Regulating Human Enhancement: Things Can Only Get Better?

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Is there any reason to object to technologies of human enhancement—for example, to technologies that are designed to enhance intelligence, strength, height or sight, and the like? While dignitarians (such as Michael Sandel) argue against the quest for human perfection, utilitarians (such as John Harris) argue that human enhancement, properly conceived, is at the very least permissible. What, however, do adherents of human rights make of the use of technologies for human enhancement?

In this paper, it is argued that, in a community of rights, any regulatory assessment (or independent ethical examination) of proposals for human enhancement needs to go further than asking whether the technological feature improves a particular human capacity. First, there is the question of how the exercise of the enhanced capacity impacts on the rights of members of the community—the use of X-ray vision, for example, might violate privacy rights; and, secondly, there is the question of whether there is any threat to the basic context and conditions that are essential for a prospering moral community. In a community of rights, human enhancement would not be categorically ruled out; but only if the technology passed muster relative to the two key criteria should it be treated as ethically permissible.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2009

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