Friday, October 3, 2008

Harris' "Enhancement Is a Moral Duty"

Harris, John (2007). “Enhancement Is A Moral Duty" in Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 19-35.

Harris attempts to introduce the ethical case for enhancement and the positive future of humankind. He uses five examples to give a sense of the debate and the different objections to the different modes of enhancement.

1. Mechanical versus Chemical Enhancement – he comments on the Boorse and Daniels definition of health to include illness as a departure form normal of species-typical functioning. He then makes the analogy of using glasses to binoculars. One raises sight up to a normal level while the other enhances beyond what is normally capable. He argues that to make an argument against enhancement, one would have to argue against the use of binoculars. He then makes some comparisons to give a sense of the moral debate. Buying a child the best education possible versus giving drugs to reach the same level of intelligence. Riding a bike versus using steroids. It seems the current debate says that the first choice is morally acceptable while the second choices are not. Harris seems to be a bit of a cautionary consequentialist in that if it is safe, then he sees no difference if the results are the same.
2. Disease and Vaccination – he notes that there has been very little resistance to this type of enhancement technology. If we alter human beings to affect their vulnerability to things, we are enhancing them. The issue then with new enhancement technology may be a matter of perception.
3. Genetic Enhancement – he notes David Baltimore's work at Caltech as HIV/AIDS and cancer vaccinations using genetic therapies as an example against "normal or species-typical functioning" against Boorse and Daniels. He further argues against Francis Fukuyama's claim that changes to human nature are absolutely unacceptable. Fukuyama's idea of Factor X, what is left when we strip away all of a person's contingent and accidental characteristics, as human nature is argued by Harris to include enhancement because if Factor X can be preserved or even enhanced then it must be a good thing by Fukuyama's own argument. He then notes that cloning is the only way to preserve the human genome and that universal cloning is the only way to prevent genocide. He notes that you could use Aquinas' Doctrine of Double Effect to argue for enhancement but that it would not be sufficient, again from a consequentialist viewpoint.
4. Chemical Enhancement – Harris favors enhancement as an absolute good and not as a positional good. This means that if we enhance for a longer life, it is good in and unto itself, not as an improvement to others even though other that do not have this good may not live as long. Making lives better rather making lives better than others must be the focus concerning enhancements, i.e., there may be inequality but is not necessarily a reason not to enhance. We already treat kidneys and hearts as scarce resources that some may get while others may not and we should work to get to a point that it may be available to all but that does not mean that no one gets a kidney until all can. Making a few better lives now may be unequal now but that does not mean we should abandon making those few lives better. It has to start somewhere and throughout history, new technology has started off on an unequal foot with many examples of that changing to be a common good. There is no moral case for delaying access to new technology or health saving device because it is not available to all.
5. Life Extension – life-saving is equivalent to death-postponing. Why do we look at certain methods of life-saving as morally necessary while talking about others as morally disdainful? If postponing death is a good, what about if we could postpone it indefinitely. Harris argues that regenerative medicine may not always be simply therapeutic but it may have an enhancing dimension. He ends this section with a word of caution by stating that we should not tamper with healthy human beings that will harm rather than benefit.

He concludes with a commentary on The Precautionary Principle and Playing God. He notes that UNESCO's International Bioethics Committee has maintained the idea that "...the human genome must be preserved as a common heritage of humanity." He responds with the following rebuttal of their assumptions:
1. The present point in evolution is unambiguously good and not susceptible to improvement.
2. The course of evolution will naturally make things better, not worse.
He views (1) and (2) as incompatible and argues that the common heritage of humanity is the result of evolutionary change. He then appeals to F.M. Cornford to note that if we reject any action on the present on the possibility of future harm, nothing would ever be done the first time to argue against the precautionary principle against enhancement. Lastly, he argues against the "Playing God" argument by noting that medicine can be described as a comprehensive attempt to frustrate the course of nature and therefore God. Artificially changing the nature of nature has led to a change of human nature.

No comments: