Human Enhancement: Enhancing Health or Harnessing Happiness?

Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 16 (1):87-98 (2019)
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Human enhancement is ontologically, epistemologically, and ethically challenging and has stirred a wide range of scholarly and public debates. This article focuses on some conceptual issues with HE that have important ethical implications. In particular it scrutinizes how the concept of human enhancement relates to and challenges the concept of health. In order to do so, it addresses three specific questions: Q1. What do conceptions of HE say about health? Q2. Does HE challenge traditional conceptions of health? Q3. Do concepts of health set limits to or direct HE? Addressing Q1 reveals that HE tends to frame and form our conception of health. Thereby it challenges traditional conceptions of health. Accordingly, health does not provide strong sources for setting limits to HE. On the contrary HE seems to define and expand the concept of health. Common to the concepts of HE and health is that both depend on vague value concepts, such as happiness, well-being, or goodness. There seems to be a tendency in the HE literature to define the goal of human life in terms of what is bigger, stronger, faster, more intelligent, and more resilient. However, this is confusing “goodness” with “more” and quality with quantity. Until HE more appropriately defines happiness, HE will fail to provide a relevant compass for improving the life of human beings. On the contrary, if we let simplified conceptions of “enhancement” come to define goodness or health, we may do more harm than good. Until doing so, we may well learn from Tithonus, listen to Douglas Adams’ Wowbagger, and pay attention to Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Enhanced life may not be better. The same goes for health.



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