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Enhancing Human Traits: Ethical and Social Implications
  1. Priscilla Alderson
  1. Institute of Education, University of London

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    Edited by Erik Parens, Washington DC, Georgetown University Press, 1998, 268 pages, £38.95 (hb), US$49.95.

    This book on technologies aimed at enhancing human traits was written by people working in philosophy, ethics, theology, women's studies, literary analysis, medicine, law and public policy; the contributors had several meetings to discuss the book. The authors aim “to enable readers to begin to grapple with related conceptual and ethical issues”. The verb “enhance” begs the question that the activities concerned are desirable and beneficial, as the authors admit when they question which traits might be altered and how, and what benefits or disadvantages might follow. They conclude that the value of traits partly depends on their context. Some people like to be tall and others do not, some societies reward tall people, and medical growth treatments can reflect and reinforce these public values. The authors debate whether one future effect of “enhancements” through surgery, psychopharmacology and genetic modifications will be to increase differences between the rich elite, who engage in ultimately futile competitions to be, for example, ever taller, and everyone else.

    The authors distinguish between …

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