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Rationality and the Genetic Challenge Revisited




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1. Häyry, M. Rationality and the Genetic Challenge: Making People Better? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2010.

2. By “in a universal sense, to be preferred to all others” I mean that the theory or doctrine in question, or its specific application, would have to be accepted by all rational or reasonable decisionmakers in the specified, and relevantly similar, circumstances.

3. Árnason, V. Nonconfrontational rationality and critical reasoning: On Rationality and the Genetic Challenge by Matti Häyry. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2011;20:228–37.

4. Koch, T. Eugenics and the “genetic challenge,” again: All dressed up and just everywhere to go. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2011;20:191–203.

5. Solbakk, JH. Bays, beaches, and bioethical barkings. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2011;20:185–90.

6. Vilhjálmur Árnason (see note 3, Árnason 2011) thinks that he has identified a (bad) reason for my lackadaisical attitude concerning conflicting views: I have not, according to him, considered views that are extreme enough, and I have not, therefore, been forced to take sides. My problem with this comment is that some of the outlooks studied in the book are, seen from other angles, as extreme as they can be. To cite two examples, sanctity-of-life theorists argue that liberals defending destructive embryonic stem cell research are murderers, and liberals accuse, in this same context, sanctity-of-life theorists of deliberately allowing the deaths of people who could have been saved by future stem cell treatments. If murder and murderous negligence are not extreme, then I do not know what is.

7. The term “masculinist bioethics” is borrowed from Shildrick, M. The critical turn in feminist bioethics: The case of heart transplantation. International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics 2008;1:29–47.

8. See note 7, Shildrick 2008:30.

9. See note 4, Koch 2011.

10. Priaulx, N. Vorsprung durch Technik: On biotechnology, bioethics, and its beneficiaries. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2011;20:174–84.

11. In my preliminary studies, I did consider alternatives, including the impact of social factors and the history of eugenics, which were then left out of the book for presentational reasons; see, for example, Häyry, M. If you must make babies, then at least make the best babies you can? Human Fertility 2004;7:105–12; Häyry, M. The historical idea of a better race. Studies in Ethics, Law, and Technology 2008;2:Article 11; available at

12. That is, enough to show variety, which was the point of the exercise.

13. Once variety had been shown to prevail, there was no need to go further.

14. Learning about even more diverse views would have been interesting, but it would also have been time-consuming and unnecessary for the purposes of the book.

15. Jan Helge Solbakk (see note 4, Solbakk 2011) is worried about my cast being all white and all male. I have to confess that I did not consider the color of my authors’ skins at all. For all I knew, Green, Sandel, and Kass (whom I did not know beforehand) could have fallen into any category. As for the male dominance, I actively tried to seek female authors, and my short list included Onora O’Neill and Jennifer Jackson, representing the Kantian and Aristotelian angles, respectively (explicitly consequentialist women in the field are notably hard to find). In the end, I had to abandon these candidates, because I could not find enough information about their normative views on genetics, selection, cloning, and my other topics and because assuming their agendas would have meant starting both my research and my search for other authors from scratch.

16. See note 4, Koch 2011; see note 10, Priaulx 2011.

17. Camporesi, S, Maugeri, P. Gene enhancement in sports: The role of reason and private rationality in the public arena. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2011;20:248–57. Similar ideas are expressed in Coggon, J. Confrontations in “genethics”: Rationalities, challenges, and methodological responses. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2011;20:46–55.

18. See note 3, Árnason 2011; Buller, T, Bauer, S. Balancing procreative autonomy and parental responsibility. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2011;20:268–76;Green, RM. Confronting rationality. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2011;20:216–27;Gunson, D. Are all rational moralities equivalent? Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2011;20:238–47;Harris, J. The challenge of nonconfrontational ethics. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2011;20:204–15;Herissone-Kelly, P. Reasons, rationalities, and procreative beneficence: Need Häyry stand politely by while Savulescu and Herissone-Kelly disagree? Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2011;20:258–67.

