Germ-line Enhancements, Inequalities and the (In)egalitarian Ethos

Studies in Ethics, Law, and Technology 4 (2) (2010)
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Abstract

In most discussions of the social justice implications of new genetic technologies, enhancements are considered to be highly contentious. This is particularly so when we speak of enhancements that benefit the recipient in positional terms and enhancements that are germ-line and which can be passed on to future generations. I argue that the egalitarian reluctance, as displayed by Max Mehlman, to permitting enhancements is overblown. Recent writings from Buchanan and Farrelly highlight a more positive, context-dependent, role for permitting the socio-economically advantaged the freedom to gain access to enhancements, including enhancements of traits associated with positional or competitive advantage. I argue that this reasoning also applies to germ-line enhancements or, at least, to 'effective germ-line enhancements.' In other words, I argue that such enhancements should be more seriously considered in terms of this positive context-dependent role. Nevertheless, this support is not unqualified. I critically re-examine concerns regarding the notion of the genetic underclass and I raise some worries about the possible adverse consequence of such a regulatory framework on sustaining the required egalitarian ethos. Importantly, such worries will be focused on the adverse effects of inequalities, rather than germ-line enhancements themselves.

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