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Bioethics and enhancement – an interview with Julian Savulescu

Interview by Olga Campos, Mª Ángeles Arráez, Miguel Moreno, Francisco Lara,
Pedro Francés, and Javier Rodríguez Alcázar in Dilemata No 3 2010

Your argument for a moral obligation to use new biotechnology to have the best children is founded on the best life (understood as the life with the most well-being) expected for them. Is then your theory utilitarian?

Utilitarians would embrace it but it is not intended to be nor derived from uti-litarianism. It is meant fall out of basic rational choice. If you are only going to have one child now, you should choose the better child, rather than leaving it to chance, just because it is better. You might have other reasons which outweigh this reason based on its value, but that is typical of all life choices. The point is that you have a good reason to choose it and absent some other reason, like health risk to you, cost to society, then you should choose the better child. This argument is not based on controversial values or theories but just on our existing approaches and attitudes to having children.

Parfit gave a similar argument many years ago in Reasons and Persons. I have merely extended it to reproductive technologies.

I think this is just a basic principle of rational choice applied to reproduction. What surprises me is how much resistance there is, that people really think you should toss a coin when you have information about which embryo is better. Embryologists of course do this when they look at embryos and try to pick the one which looks best. But why do we resist it? There are of course many reasons, but I have argued they are bad reasons.

It is normal that parents look for the best schools, training activities and diets to make their children better people and increase their opportunities in life. However, why do you think that people do not accept so easily the improvement of our children through biological interventions?

The reason may be it acknowledges profound and substantial biological inequa-lity. People want to believe that everyone could do equally well, if only society was ordered in the right way and everyone tried as hard. That is just false. People hate the idea that some people are inherently more gifted or have a more advantageous intrinsic nature. They want to believe that, while some people might discover relativity or win the 100 m race, their lives could go just as well. That is largely false. Some people will face significant internal obstacles to having a substantially good life. That is hard to face. Like death.

What are the main differences between your view about human beings enhancement and the ideas of the eugenics movements in the first half of twentieth century?

The eugenics movement of last century was coercive – it forced people to be sterilised or be killed. It was not for the benefit of the individuals it was practised upon but to realise often racist, social Darwinist ideals of society. I believe enhancement and genetic selection should be offered to people, for the benefit of them or their children (not primarily society), that its goal should be enhancing their well-being (not some state goal), and they should be free to refuse those interventions.

For full interview see Dilemata

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