Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement: Risks and Dangers of BME

Ethical Issues Surrounding Sex Selection During or Prior to Conception

Whenever technological progress throws up great new possibilities there are also attendant ethical dilemmas relating to such possibilities. Such is the case with genetic engineering in general and human biomedical enhancement in particular.  Allan Buchanan is well aware of some immediate pitfalls for society if BME is allowed unregulated[i].  One of the issues he raises is that of sex selection during pregnancy.  In many parts of the world, especially in the developing world, there is a cultural and traditional bias toward male babies.  From a sociological perspective a balance of equal population of male and female individuals is essential for the survival of the species.[ii]  An unfettered BME system would totally skewer the sociological balance and may inadvertently set the species on a self-destructive spiral.  Currently, at least as far as advanced industrial nations are concerned, there are laws that protect foetuses at advanced stages of pregnancy.  But with advanced BME the sex of a baby could be preconfigured using sophisticated techniques during the conception stage itself.  Some feminists are even claiming that a mother has the ‘right’ to select the sex of the baby.[iii]  But such extreme views border on the nonsensical and infringe on natural reproductive processes.  Hence, there are a lot of questions pertaining to ethics which BME advocates will have to answer.

Permissibility of Measured Risks

Although Agar warns of the dire dangers associated with radical genetic enhancements, he is not averse to therapeutic interventions.  Indeed, in his earlier book Liberal Eugenics: In Defence of Human Enhancement, Agar actually speaks in favor of enhancement.  Allen Buchanan’s position on the debate is already the one favoring selective enhancements. Hence there is a concurrence between the two authors, at least, with respect to high-risk or competitive biomedical enhancements. It is fair to claim that both Agar and Buchanan only promote their viewpoints with necessary caution.  Hence, if policy makers in leading governments across the world would heed to their measured advice, there is unlikely to be a scenario of post-humans[iv] dominating those left unenhanced. Nicholas Agar raises another important objection to the dangers of radical biomedical enhancement[v].  He posits a future society where genetically enhanced post-human species would dominate (or eliminate altogether the species homo sapiens as we know it)[vi]. Since it is technologically advanced societies of the First World that would be able to afford enhancement procedures, those in the under-developed world, already languishing in poverty[vii] and political instability, who would soon become second-rate humans[viii].

Endnotes:

[i] Allen Buchanan. Beyond Humanity? The Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement. Oxford University Press. 2013. Chapter 4, p.116.

[ii] Nicholas Agar, Humanity’s End. Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement. MIT Press. 2010. Chapter 6, p.156.

[iii] Allen Buchanan. Beyond Humanity? The Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement. Oxford University Press. 2013. Chapter 7, p.189.

[iv] Allen Buchanan. Beyond Humanity? The Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement. Oxford University Press. 2013. Chapter 6, p.156.

[v] Nicholas Agar, Humanity’s End. Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement. MIT Press. 2010. Chapter 3, p.89.

[vi] Nicholas Agar, Humanity’s End. Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement. MIT Press. 2010, Chapter 8, p.225.

[vii] Allen Buchanan. Beyond Humanity? The Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement. Oxford University Press. 2013. Chapter 1, p.15.

[viii]  Nicholas Agar, Humanity’s End. Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement. MIT Press. 2010. Chapter 5, p.150.