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Genome Editing for Involuntary Moral Enhancement

  • VOJIN RAKIĆ

Abstract:

During the previous years, voluntary moral bioenhancement (VMBE) has been contrasted to compulsory moral bioenhancement (CMBE). In this paper a third possible type of moral bioenhancement is discussed: genome editing for moral enhancement of the unborn that is neither voluntary nor compulsory, but involuntary. Involuntary moral bioenhancement (IMBE) might engineer people who will be more moral than they otherwise would have been. The possibilities of genome editing aimed at moral enhancement of our offspring is assessed. It is argued that genome editing might have the potential to engineer our offspring in three domains: to be more empathetic, to be less violently aggressive, and to have a higher potential for complex moral reflection. Genome editing is discussed in these three domains, and a proposal made that a combination of VMBE and IMBE might be the best option humans have to become better.

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This article has been supported by project # 41004 of the Serbian Ministry of Education, Sports and Technological Development.

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Notes

1. Chakrabarti, B, Dudbridge, F, Kent, L, Wheelwright, S, Hill-Cawthorne, G, Allison, C. Genes related to sex-steroids, neural growth and social-emotional behaviour are associated with autistic traits, empathy and Asperger syndrome. Autism Research 2009; available at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aur.80 (last accessed 13 July 2018).

2. Warrier, V, Grasby, LK, Uzefovsky, F, Toro, R, Smith, P, Chakrabarti, B, et al. Genome-wide meta-analysis of cognitive empathy: Heritability, and correlates with sex, neuropsychiatric conditions and cognition. Molecular Psychiatry 2018;23(6):1402–409.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Caspi, A, McClay, J, Moffitt, T, Mill, J, Martin, J, Craig, I, et al. Role of genotype in the cycle of violence in maltreated children. Science 2002;297:851–4.

7. Bradley, BB. Can your genes make you a murderer? Morning Edition. National Public Radio; 2010; available at https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128043329 (last accessed 9 Nov 2017).

8. See Bhavsar, NC. Futurism. Gene Editing Could Make You Smarter; available at https://futurism.com/is-genetically-improved-intelligence-possible/ (last accessed 14 Nov 2017).

9. See Hill WD, Arslan RC, Xia C, Luciano M, Amador C, Navarro P, et al. BioRxiv. Genomic Analysis of Family Data Reveals Additional Genetic Effects on Intelligence and Personality; available at https://www.biorxiv.org/content/early/2017/06/05/106203.full.pdf+html (last accessed 14 Nov 2017) and Page LM. New Scientist. DNA Variants That Are Bad for Health May Also Make You Stupid; available at https://www.newscientist.com/article/2137926-dna-variants-that-are-bad-for-health-may-also-make-you-stupid/?cn=bWVudGlvbg%3D%3D (last accessed 14 Nov 2017).

10. Persson, I, Savulescu, J. The perils of cognitive enhancement and the urgent imperative to enhance the moral character of humanity. Journal of Applied Philosophy 2008;25:162–77, at 74.

11. Persson, I, Savulescu, J. The turn for ultimate harm: A reply to Fenton. Journal of Medical Ethics 2011; 27(7):441–4.

12. See note 10, Persson I, Savulescu J, at 174.

13. Savulescu, J, Persson, I. Moral enhancement, freedom and the God machine. The Monist 2012;95(3):399421.

14. Ibid.

15. For arguments advocating the notion that decisions might take place before we become aware of them, see Libet B, Gleason C, Wright E, Pearl D. Time of conscious intention to act in relation to onset of cerebral activity (readiness-potential). The unconscious initiation of a freely voluntary act. Brain 1983;106:623–42. This finding is sometimes used as an argument against the existence of a free will.

16. Persson, I, Savulescu, J. The perils of cognitive enhancement and the urgent imperative to enhance the moral character of humanity. Journal of Applied Philosophy 2008;25:162–77, at 74.

17. “Practical” is used here as an antonym of “theoretical.” The meaning of “practically superfluous” comes close to “functionally superfluous.” It denotes something that is inoperative.

18. Rakić, V. Compulsory administration of oxytocin does not result in genuine moral enhancement. Medicine Health Care and Philosophy 2017;20(3):291–97. Rakić, V. Moral bioenhancement and free will: Continuing the debate. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2017;26(3):384–93.

