Good parents would not fulfil their obligation to genetically enhance their unborn children

Journal of Medical Ethics 37 (10):606-610 (2011)
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The purpose of this paper is to unveil the incompleteness of John Harris' view that parents have a moral obligation to genetically enhance their unborn children. Specifically, here two main conclusions are proposed: (1) at present there exist insufficient empirical data for determining whether prenatal genetic enhancement (PGE) is a moral obligation on prospective parents. Although the purpose of PGE research would be to determine the extent to which PGE is safe and effective, the task of determining the veracity of Harris' premises is impossible to achieve without begging the question; we would be forced to assume the moral permissibility of PGE in order to generate the data that are required for determining its moral standing. So, given this empirical blindness, consequence-based normative frameworks like that of Harris cannot determine the moral standing of PGE, but merely push the question of the moral standing of PGE back a step, without offering any plausible and morally endorsable recourse for how to answer it; (2) even if PGE research were legal, which it is not, parents nevertheless have good reason not to consent to it for their children, especially as participants in the first wave(s) of such research

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Ryan Tonkens
Dalhousie University


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