Biotechnology holds the promise of some day allowing people to enhance themselves and their children using pharmaceuticals or genetic interventions. This prospect is welcomed by some, but causes a great deal of anxiety in many people: Are there enhancements whose benefits would come at the price of our humanity?
The President’s Council on Bioethics worries that people who choose to use biotech enhancements would somehow lose themselves: The Council’s report “Beyond Therapy” warns “we risk ‘turning into someone else,’ confounding the identity we have acquired through natural gift cultivated by genuinely lived experiences, alone and with others.” Liberal bioethicist George Annas from Boston University is pushing for a global treaty that would ban all inheritable modifications to any person’s genetic makeup. He favors such a treaty because he believes that “species-altering genetic engineering [is] a potential weapon of mass destruction, and [that] makes the unaccountable genetic engineer a potential bioterrorist.”
These are not objections grounded in concerns about safety or equity, but in the fear that such changes threaten the very humanity of those who choose them. But do they really?
At the annual conference of the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences last month, George Washington University philosopher David DeGrazia offered a quite different perspective. DeGrazia, who was participating in panel discussion on “Genetic Engineering and the Concept of Human Nature” asked: Are there core characteristics of being human that are inviolable? He concluded that “traits that are plausibly targeted by enhancement are not problematic.”