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Enhancing Human Traits: Ethical and Social Implications

Overview

As biomedical science progresses, ever more effective medical technologies are devised for the treatment of illnesses, and this is, of course, a good thing. But how do we feel about the use of such technologies by people who are healthy to start with in order to become more than healthy? Many such enhancement technologies are already widely available. Cosmetic surgery is used for aesthetic enhancement of the body, beta-blockers such as Propranolol by musicians to block the physical symptoms of performance nerves,...
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Overview

As biomedical science progresses, ever more effective medical technologies are devised for the treatment of illnesses, and this is, of course, a good thing. But how do we feel about the use of such technologies by people who are healthy to start with in order to become more than healthy? Many such enhancement technologies are already widely available. Cosmetic surgery is used for aesthetic enhancement of the body, beta-blockers such as Propranolol by musicians to block the physical symptoms of performance nerves, thereby enhancing the quality of their playing, and the antidepressant Prozac is used as an agent of what Peter Kramer has called cosmetic psychopharmacology, or alteration of personality, to make people less shy, less compulsive, more confident. We have to assume that with time more enhancement technologies will become available - many more, employing surgery, genetics, pharmacology, and heaven knows what else, directed in particular at cognitive function and longevity.

Are enhancement technologies a good thing? Overall, attitudes towards them are ambivalent in the extreme. After all, we regard self-development through education and exercise to become wiser and fitter as a virtue, almost a duty. Why not pursue these ends by means of enhancement technologies? Yet to many people, enhancement technologies evoke eugenics, Nazi conceptions of the superman, and Huxley's Brave New World.

The appearance of Enhancing Human Traits represents something of a landmark with respect to discussion of these thorny issues. This is the product of a project co-ordinated by the philosopher Erik Parens at the Hastings Center, that brought together thinkers from a number of fields, including philosophy, law, sociology, theology and women's studies, to discuss the rights and wrongs of biological enhancement. The book contains 13 very different essays on distinct facets of this complex subject. These involve two sorts of discussion about enhancement. The first focuses on the distinction between treatment and enhancement, and concerns what doctors should and should not do, and what healthcare systems should and should not provide. The second deals with the broader issue of the value of enhancement technologies per se. As Parens puts it, the first discussion of enhancement concerns the goals of medicine, and the second the goals of society.

The book contains black-and-white illustrations.

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Editorial Reviews

Andrea Bonnicksen
Experts in philosophy, sociology, history, theology, women's studies, and the law explore the meanings and difficulties of conversing about enhancement biotechnologies (e.g., germ-line genetics, cosmetic surgery, psychopharmacology) and ask whether there are good reasons to worry about these technologies. The essayists originally took part in the enhancement project sponsored by the Hasting Center. This book is written to examine and clarify the enhancement concept, assess whether enhancement biotechnologies are worrisome, and explore the implications of enhancement biotechnologies for policymaking. These objectives are worthy in their capacity to contribute to thoughtful policymaking. They direct attention to the concept of enhancement, which is often used in conversations but not systematically examined, and to a range of enhancement technologies. The editor meets these objectives by presenting thoughtful essays about a number of enhancement technologies from a variety of academic perspectives. He reveals the difficulties of using unchallenged concepts to frame public policy. The book is intended for policymakers, academics, philosophers, medical practitioners, and others interested in enhancement biotechnologies and what to think about them. The editor and contributors are well-recognized authorities. Essayists Erik Parens, Eric Juengst, and Daniel Brock helpfully set out distinctions and suggest ways of identifying issues relating to the enhancement concept. The essays that follow, most of which are gracefully written, effectively cover a range of enhancements. Occasional interchanges among authors who refer to companion essays help integrate and unify the book. A range ofenhancement biotechnologies are covered in this one volume and contributors explore in a quizzical rather than dogmatic way the problematic features of the enhancement concept as a stepping stone for future policy. They offer fresh perspectives of respected authors, who seem to be energized about the topic after working face to face with one another at the Hastings Center meetings.
Booknews
Scholars from fields including philosophy, sociology, history, theology, women's studies, and law explore ethical and social implications of new biotechnologies ranging from genetic manipulation to pharmacology and new surgical techniques. They identify the difficulty in distinguishing between treatment and enhancement, focusing in particular on moral issues pertaining to cosmetic surgery and cosmetic psychopharmacology. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Andrea Bonnicksen(Northern Illinois University)
Description: Experts in philosophy, sociology, history, theology, women's studies, and the law explore the meanings and difficulties of conversing about enhancement biotechnologies (e.g., germ-line genetics, cosmetic surgery, psychopharmacology) and ask whether there are good reasons to worry about these technologies. The essayists originally took part in the enhancement project sponsored by the Hasting Center.
Purpose: This book is written to examine and clarify the enhancement concept, assess whether enhancement biotechnologies are worrisome, and explore the implications of enhancement biotechnologies for policymaking. These objectives are worthy in their capacity to contribute to thoughtful policymaking. They direct attention to the concept of enhancement, which is often used in conversations but not systematically examined, and to a range of enhancement technologies. The editor meets these objectives by presenting thoughtful essays about a number of enhancement technologies from a variety of academic perspectives. He reveals the difficulties of using unchallenged concepts to frame public policy.
Audience: The book is intended for policymakers, academics, philosophers, medical practitioners, and others interested in enhancement biotechnologies and what to think about them. The editor and contributors are well-recognized authorities.
Features: Essayists Erik Parens, Eric Juengst, and Daniel Brock helpfully set out distinctions and suggest ways of identifying issues relating to the enhancement concept. The essays that follow, most of which are gracefully written, effectively cover a range of enhancements. Occasional interchanges among authors who refer to companion essays help integrate and unify the book.
Assessment: A range of enhancement biotechnologies are covered in this one volume and contributors explore in a quizzical rather than dogmatic way the problematic features of the enhancement concept as a stepping stone for future policy. They offer fresh perspectives of respected authors, who seem to be energized about the topic after working face to face with one another at the Hastings Center meetings.

3 Stars from Doody
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780878407804
  • Publisher: Georgetown University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2000
  • Series: Hastings Center Studies in Ethics Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,273,567
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Erik Parens is the associate for philosophical studies at The Hastings Center.

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