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Enhancement and the Ethics of Development


Much of the debate about the ethics of enhancement has proceeded according to two framing assumptions. The first is that although enhancement carries large social risks, the chief benefits of enhancement are to those who are enhanced (or their parents, in the case of enhancing the traits of children). The second is that, because we now understand the wrongs of state-driven eugenics, enhancements, at least in liberal societies, will be personal goods, chosen or not chosen in a market for enhancement services. This article argues that both framing assumptions must be rejected, once it is understood that some enhancements— especially those that are most likely to garner resources and become widespread— will increase human productivity. Once one appreciates the productivity-increasing potential of enhancements, one can begin to see that enhancement need not be primarily a zero sum affair, that the social costs of forgoing enhancements may be great, and that the state may well take an interest in facilitating biomedical enhancements, just as it does in facilitating education and other productivity-increasing traditional enhancements. Appreciating the productivity-increasing potential of enhancements also makes it possible to view the enhancement debate in a new light, through the lens of the ethics of development.