J Med Ethics 39:729-731 doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-100978
  • Commentary

What's wrong with enhancements?

  1. Larry S Temkin
  1. Correspondence to Professor Larry S Temkin, Department of Philosophy, Rutgers University, 1 Seminary Place, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-1107, USA; ltemkin{at}
  • Received 12 September 2012
  • Accepted 20 September 2012
  • Published Online First 9 November 2012


As I read Paula Casal's excellent paper, ‘Sexual Dimorphism and Human Enhancement,’1 three thoughts kept circulating through my mind. First, I found myself largely in agreement with virtually everything she wrote. In particular, if Casal was being accurate and fair in writing that ‘Robert Sparrow alleges that those who…advocate biomedical welfare enhancements are committed to selecting only female embryos because women live longer than men,’1 then she has given compelling reasons for believing that that claim is, on reflection, as ludicrous as it first sounds! In fact, I can think of many additional reasons to those which Casal forcefully adduced for rejecting the view in question, but I do not see the need to present them here, given the abundance of sufficiently compelling reasons Casal already presented.

Second, I confess that as I read Casal's article a strong feeling of shame washed over me in virtue of my being a man! Indeed, I found myself thinking that Jonathan Glover's important and chilling book Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century2 was misleadingly, and somewhat unfairly, titled. Heretofore, when I have read Glover's powerful book, which details many of the twentieth century's worst instances of large-scale crimes against humanity, I have often been overcome by a sense of shame of the actions of my species, homo sapiens; but Casal's article suggests that perhaps the scope of my shame has been too wide, and grossly unfair to the distaff members of our species! In the well-worked expression ‘man's inhumanity to man,’ the second use of the word ‘man’ undoubtedly extends to all humans, but the first use overwhelming (although not exclusively) picks out men insofar as it denotes the actual flesh and blood perpetrators of the horrific actions in question (as Glover himself notes2). Accordingly, perhaps a …

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