19. Douglas, T. Moral enhancement. Journal of Applied Philosophy 2008;25(3):228–45, at 229.

20. Ibid., at 231.

21. The gap between how we believe we ought to act (moral cognition) and how we actually act (moral behavior) I called the “comprehension-motivation gap” (see Rakić V. The issues of freedom and happiness in moral bioenhancement: Continuing the debate with a reply to Harris Wiseman. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 2017;14(4):469–74.

22. For Douglas’ reply to John Harris, see Douglas, T. Moral enhancement via direct emotion modulation: A reply to John Harris. Bioethics 2013;27(3):160–8.

23. Harris, J. Moral enhancement and freedom. Bioethics 2010;25(2):102–11.

24. VMBE also affects our freedom, but in ways that still permit us to take credit for moral choices. Some choices available to people in advance of VMBE might be unavailable after they embark upon VMBE, but these people still deserve credit. Their position is in a certain sense analogous to that of alcoholics who decide to destroy all alcohol in their home. After they remove alcoholic beverages and can no longer choose to drink they do not deserve credit for no longer drinking; however, they do deserve credit for deciding to make it impossible to drink. I am thankful to Nick Agar for making this analogy.

25. Rakić, V. Voluntary moral enhancement and the survival-at-any-cost bias. Journal of Medical Ethics 2014;40(4):246–50.

26. Rakić, V. Compulsory administration of oxytocin does not result in genuine moral enhancement. Medicine Health Care and Philosophy 2017;20(3):291–97; Rakić, V. Moral bioenhancement and free will: Continuing the debate. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2017;26(3):384–93; Rakić, V, Wiseman, H. Different games of moral bioenhancement. Bioethics 2018;31(2):103–10.

27. Rakić, V. Moral Bioenhancement and Free Will: Continuing the Debate. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2017;26(3):384–93

28. Rakić, V. Compulsory administration of oxytocin does not result in genuine moral enhancement. Medicine Health Care and Philosophy 2017;20(3):291–7; Rakić, V, Wiseman, H. Different games of moral bioenhancement. Bioethics 2018;31(2):103–10.

29. Rakić, V, Wiseman, H. Different games of moral bioenhancement. Bioethics 2018;31(2):103–10; Rakić, V. The issues of freedom and happiness in moral bioenhancement: Continuing the debate with a reply to Harris Wiseman. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 2017;14(4):469–74.

30. The role of moral behavior (and MBE) in the enhancement of happiness can, to a certain extent, be in line with features 1 and 3 of the conception of morality that is being promoted by Persson and Savulescu. Happiness can be understood as a consequence of morally appropriate behavior (and MBE), while such behavior (and MBE) has an instrumental value for the enhancement of happiness. However, in the position of Persson and Savulescu is UH prevention that is designed to be a consequence of MBE, while MBE is an instrument leading to UH prevention.

31. Sheldon, MK, Lyubomirsky, S. Achieving sustainable new happiness: Prospects, practices, and prescriptions. In: Linley, A, Joseph, S, eds. Positive Psychology in Practice. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons; 2014:127–45; Dunn, EW, Aknin, LB, Norton, MI. Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science 2008;319:1687–8; Isen, AM, Levin, PF. Effect of feeling good on helping: Cookies and kindness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1972;21(3):384–8.

32. Rakić, V. The issues of freedom and happiness in moral bioenhancement: Continuing the debate with a reply to Harris Wiseman. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 2017;14(4):469–74.

33. It is possible to argue that the “bootstrapping problem” wouldn’t be entirely eliminated, as parents who would reject VMBE for themselves might be inclined to reject IMBE for their children, offering analogous reasons. My reply to this argument is that parents might be more willing to subject their future children to IMBE than to accept MBE for themselves—for two reasons. First, by employing IMBE they wouldn’t deprive their children of anything, including a free will or even the right to informed consent, because these children wouldn’t exist yet. Second, parents might have a very personal interest to have morally enhanced children: these children would presumably be more inclined to care for their parents in their old days than morally unenhanced children.

This article has been supported by project # 41004 of the Serbian Ministry of Education, Sports and Technological Development.

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Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
  • ISSN: 0963-1801
  • EISSN: 1469-2147
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-quarterly-of-healthcare-ethics
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