.

But those who have no respect for the truth and no interest in understanding the positions of others will happily use those two papers to just claim that it’s all some kind of left-liberal-academic-facist conspiracy to “kill babies”.

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