Can Enhancement Be Distinguished from Prevention in Genetic Medicine?

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 22 (2):125-142 (1997)
  Copy   BIBTEX


In discussions of the ethics of human gene therapy, it has become standard to draw a distinction between the use of human gene transfer techniques to treat health problems and their use to enhance or improve normal human traits. Some dispute the normative force of this distinction by arguing that it is undercut by the legitimate medical use of human gene transfer techniques to prevent disease - such as genetic engineering to bolster immune function, improve the efficiency of DNA repair, or add cellular receptors to capture and process cholesterol. If disease prevention is a proper goal of medicine, these critics argue, and the use of gene transfer techniques to enhance human health maintenance capacities will help achieve that goal, then the “treatment/enhancement‘ distinction cannot define the limits of legitimate gene therapy. In this paper, I argue that a line can be drawn between prevention and enhancement for gene therapy (and thus between properly medical and nonmedical uses of gene therapy), but only if one is willing to accept two rather old-fashioned claims: 1) Some health problems are best understood as if they were entities in their own right, reifiable as processes or parts in a biological system, with at least as much ontological objectivity and theoretical significance as the functions that they inhibit. 2) Legitimate preventive genetic health care should be limited to efforts to defend people from attack by these more robust pathological entities, rather than changing their bodies to evade social injustices



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 86,213

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Human Gene therapy: Why draw a line?W. French Anderson - 1989 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 14 (6):681-693.
Human Gene therapy: Scientific and ethical considerations.W. French Anderson - 1985 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 10 (3):275-292.
Debunking the slippery slope argument against human germ-line Gene therapy.David Resnik - 1994 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 19 (1):23-40.
Can human genetic enhancement be prohibited?William Gardner - 1995 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 20 (1):65-84.
Should we change the human genome?Torbjörn Tännsjö - 1993 - Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 14 (3).
Gene Doping and the Responsibility of Bioethicists.Ashkan Atry, Mats G. Hansson & Ulrik Kihlbom - 2011 - Sport, Ethics and Philosophy 5 (2):149 - 160.
Ethical issues in human enhancement.Nick Bostrom & Rebecca Roache - 2007 - In J. Ryberg, T. Petersen & C. Wolf (eds.), New Waves in Applied Ethics. Palgrave-Macmillan. pp. 120--152.
Genetic Justice Must Track Genetic Complexity.Colin Farrelly - 2008 - Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 17 (1):45-53.


Added to PP

110 (#137,137)

6 months
9 (#118,645)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Citations of this work

Revising, Correcting, and Transferring Genes.Bryan Cwik - 2020 - American Journal of Bioethics 20 (8):7-18.
Moving Beyond ‘Therapy’ and ‘Enhancement’ in the Ethics of Gene Editing.Bryan Cwik - 2019 - Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 28 (4):695-707.
Germ-line genetic enhancement and Rawlsian primary goods.Fritz Allhoff - 2005 - Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 15 (1):39-56.

View all 39 citations / Add more citations

References found in this work

Health as a theoretical concept.Christopher Boorse - 1977 - Philosophy of Science 44 (4):542-573.
Just Health Care.Norman Daniels - 1985 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
The Foundations of Bioethics.H. T. Engelhardt - 1986 - Ethics 98 (2):402-405.

View all 14 references / Add more references