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Case against Perfection: Ethics in the Age…

Case against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering (edition 2009)

by M Sandel

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Title:Case against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering
Authors:M Sandel
Info:Harvard University Press (2009), Edition: 1, Paperback, 176 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Case against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering by Michael J. Sandel



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In this little volume, Michael Sandel, Professor of Government at Harvard, discusses the ethical arguments surrounding genetic engineering. Is it OK to "cure" genetic diseases? What about enhancing IQ, artistic or athletic ability, overall health? What are the arguments for and against "designer children"? Is eugenics OK as long as it's voluntary? What about embryonic stem cell research? Sandel raises these questions and presents the arguments pro and con in a very readable and thought-provoking way. ( )
  RebaRelishesReading | Sep 17, 2013 |
[This is a review that I wrote and posted on my blog: http://nat99.blogspot.com/ ]

Reckless hubris on the road to “perfection”

This little book does a nice job of laying out many of the arguments that support genetic “enhancement” and then takes them apart piece by piece from a philosophical perspective. But unfortunately, Sandel neglects to highlight some of the strongest arguments against such offspring-engineering:

Designing one’s offspring for “success” makes assumptions about what “success” entails. The unwritten subtext is usually “financial success,” but is it the parent’s job to build cogs for the empire? Is it one’s destiny and obligation to function in as utilitarian a manner as possible? Does this not make a mockery of “the pursuit of happiness”? Can the happiness of one ever be defined by another?

How can autonomy not be lost when one person overlays their values onto another? Sandel discounts the argument that such bioengineering takes autonomy from its object, but in deciding what features to “enhance” in the building of another person, value judgments are inescapable, and making such choices on behalf of another is by definition a violation of that other’s autonomy. What gives anyone the right to instill math and engineering skills into someone whose temperament better suits them for life as a poet or naturalist? Or even to add height to one who might have been more physically coordinated at their natural height?

Is there an implicit ownership of the subject of one’s design? What happens when an offspring subsequently does not meet the parent’s expectations “after all we spent on designing you”?

Will a child have recourse against “parental malpractice”? If the parent’s choices result in harm, or a parent is negligent in opting for available enhancements, will the child be allowed to seek damages?

Changes in a single gene will have multiple effects via such genetic mechanisms as pleiotropy and epistasis, and these secondary effects can be impossible to predict. For example, what if an increase in growth hormone intended to increase the height of one’s child also shortens their lifespan by five years, or increases their odds of developing cancer, or decreases their IQ by 5 percent? Is there any way to discover all possible outcomes, and would the parent have the right to discount such downsides as being of negligible import? Or, what if a genetic manipulation intended to improve an offspring’s math ability resulted in a 5 percent increase in the chances of the child becoming schizophrenic, or dyslexic, or less attractive? Is the parent morally justified in taking the inevitable risks of their intended enhancement creating unforeseen deficits of any sort?

There is a lesson to be taken from our experience with the unintended consequences that have been observed in the development of our chemical industry; we would be well-advised to comprehend that mucking about in genomes has the potential for unintended consequences exceeding those created by the chemists by many orders of magnitude. Do we really want to bestow that legacy onto the generations that follow us, as we selfishly try to give our own children a leg up in the competition they will face? Do we really believe ourselves to be competent “designers”? ( )
  asiago | Apr 6, 2008 |

Excerpt of my review:

The technology of genetic engineering is one cultural location where the politics of reproductive freedom and disability rights come together. These are not the only issues, or the only place these two interests intersect, but it is probably the most culturally compelling in our time.
  thegimpparade | Dec 12, 2007 |
This book had great potential and started off so well.... but never really lived up to its promise. Although the author raised many interesting points about genetic manipulation and the ethics about selecting for short term improvements, it felt like he never really got into the heart of the matter. At first I thought this was because of the brevity of the book, but Sandel managed to get into much meatier levels of dicussion in an appended chapter on stem cell research. It really felt like this book only skimmed the surface of the arguments about genetic engineering. That's probably fine for a lot of people but I was hoping for a dramatic dive into the centre rather than a surface level discussion.

If you'd like to get a flavour of the book, check out a shorter article written by Sandel on this topic at http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/medical_ethics/me0056.html ( )
  We_Recommend | Nov 17, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 067401927X, Hardcover)

Listen to a short interview with Michael Sandel
Host: Chris Gondek | Producer: Heron & Crane

Breakthroughs in genetics present us with a promise and a predicament. The promise is that we will soon be able to treat and prevent a host of debilitating diseases. The predicament is that our newfound genetic knowledge may enable us to manipulate our nature--to enhance our genetic traits and those of our children. Although most people find at least some forms of genetic engineering disquieting, it is not easy to articulate why. What is wrong with re-engineering our nature?

The Case against Perfection explores these and other moral quandaries connected with the quest to perfect ourselves and our children. Michael Sandel argues that the pursuit of perfection is flawed for reasons that go beyond safety and fairness. The drive to enhance human nature through genetic technologies is objectionable because it represents a bid for mastery and dominion that fails to appreciate the gifted character of human powers and achievements. Carrying us beyond familiar terms of political discourse, this book contends that the genetic revolution will change the way philosophers discuss ethics and will force spiritual questions back onto the political agenda.

In order to grapple with the ethics of enhancement, we need to confront questions largely lost from view in the modern world. Since these questions verge on theology, modern philosophers and political theorists tend to shrink from them. But our new powers of biotechnology make these questions unavoidable. Addressing them is the task of this book, by one of America's preeminent moral and political thinkers.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:23 -0400)

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