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Genetic enhancements and expectations
  1. K Sorensen
  1. Kelly Sorensen, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, PO Box 1000, Ursinus College, Collegeville, Pennsylvania 19426, USA; ksorensen{at};


Some argue that genetic enhancements and environmental enhancements are not importantly different: environmental enhancements such as private schools and chess lessons are simply the old-school way to have a designer baby. I argue that there is an important distinction between the two practices—a distinction that makes state restrictions on genetic enhancements more justifiable than state restrictions on environmental enhancements. The difference is that parents have no settled expectations about genetic enhancements.

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  • Competing interests: None.

  • Provenance and Peer review: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • i Something like this argument seems implicit in Buchanan et al (2000).1 The authors have their own worries about this argument.

  • ii For a similar argument, see Buchanan et al (2000), pp159–161.1 I do think there is a better argument for an intrinsic different between the two types of intervention. There is a sense in which genetic interventions change the range of capabilities and attributes that an emerging individual might have in a way quite different from environmental interventions.

  • iii But see Leslie P Francis’s work on expectations.2 3 Although I concede in this paper that parental expectations about environmental interventions can be reasonable and morally weighty, Francis argues for more caution: parental expectations about private schools might be weak or negligible in light of the background injustice of great disparities in wealth and opportunity.

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