Human enhancement for whom?

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Whose interests matter when making decisions about what sort of children to have? Although it has received scant attention, this question is at the heart of the ethics of reproductive decision-making. It is also crucial to the ethics of human enhancement given that the most powerful technologies of human enhancement are likely to involve shaping future individuals via genetic selection or genetic modification. If we wish to have a sensible debate about human enhancement, then, we must first become clear on the question of ‘enhancement for whom?’ (Elster 2011). In this chapter I survey and evaluate the claims of the three leading candidates whose interests might be thought to matter when it comes to shaping future people: the parents, the child, and ‘the world’. I also discuss what I take to be two bad candidates, which nevertheless seem likely to loom large when it comes to popular discussions of this topic—‘the race’ and ‘the species’—as well as one candidate that is more plausible, although still, I think, properly controversial—the nation. I will argue that the parents, child, and ‘world’ all have legitimate interests in reproductive decisions and that these interests may conflict more than has been appreciated. For this reason, enhancement is more ethically problematic than proponents typically admit. The danger that policy on enhancement will in practice be guided by concern for the interests of the nation or, worse, the race constitutes a further reason for caution about the ‘enhancement enterprise’.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Ethics of Human Enhancement:
Subtitle of host publicationUnderstanding the Debate
EditorsSteve Clarke, Julian Savulescu, C. A. J. Coady, Alberto Giubilini, Sagar Sanyal
Place of PublicationOxford UK
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)9780198754855
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • human enhancement
  • ethics
  • reproduction
  • children
  • eugenics

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