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The Ethics of Human Enhancement

The Ethics of Human Enhancement
  • Bor Shin Chee

Human Enhancement

The term ‘human enhancement’ embraces a range of approaches to improve aspects of human function such as memory, hearing and mobility to improve human performance, hence raising these function to a level considered to be beyond the existing human range.

Human enhancement categorized into particular areas: life extension, physical enhancement, cognitive enhancement, enhancement of mood or personality, and pre- and perinatal interventions. There are some existing technologies which can temporarily or permanently dealing with the current limitations of the human body via natural or artificial means: the use of reproductive technology, for example, embryo selection by pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, cytoplasmic transfer, In vitro generated gametes; the physical enhancement technologies such as plastic surgery, doping drugs, organ replacement; the enhancement of cognition, memory or concentration technologies by using nootropics, drugs, and neurostimulation devices. In addition, there are some emerging technologies such as human genetic engineering, neural implants, nanomedicine, brain–computer interface, neurotechnology and gene therapy which have the potential for human enhancement. These novel enhancement technologies bring significant implications for individuals and society.

Human enhancement is said to be the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science (NBIC) to change the human condition. There will be lots of ethical issues coming out when a novel technology emerged.

“Designer” babies

Designer babies refers to children that were genetically engineered in the uterus to possess certain physical appearance and skill or no genetic disorder and abnormalities. Thus, human enhancement is roughly synonymous with human genetic engineering which capable to lower a child’s’ risk of developing many disorders and illnesses, as well as being able to choose gender, eye color, hair, height, intelligence and other qualities.

Designer babies are made via the process of in-vitro fertilization where the embryo is first removed from a female and sperm from a male. “test-tube babies” is then fertilized on a petri dish. At this stage, certain desired qualities can be choose to obtain in the embryo in a lab. Then followed by placing it again into a female womb to finish development. Hence during these pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, a scientist could state what physical characteristics a child will grow to have, along with whether or not this child is at risk of developing certain genetic disorders such as Huntington’s disease, Down syndrome and etc.

There is some controversy over the idea of “designer babies.” Many people argue that it is unethical and unnatural to create a baby the way you desired to have, while others argue that this technology could stop certain genetic diseases in babies before they born.

Some disagree about this idea because parents might have superficial purposes by using this technology for purposely seeking out certain characteristics; such as requesting a blonde haired, blue eyed baby for appearance concerns only. This “Designer” babies who probably had enhanced their appearance, intelligence and etc would widen the gap between designer andnon-designerbabies in society. The best of the best of students or professors are tenure for titles, scholarships, and many other advantages that are now, thanks to designer babies, reducing the opportunities or even unavailable to the others. There is also a negative consequence for the job-seekers, the ‘designer’ babies would outcompete someone who is not designed, causing the “non-designer” children to miss opportunities because employers most likely will hire the “optimum” candidates. Finally could create prejudice between “Designer” and “non-designer” children in the society, humans should have to be equal to one another. If this technology continually developed, individuality will be slighted, everyone will be relatively similar because most people had these optimum characteristics.

Being able to see whether or not a child has a genetic disease, and also working on fixing certain degenerative diseases through genetic alterations would give the parents time to prepare for the road ahead. However, when those same doctors start saying that with an extra paying, customers can change the sex of their child, people began questioning the business. The wealthy would be the first adopters of the technology, the process is not cheap that not everyone would be able to afford such innovation, thus creating an even wider gap between the have and have-nots. The parents who cannot afford might cause guilty for their children.

According to ASRM, only 24% of the time the genetically modify process is successful. If it is not done carefully, the embryo could be accidentally terminated. 10-24 embryos are taken from the owner at one time and experimented on but only one is selected to be implanted, and the others are immediately discarded. In this condition, that’s a range of 9- 23 abortions, all for one “perfect” baby, no woman should have the right to selective abortion. Only 24% of are successful given the desired results, which leave 76% of mistakes and unsuccessful results. Is this 24% chance of a healthy baby worth the risk?

