The Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement: Consensus and Divergence Among Scholars

Two Categories of Biomedical Enhancement (BME)

Even within the field of human biomedical enhancement (which is as yet at a theoretical stage) there are two categories.  The first are common or corrective enhancements which aim to set right a deficiency (acquired congenitally or through life events) in a human individual.  The second are radical or strategic enhancements which are aimed to give a competitive advantage to the individual undergoing the procedure.  Both Allen Buchanan and Nicholas Agar reject radical enhancements.  Whereas Agar’s thesis is somewhat accommodative of benign and remedial forms of enhancement, Buchanan’s is more pessimistic.[i] Hence the subject lends itself to numerous dimensions of ethical inquiry[ii].  As is often the case with major debates within science, the community of scientists are divided into two camps.  The two camps are not necessarily antagonistic and in sharp opposition to each other’s positions.  Rather, the degree of optimism or pessimism toward the human biomedical enhancement project is what separates the two.[iii]  The two books perused for this essay represent the two dominant viewpoints in this debate.

The Predominance of Rationality in the BME Discourse

What both the books have in common is their emphasis on ethics over all other matters surrounding the debate. Often in the biomedical enhancement discourse, passions run high among debaters.  The topic being so sensitive and having wide ranging implications, often draws out emotional responses from debaters.  But what both Buchanan and Agar have brought to table is a cool and analytical method.  They lay out logical arguments one after the other in a comprehensive and in-depth coverage to all angles of the topic.  At the same time, the language and terminology they use are not too esoteric – they are accessible to the general reader.  This is important because the questions surrounding BME (radical or otherwise) are not an academic concern, far removed from the general citizenry[iv].  To the contrary, their application and consequences are most affective on the real world.  In this light, the two authors have done a stellar job of synthesizing specialist science and socio-culture.

Endnotes:

[i] Allen Buchanan. Beyond Humanity? The Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement. Oxford University Press. 2013. Chapter 6, p.186.

[ii] Nicholas Agar, Humanity’s End. Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement. MIT Press. 2010. Chapter 1, p.11.

[iii] Nicholas Agar, Humanity’s End. Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement. MIT Press. 2010. Chapter 2, p.43.

[iv] Allen Buchanan. Beyond Humanity? The Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement. Oxford University Press. 2013. Chapter 1, p.10.