Thursday, September 25, 2008

Glover's “Human Values and Genetic Design”

Glover, Jonathan (2006). “Human Values and Genetic Design” in Choosing Children: Genes, Disability, and Design. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 73-104.

Glover explores philosophical issues surrounding liberty, the harm principle, and human nature as it relates to designing children. He starts with a quote by James Watson, “Most of us are in favor of autonomy … as long as we are not hurting someone else.” (p.73). He then launches into John Stuart Mill and reminds us that according to his political philosophy, “… the only purpose for which power can rightfully exercised over any member of a civilize community, against his will, is to prevent harm to other.” (p. 74). Glover again brings up Derek Parfit’s Non-Identity Problem, which states that different policies will shape the world in ways that will lead to different people but that does not mean that they would be worse off than an alternative set of descendents would have been. We may want to explore this idea further because I can imagine a future that is worse off than an alternative set based on bad policy. Would be actually be glad they were born if life is miserable? Maybe some would but others may not, especially if freedom and autonomy are compromised because of bad policy. Glover proposes the idea of ‘transpersonal harm’ to mean one course of action brings about a world where those people exist that are worse off than an alternative set of people, in a alternative future based on different policy so he does recognize that bad choices now can harm those in the future.

The idea of a medical boundary is a more conventional view that claims that intervention is acceptable if it seeks to eliminate disability below a medical standard of what defines disability. As genetic technology advances, this line could change providing an argument that we could have allowed enhancement now, which would be equivalent to treating disability in the future but the problem still remains of who is to decide. He comes back to the idea of human flourishing and advocates the notion that medically defined disability is morally acceptable and that in some cases, non-medical choices may be desirable to promote human flourishing. He also points out that those who advocate only to the medical boundary must specify why that boundary is so special. We should check out Robert Noziak and his idea of the ‘genetic supermarket’.

Glover argues that we should restrict liberty in making genetic choices only when something comparable important to human flourishing is at stake. He suggests that a regulated European model market may allow individual freedom with certain genetic features restricted in the name of public interest. The question then becomes, which choices should be excluded from the democratic debate. Some concerns include:
1. The dangers of uniformity.
2. Genetic inequalities.
3. The possible threat to central parts of human nature.
We recognize that sometimes the value of benefit to the minority justifies inequality. Again, Rawls comes into the picture. The problem here is that inequalities go deeper than economic concerns and are automatically replenished via future generations. The possibility of further class separation is not without merit. Then again, parental acquiensence may minimize inequalities in a reasonable free market. This might not have any effect in overall inequality because as he says, “… parents may all be standing on tiptoe without their children being able to see any better.” (p. 80). He also points out that enhancement for bad reasons may not necessarily entail a child’s harm or regret.

The next section explores definition of human nature. He does worry and argue against any type of state enhancement program as being eugenic. Francis Fukuyama comes up again with his central idea of human dignity and that consciousness, reason, feelings, and the capacity for oral choice must be preserved. Two possible starting points for the exploration of what we value in human nature:
1. The recognition that our nature includes both good and bad qualities.
2. The idea of a good life for human beings.
Glover argues that the first point acknowledging the dark side of human nature might not be subject to elimination through genetic enhancement but rather one of containment if we are to maintain autonomy. He suggests that the best account of a good life comes from an overlap between some version of human flourishing and some version of happiness. He calls this a liberalizing that tends toward convergence. The Darwinian and normal functioning account of human flourishing are too narrow. Humans do not want to do things passively but through experience so the Brave New World scenario must be avoided. The binocular analogy he makes adds depth to the genetic perspective as it relates to:
1. The fit between what you want/value and what your life is like.
2. How rich your life is human goods, what relationships you have with other people, your state of health, autonomy, and scope for creativity.
The hope for shared values then comes from resources of science and subjective experience so essentially an inner and outer view of human experience. As such, a plausible account of human flourishing is unlikely to have one blueprint.

Glover argues that there is a case for optimism in principle and caution in practice. This entails that public debate should continue about known and possible risks but that should not instill paralysis. Lastly, he appeals to the idea of open future to remind us that the future is open to us but that we must leave some of theta openness to the future as well.

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