Besides, the technology has not been proven 100% completely safe, for the embryo or the mother, it contained scientific uncertainty as the technology is only in the experimental stages at this phase. It still cannot be confirmed that whether genetically modifying the babies will affect the gene pool which might cause difficulties later on throughout the baby’s family tree. Some other concern are that genetic modification induces gene at random places in the genome. It could just disrupt the function of another genome crucial for survival. Many gene have more than one affect that can be affected by pre-implantation. Multiple gene influence many of the trait that we may want to select, we are unlikely to find single gene responsible for a certain function such as IQ. For example, a gene that controls intelligence could also control anger management, so you could end up with a genius, but very angry child. This new technology create a way to prevent the disease, most of also replacing certain gene while the other being enhancement of certain more desirable trait. Some argument against designer babies conclude that genetic enhancement connect too close with eugenics program promoted by NAZI in the world war two.

Another complaint about Designer babies is they are not naturally born which mean that that is not the way a child was made. Many people see genetic altering as morally wrong because they explain it as not accepting your child the way he or she was. If the child found out that their parents picked out how they look or act, it might cause conflict between the child and parents. For example, parents had picked traits to make their child possess athletic abilities and the child does not make it onto the soccer team when they had grew up, it might set the parents up for disappointment with the fact that they paid for a trait that “didn’t pay off” and also lead to the child being hurt.

The above issue is related to human right. The designer baby cannot consent to having his/her body altered, therefore some do not believe it is right because parents do not “own” their children. Adults have the fundamental freedom to choose whether or not they want to do that with their bodies, as long as it does not hurt others, but children are children. The issue of parental responsibilities and rights associated with decisions to enhance children is concerned, whether directly after the child is born or indirectly through germ-line enhancements. If parents decide to enhance children through genetic modification, it is said that they have already been making a crucial decision about the capabilities of their children that may be irreversible and limit their children’s future choices and opportunities. Will the child agree with the choices of what their parents had chosen for them when he or she is older?

Even though there are many issues of if genetically modifying babies is ethical and for the moral reason, there are several positives to this type of technology. Since this treatment has been established, some people might use this process to have children that will be an exact match to an older sibling who is terminally ill and by this way it can provide the opportunity for saving someone’s life because he or she received organs, blood, bone marrow and other such body parts.

Parents have the “right” reasons to genetically modify their baby to eliminate mitochondrial disorders, prevent genetic diseases such as Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Alzheimer’s, and many others or reduces risk of inherited medical conditions such as anemia, cancer, diabetes and etc which allows their child having a healthy life as well as increasing their children life span up to 30 years. Additionally, the scientists can help infertile women to give birth using in-vitro fertilization. It gave the higher chances of success when comparing with natural conception. Government does not have the right to control means of citizens’ reproduction and the right to prohibit giving the child genes that the parent does not carry, creating a quick adaptation to any environment.

Although not all the kinks in this novel developing technology are fixed, with more clinical trials and experimentation, it has the potential to be a very promising to provide a better understanding of genetics for genealogists and biologists. Hence, the ethical viewpoints should not cease the advancement of technology.

In my opinion, according to my study about the ethics of human enhancement, designer babies is one of the best thing that children are enhanced with particular abilities or appearance prior to their birth. I knew that with the advancements of all scientific and technological, there is always exist of ethical questions behind the hopes for these procedures, but we should keep up with modern technologies. Human enhancement projects help thousands or even millions of people to live better.


  1. Barnard, E., Schrading, J., Fluornoy, K. and Brown, I. (2013) The Ethics of “Designer Babies”. [Online]. Available at: // [Accessed 3 April 2015].
  2. Bostrom, N. & Savulescu, J. (2008) Human Enhancement Ethics: The State of the Debate. [Online]. UK: Oxford University Press. Available at: //[Accessed 3 April 2015].
  3. Giubilini, A. & Sanyal, S. (2015) THE ETHICS OF HUMAN ENHANCEMENT. [Online]. Available at: // [Accessed 3 April 2015].
  4. Lin, P. & Allhoff, F. (2008) NanoEthics. Untangling the Debate: The Ethics of Human Enhancement. 2(3), pp. 251-264. Available at: Springer Netherlands, DOI 10.1007/s11569-008-0046-7 [Accessed 3 April 2015].
  5. Ryberg, J. et al. (2008) New Waves in Applied Ethics. Ethical Issues in Human Enhancement. [Online]. UK: Palgrave Schol. Available at: // [Accessed 3 April 2015].

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