19. See note 4, Koch 2011; see note 10, Priaulx 2011.

20. His article seems to indicate that he browsed through the first 40 pages, throwing intermittently the book across the room. The binding, reportedly, bent on the page 40 throw. See note 4, Koch 2011:195.

21. It is, for instance, hard to reconcile such a view with the following words: “To claim that any of the six scholars whom I have introduced is wrong in any absolute sense forms no part of my philosophical conclusions.” If none of the six scholars (including Habermas, Sandel, and Kass) is wrong, then none of them (including Glover and Harris) can be right, either, as the views are mutually exclusive and require, for their validity, the wrongness of their competitors. See note 1, Häyry 2010:40.

22. She refers to the book twice, on both occasions to page 3, and not in the most illuminating manner. See note 10, Priaulx 2011.

23. Takala, T. Human before sex? Ectogenesis as a way to equality. In: Simonstein, F, ed. Reprogen-Ethics and the Future of Gender. Dordrecht: Springer; 2009:187–95.

24. “Naturalistic fallacy” may (or may not) be intended.

25. See note 10, Priaulx 2011:181.

26. “Rationality” is the term that I use in the book to describe different (philosophical) ways of approaching ethical issues.

27. See note 17, Camporesi, Maugeri 2011.

28. See note 17, Camporesi, Maugeri 2011.

29. I have expressed my views on these in Häyry, M. A defense of ethical relativism. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2005;14:7–12.

30. See note 17, Camporesi, Maugeri 2011:254.

31. See note 17, Camporesi, Maugeri 2011:255. They cite Gutman, A, Thompson, D. Why Deliberative Democracy? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; 2004.

32. See note 17, Camporesi, Maugeri 2011.

33. See note 18, Green 2011.

34. See note 18, Green 2011.

35. See note 17, Coggon 2010.

36. See note 1, Häyry 2010:78–98.

37. See note 18, Harris 2011.

38. See note 18, Harris 2011.

39. Just for the record, though, he sometimes publicly calls himself a consequentialist. I remember one occasion during academic year 2004–2005 in our departmental seminar in Manchester when, responding to someone’s comments, Harris said: “I am not a utilitarian. I am a consequentialist.” Asked if he can be quoted saying this, he answered: “Of course.” Also, he has never complained about my description of him as a utilitarian of sorts in Häyry, M. What the fox would have said, had he been a hedgehog: On the methodology and normative approach of John Harris’s Wonderwoman and Superman. In: Launis, V, Pietarinen, J, Räikkä, J, eds. Genes and Morality: New Essays. Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi; 1999:11–9. Go figure.

40. See note 1, Häyry 2010:30–1.

41. See note 18, Harris 2011.

42. Harris, J. Is there a coherent social conception of disability? Journal of Medical Ethics 2000;26:95–100 at p. 100.

43. See note 42, Harris 2000:97.

44. See, however, below for the discussion on Harris’s “other view.”

45. See note 18, Harris 2011.

46. See note 1, Häyry 2010:166–8.

47. Harris, J. The Value of Life: An Introduction to Medical Ethics. London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul; 1985:15–9.

48. Harris, J. Wonderwoman and Superman: The Ethics of Human Biotechnology. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1992:177.

49. See, for example, note 48, Harris 1992:5.

50. See note 18, Harris 2011.

51. For my understanding of classical (and other types of) utilitarianism, see Häyry, M. Liberal Utilitarianism and Applied Ethics. London and New York: Routledge; 1994.

52. See note 18, Harris 2011; see note 48, Harris 1992:177.

53. See note 18, Harris 2011; see note 48, Harris 1992:177.

54. See note 18, Harris 2011:212.

55. See note 42, Harris 2000:96.

56. See note 42, Harris 2000:98.

57. As in the case he refers to in his commentary; see note 18, Harris 2011:207; cf. note 1, Häyry 2010:157 n. 36.

58. See note 18, Buller, Bauer 2011; Savulescu, J. Procreative beneficence: Why we should select the best children. Bioethics 2001;15:413–26.

