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Possible people, complaints, and the distinction between genetic planning and genetic engineering
  1. James J Delaney
  1. Correspondence to Dr James J Delaney, Department of Philosophy, Niagara University, Third Floor Dunleavy Hall, New York, NY 14109, USA; jdelaney{at}


Advances in the understanding of genetics have led to the belief that it may become possible to use genetic engineering to manipulate the DNA of humans at the embryonic stage to produce certain desirable traits. Although this currently cannot be done on a large scale, many people nevertheless object in principle to such practices. Most often, they argue that genetic enhancements would harm the children who were engineered, cause societal harms, or that the risks of perfecting the procedures are too high to proceed. However, many of these same people do not have serious objections to what is called ‘genetic planning’ procedures (such as the selection of sperm donors with desirable traits) that essentially have the same ends. The author calls the view that genetic engineering enhancements are impermissible while genetic planning enhancements are permissible the ‘popular view’, and argues that the typical reasons people give for the popular view fail to distinguish the two practices. This paper provides a principle that can salvage the popular view, which stresses that offspring from genetic engineering practices have grounds for complaint because they are identical to the pre-enhanced embryo, whereas offspring who are the result of genetic planning have no such grounds.

  • embryos and fetuses
  • enhancement
  • philosophical ethics

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  • Competing interests None.

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

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