Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Taller? Faster? Cuter? Why not?

Enhancing humans: Ethicist says we have a duty to make it happen.
By Richard Halicks
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

John Harris' new book starts out with a wonderful quotation from a 1950s Sicilian novel: "If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change."

In "Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People," the British philosopher and bioethicist challenges conventional thinking about genetic engineering, stem-cell research, designer children and other concepts that make most people uneasy.

In sum, says Harris, using chemistry and genetics to make ourselves better, stronger, smarter or prettier is not just morally defensible. It's morally obligatory.

"The same duty that leads us to prevent harm leads us also to help," said Harris, professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester. "Insofar as enhancements are good for people, enable people to do things that they want to do, and do not harm others, then I believe there is a moral imperative to help people do those things."

Harris, 61, who is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics, sees the world through a different lens from most.

He believes, for example, that there's nothing wrong with athletes using performance-enhancing drugs, as long as the drugs are safe and are permitted by the league.

He also thinks that people should be free to design their children (or free not to), that humans should be in charge of human nature, and that there's little difference between using technology to cure people vs. using it to improve them.

One of his favorite analogies is our use of reading glasses as we grow older.

"People say, 'Ah, but that just restores normal functioning,'" he said. "And I point out that we also use binoculars and telescopes and microscopes. And they don't restore normal functioning; they enhance the functioning of the eye. ... Nobody, I think, believes that we cross a moral divide when we move from reading glasses to binoculars."

See: Taller? Faster? Cuter?

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