59. I have challenged Savulescu’s view earlier; see note 11, Häyry 2004.

60. See note 18, Buller, Bauer, 2011.

61. The division into “restrictive,” “moderate,” and “permissive” introduced below is the one that I use in the book; see note 1, Häyry 2011:75.

62. See note 18, Herissone-Kelly 2011.

63. Herissone-Kelly, P. Procreative beneficence and the prospective parent. Journal of Medical Ethics 2006;32:166–9.

64. See note 1, Häyry 2010:70.

65. Dancy, J. Moral Reasons. Oxford: Blackwell; 1993.

66. See note 18, Herissone-Kelly 2011.

67. See note 3, Árnason 2011; Habermas, J. Justification and Application: Remarks on Discourse Ethics. Cronin, C, trans. Cambridge: Polity Press; 1993; Habermas, J. The Future of Human Nature. Regh, W, Pensky, M, Beister, H, trans. Cambridge: Polity Press; 2003.

68. See note 3, Árnason 2011:231.

69. See note 3, Árnason 2011:233.

70. See note 18, Gunson 2011:240.

71. See note 18, Gunson 2011.

72. Holm, S. Classification and normativity: Some thoughts on different ways of carving up the field of bioethics. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 2011;20:165–73.

73. Ross, WD. The Right and the Good. Stratton-Lake, P, ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2002 (orig. 1930).

74. Brownsword, R. Nanoethics: Old wine, new bottles? Journal of Consumer Policy 2009;32:355–79.

75. Holm (see note 72, Holm 2011) cites here Ashcroft, RE, Dawson, A, Draper, H, McMillan, JR, eds. Principles of Health Care Ethics. 2nd ed. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons; 2007.

76. See note 1, Häyry 2010:43–8.

77. See note 72, Holm 2011.

78. See note 72, Holm 2011.

79. See note 3, Árnason 2011:232.

80. See note 1, Häyry 2011:164.

81. McIntyre, A. Doctrine of double effect. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; 2004 [substantial revision 2009]; available

82. See note 51, Häyry 1994.

83. Häyry, M. A rational cure for prereproductive stress syndrome. Journal of Medical Ethics 2004;30:377–8; Häyry, M. A rational cure for prereproductive stress syndrome revisited. Journal of Medical Ethics 2005;31:606–7; Häyry, M. An analysis of some arguments for and against human reproduction. In: Häyry, M, Takala, T, Herissone-Kelly, P, Árnason, G, eds. Arguments and Analysis in Bioethics. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi; 2009:147–54.

84. The exact formulation is: “In retrospect, [Häyry’s] admirably liberal and humane, dare I say Enlightenment, version of utilitarianism of 1994 has now been fully driven out by a Schopenhauerian version of utilitarianism, in which the only reason not to annihilate the human race (and other sentient creatures) is that doing so coercively would create even more anguish, through the violation of autonomy and the frustration of certain basic, if irrational, needs.” Ashcroft, R. Is it irrational to have children? In: Takala, T, Herissone-Kelly, P, Holm, S, eds. Cutting Through the Surface: Philosophical Approaches to Bioethics. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi; 2009:183–95 at p. 186.

My thanks are due to John Coggon for guest editing the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics special issue on my Rationality and the Genetic Challenge: Making People Better? (CQ 20(2)), to Tuija Takala for overseeing the editorial process for the journal, to Peter Herissone-Kelly for checking my English, and for the colleagues who took the time to read the book and to offer comments on it. The research for this paper was conducted as a part of Improving Humanity? The Role of Rationality and Morality in the Regulation of Genetic and Medical Advances, my personal project at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies during 2009–2011, and The Human Body, Its Scope, Limits and Future, a Wellcome Strategic Programme at the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation (iSEI), University of Manchester. My thanks are due to these institutions for supporting my work.

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