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Is It Ethical to Use Enhancement Technologies to Make Us Better than Well?

  • Arthur Caplan,
  • Carl Elliott
  • Published: December 28, 2004
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0010052

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Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:47-49)

Posted by plosmedicine on 30 Mar 2009 at 23:38 GMT

Position: MD
Institution: Centre for Science, Society and Citizenship
Submitted Date: December 28, 2004
Published Date: January 5, 2005
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

Caplan's argument is stringent. Little doubts that "If people want to feel better, sleep less, have fewer hot flashes, better vision, or fewer wrinkles, then they may want to use enhancement technologies to achieve these things." Elliot's point is as weak as he is obliged to use eventually the rhetoric expedient of making an appeal to a principle of distributive justice to demonstrate that "enhancement technologies" are unethical. This is definitely weak, because if enhancement technologies were unethical, they should be unethical even in a just world. Thus is Caplan right? No, I argue that Caplan is wrong but for different reasons. The ideal of perfection - to perfect herself - is inherently human so the quest for improvement is part of our live. But we need to clarify what perfecting means. Here the ethical issue arises. Caplan shows us some answers that contemporary western societies usually give (to feel better, sleep less, have fewer wrinkles, etc.). These answers -correctly notes Elliot - are the answers provided by pharmaceutical companies. They should not be taken as granted because they are shaped by financial interests - Elliot argues. Yet they could be also true, at least they could meet some true needs. Also religions, philosophies and ideologies have always attempted to improve human life, but not all their answers are acceptable, even if most of these answers probably meet some "true needs". But how can one decide what is a "true need"? Do "true needs", or primary needs, exist or all needs are derived and culturally constructed? Brief, do we want to start discussing of different value systems that are behind different theories of human needs (and thus different explanations of "perfection") or do we prefer debating if people want to have more or fewer wrinkles?

Competing interests declared: I declare that I have no competing interests."