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A Not-So-New Eugenics: Harris and Savulescu on Human Enhancement John Harris and Julian Savulescu, leading figures in the “new” eugenics, argue that parents are obligated to enhance their children. But followed to its natural conclusions, this position looks a lot like the old eugenics.

As Nick Agar noted in the pages of this journal in 2007, there now exists a significant body of work in bioethics that argues in favor of enhancing human beings. Writers including Gregory Stock, Lee Silver, Nick Bostrom, Julian Savulescu, John Harris, Ronald Green, Jonathan Glover, and Agar himself have suggested that there is little reason to fear the scientific application of genetic technologies to human beings, as long as the choice of whether—and how—to use them is left up to individuals. They argue that a “new” or “liberal” eugenics, which would be pluralistic, based on good science, concerned with the welfare of individuals, and would respect the rights of individuals, should be distinguished from the “old” eugenics, which was perfectionist, unscientific, concerned with the health of the “race,” and coercive. According to the advocates of the new eugenics, the horrors associated with the old eugenics should not prevent us from embracing the opportunities offered by recent advances in the biological sciences.

Two of these writers in particular, John Harris and Julian Savulescu, have independently advanced the argument for human enhancement with especial fervor in their recent works. Harris argues that a proper concern for the welfare of future human beings implies that we are morally obligated to pursue enhancements, and Savulescu has argued that we are morally obligated to use genetic (and other) technologies to produce the best children possible—a strong claim indeed!

I hope that they are wrong about the existence of this obligation. But my purpose in this article is to argue if we have such an obligation, then its implications are much more radical than they admit.

As Nick Agar noted in the pages of this journal in 2007, there now exists a significant body of work in bioethics that argues in favor of enhancing human beings. Writers including Gregory Stock, Lee Silver, Nick Bostrom, Julian Savulescu, John Harris, Ronald Green, Jonathan Glover, and Agar himself have suggested that there is little reason to fear the scientific application of genetic technologies to human beings, as long as the choice of whether—and how—to use them is left up to individuals. They argue that a “new” or “liberal” eugenics, which would be pluralistic, based on good science, concerned with the welfare of individuals, and would respect the rights of individuals, should be distinguished from the “old” eugenics, which was perfectionist, unscientific, concerned with the health of the “race,” and coercive. According to the advocates of the new eugenics, the horrors associated with the old eugenics should not prevent us from embracing the opportunities offered by recent advances in the biological sciences.

Two of these writers in particular, John Harris and Julian Savulescu, have independently advanced the argument for human enhancement with especial fervor in their recent works. Harris argues that a proper concern for the welfare of future human beings implies that we are morally obligated to pursue enhancements, and Savulescu has argued that we are morally obligated to use genetic (and other) technologies to produce the best children possible—a strong claim indeed!

I hope that they are wrong about the existence of this obligation. But my purpose in this article is to argue if we have such an obligation, then its implications are much more radical than they admit.

Robert Sparrow, "A Not-So-New Eugenics: Harris and Savulescu on Human Enhancement," Hastings Center Report 41, no. 1 (2011): 32-42.