What drives public attitudes towards moral bioenhancement and why it matters: an exploratory study

BMC Medical Ethics 22 (1):1-14 (2021)
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Abstract

The paper represents an empirical study of public attitudes towards moral bioenhancement. Moral bioenhancement implies the improvement of moral dispositions, i.e. an increase in the moral value of the actions or character of a moral agent. The views of bioethicists and scientists on this topic are present in the ongoing debate, but not the view of the public in general. In order to bridge the gap between the philosophical debate and the view of the public, we have examined attitudes towards moral bioenhancement. The participants were people from Serbia older than 15, who voluntarily completed an online questionnaire. The questionnaire consisted of a brief introduction to moral bioenhancement, seven general questions, 25 statements about participants’ attitudes towards moral bioenhancement, and five examples of moral dilemmas. The questionnaire also included questions which were used to reveal their preference of either deontology, or utilitarianism. Participants were asked to what degree they agree or disagree with the statements. The results showed that the means used to achieve moral enhancement, the level of education, and preference for deontology or utilitarianism do have an impact on public attitudes. Using exploratory factor analysis, we isolated four factors that appear to drive the respondents' attitudes toward moral bioenhancement, we named: general—closeness, fear of change, security, and voluntariness. Each factor in relationship to other variables offers new insights that can inform policies and give us a deeper understanding of the public attitudes. We argue that looking into different facets of attitudes towards moral bioenhancement improves the debate, and expands it.

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