FYS-130 Designer Genes and the Ethics of Human Enhancement

Instructor: Chairperson/Professor Daniel R. DeNicola
Department: Philosophy

Course Description:
Gene therapy, trait selection for babies, cloning, genetic engineering, bionic implants and drugs that improve physical and mental capabilities—the “biological revolution” has offered us many promising techniques for human enhancement. But we are uneasy: although preventing debilitating conditions and making “better” people seems attractive, the prospect of either a centralized eugenics program or unregulated individualized “enhancement” is frightening. We face, fearfully or hopefully, the possibility of altering the human race. Is human life to be a project, a purchase—or a gift? This seminar explores the ethical issues raised by the possibility of enhancing individuals and, ultimately, altering human nature itself. Our reactions are influenced by the values of science, medicine, business, and religion; we respond to the images of science fiction, the convenience of technology, and the impact of personal experience. Considering both individual cases and practices, we will apply traditional moral values like respect for human life and justice. But we will also examine ways in which these revolutionary practices challenge these values, as we move from chance to choice, from “the natural lottery” to decision-making, and gain unprecedented responsibilities for a wider range of control over the sort of human beings who will have control.