Utopian Eugenics

The policy options cited above would come under the rubric of Utopian eugenics, a phrase introduced by Philip Kitcher. That phrase is intended to suggest the desirability of a society pursuing a range of eugenic goals within the constraints of a liberal pluralistic political framework. Broad public genetic education and public support for access to genetic testing would increase the capacity of individuals to make autonomous eugenic choices regarding their own children in the light of their deepest values. Such public support also would demonstrate responsible but noncoercive regard for the well-being of future children who otherwise would be vulnerable to the profoundly harmful vagaries of the genetic lottery.

The word harm merits special emphasis in understanding the thrust of utopian eugenics. Kitcher and others are morally and politically comfortable with eugenic policies aimed at giving parents tools for preventing substantial genetic harm to their future children. However, many people (Parens) are less comfortable with eugenic interventions aimed at enhancing the genetic endowment of future children. This raises two questions, one moral and the other conceptual: Is there a significant moral difference between genetic interventions aimed at minimizing genetic harm and genetic interventions aimed at enhancing traits? Can a sharp conceptual distinction be drawn between what are called genetic harms and what are called genetic enhancements? These questions are discussed and analyzed thoroughly, along with their practical implications, by Allen Buchanan and coauthors.

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