Although I’d probably be described as very liberal, I’m not against rules. There are times when some forms of human enhancement would not be ethical. So, where to draw the lines?
Australian bioethicist Julian Savulescu proposes some rules in a recent blog post titled ‘How to prescribe smart drugs to children ethically‘. Though these rules are for cognitive enhancing drugs, they apply fairly well to any form of enhancement:
1. Safety – the drug should be safe enough and benefits clearly outweigh the harms
2. Harm to others – the drug should not cause the child to harm others, by for example, increasing violent behavior
3. Distributive justice – the delivery of the drug should not use up limited societal resources unfairly, for example, by consuming resources which would do more good if directed towards educational strategies
4. The parent’s choices are based on a plausible conception of well-being and a better life for the child
5. The effects are consistent with development of autonomy in child and a reasonable range of future life plans.
These aren’t bad rules, especially for enhancement of children by their parents, but I think they’re a bit tautological and slightly too strict (see, I’m so liberal, I even find Savulescu oppressive). I think I can simply.
First, rules 1 and 4 seem to be saying the same thing, just in different ways. Is the enhancement actually going to enhance? If it has tiny benefits that don’t outweigh some significant side-effects, it’s hardly an enhancement. Likewise, if you feel the enhancement has been bad for you, it’s not an enhancement. If we’re defining enhancement as something that’s going to make you better in your own opinion, we don’t need rules 1 and 4.
Second, rules 2 and 3 are also saying the same thing – you shouldn’t be enhanced at a cost to somebody else, either during the enhancement, or as a later result of the enhancement. If your enhancement takes resources away from somebody else, or leads to you harming somebody else once you’re enhanced, it’s bad. So, I think we can simplify that to: an enhancement shouldn’t harm anyone else.
And we’re left with rule 5. This is fair enough, an enhancement shouldn’t constrain autonomy, as you must be able to choose whether you’re enhanced or not. If you were born enhanced, you should still be able to choose to remove or modify those enhancements. If you weren’t born enhanced, you should still be able to choose to gain some enhancements. So, in other words, it have to still have a choice (addictive enhancements, where the enhancement influences your choice, are a difficult question and for another post).
Therefore, I think I can distill it all to one simple rule (though, to be honest, this could be said to be two rules in one):
An enhancement must be your choice and must not hurt anyone else.