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Whether a given biomedical intervention counts as an enhancement depends on how it is used.
These debates include clinicians’ concerns about the limits of legitimate health care, parents’ worries about their reproductive and rearing obligations, and the efforts of competitive institutions like sports to combat cheating, as well as more general questions about distributive justice, science policy, and the public regulation of medical technologies.
As usual in practical ethics, an adequate discussion of any specific debate under this heading quickly requires orientation to the science underlying particular enhancement interventions and an appreciation of the social and political contexts in which it unfolds.
Instead, it traces a path of core concerns that winds through all the current debates on the ethics of human enhancement, as guide for those interested in exploring further.
To look ahead, our claim is that three sets of philosophical considerations are key to navigating this literature: first, conceptual concerns about the limits of legitimate health care, then moral worries about fairness, authenticity and human nature, and finally political questions about governance and policy.
This means that the developers of even the most outré enhancement interventions will almost always be able to appeal to some correlative therapeutic uses to justify their research, testing, and release into the market (Mehlman 1999).
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On the other hand, simply pointing out that biomedical technologies can have both therapeutic and enhancement uses does nothing to collapse the logical distinction between those uses, or to defeat the claim that those distinguishable uses might warrant different ethical responses (Buchanan 2011).Meditation and prayer can have the same physiological effects as drugs.The “cyborgs” of science fiction blend human bodies with electronic and mechanical tools (Hughes 2004).As a result, most biomedical enhancements involve trade-offs.If extended life span comes with prolonged frailty, or if enhanced altruism compromises survival skills, the overall value of the enhancement can be called into question (Shickle 2000).The first is when they help advance our understanding of core issues raised by the enhancement uses of the emerging biomedical technologies.The second is when, inevitably, our discussion of biomedical enhancements uncovers insights that reflect back upon the ethical dimensions of these other practices.Second, the definition of “enhancement” used in this entry restricts the term to biomedical interventions, even though other methods of increasing normal human capacities raise ethical issues as well.Electronic and robotic tools that enable us to listen, observe, help or harm at a distance, lifestyles designed to maximize particular talents, and social practices that foster new forms of human relationship all come with their own trade-offs and moral concerns.This entry is not concerned with every activity and intervention that might improve people’s embodied lives.The focus of this entry is a cluster of debates in practical ethics that is conventionally labeled as “the ethics of human enhancement”.