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Abstract

Positive assessments of moral enhancement too often isolate intuitive notions about its benefits apart from the relevance of surrounding society or civic institutions. If moral bioenhancement should benefit both oneself and others, it cannot be conducted apart from the enhancement of local social conditions, or the preparedness of civic institutions. Neither of those considerations has been adequately incorporated into typical neuroethical assessments of ambitious plans for moral bioenhancement. Enhancing a person to be far less aggressive and violent than an average person, what we label as “civil enhancement,” seems to be quite moral, yet its real-world social consequences are hardly predictable. A hypothetical case about how the criminal justice system would treat an offender who already received civil enhancement serves to illustrate how civic institutions are unprepared for moral enhancement.
December 2017 | Volume 2 | Article 211
PERSPECTIVE
published: 13 December 2017
doi: 10.3389/fsoc.2017.00021
Frontiers in Sociology | www.frontiersin.org
Edited by:
Laura Yenisa Cabrera,
Michigan State University,
United States
Reviewed by:
Peter B. Reiner,
University of British Columbia,
Canada
Mark Schweda,
University of Göttingen, Germany
*Correspondence:
John R. Shook
jshook@pragmatism.org
Specialty section:
This article was submitted
to ELSI in Science and Genetics,
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Sociology
Received: 05October2017
Accepted: 01December2017
Published: 13December2017
Citation:
ShookJR and GiordanoJJ (2017)
Moral Bioenhancement for Social
Welfare: Are Civic Institutions Ready?
Front. Sociol. 2:21.
doi: 10.3389/fsoc.2017.00021
Moral Bioenhancement for Social
Welfare: Are Civic Institutions Ready?
John R. Shook1,2* and James J. Giordano3,4
1 Philosophy and Graduate School of Education, University at Buffalo, New York, NY, United States, 2 Philosophy, Bowie State
University, Bowie, MD, United States, 3Neuroethics Studies Program-Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics, Georgetown
University Medical Center, Washington, DC, United States, 4Department of Neurology and Department of Biochemistry,
Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC, United States
Positive assessments of moral enhancement too often isolate intuitive notions about
its benefits apart from the relevance of surrounding society or civic institutions. If moral
bioenhancement should benefit both oneself and others, it cannot be conducted apart
from the enhancement of local social conditions, or the preparedness of civic institu-
tions. Neither of those considerations has been adequately incorporated into typical
neuroethical assessments of ambitious plans for moral bioenhancement. Enhancing a
person to be far less aggressive and violent than an average person, what we label as
“civil enhancement,” seems to be quite moral, yet its real-world social consequences
are hardly predictable. A hypothetical case about how the criminal justice system would
treat an offender who already received civil enhancement serves to illustrate how civic
institutions are unprepared for moral enhancement.
Keywords: morality, enhancement, neuroscience, genetics, neuroethics, genethics
Speculations about if and how modications of genotype and/or phenotype could help someone
be more moral have stimulated philosophical, scientic, sociological, and political discussion and
debate. Studies of putative neurological structures and functions involved in moral cognition and
behavior have become part of the eld known as neuroethics (Glannon, 2017). Importantly, the
discipline also addresses the questions and problematic issues arising from the broader implications
to neuroscientic research and potential neurotechnological applications. But, if moral bioenhance-
ment should benet both oneself and others, then, we argue that it cannot be conducted apart from
the enhancement of local social conditions, or the preparedness of civic institutions. Oen, such
considerations have not been adequately incorporated within typical neuroethical assessments of
ambitious plans for moral bioenhancement.
People lacking in morality might look like a problem needing a technological solution. Some
neuroethical assessments of moral enhancement hardly get beyond saying, “It’s moral, so it has to
be good for you and everyone too,” as if adjusting a person’s moral capacity always bears intrinsic
worth. Other kinds of cognitive enhancement have been treated in a similarly simplistic manner [an
overview of perspectives on cognitive enhancement is Jotterand and Dubljević (2016)]. Cognitive
enhancement is unrealizable without due regard for the real-world contexts in which Cognitive
abilities contribute to measurable performance improvements (Shook and Giordano, 2016a).
ree dierent ideas about moral improvement compete for attention in people’s minds when
they hear about “moral enhancement.” e rst idea is to instill some degree of moral capacity
and responsibility in someone who has never had it, which is better labeled as “moral habilita-
tion.” (And restoring lost moral capacity would hence be “moral rehabilitation.”) e second idea
occurs if enhancement is taken to mean an improvement of already-existing moral capacity toward
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Shook and Giordano Moral Bioenhancement for Social Welfare
Frontiers in Sociology | www.frontiersin.org December 2017 | Volume 2 | Article 21
society’s standards of good moral conduct. is idea of enhance-
ment as “moral normalization” is probably what rst comes to
mind and initially earns approval because that goal is already
the aim of morality itself: each person behaves in accord with
moral standards that everyone is expected to follow. Finally, the
third idea of enhancement is improvement above regular require-
ments of common morality, which might be called “surpassing
enhancement.” is third idea has received the most attention in
academic discussions, yet, it is more dicult to analyze and less
straightforward to justify (Shook and Giordano, 2016b,c). Only
surpassing enhancement is the topic of this discussion.
Another distinction is also crucial. e label of “moral bioen-
hancement” applies to technological interventions employed for
directly controlling some aspect of human neurocognitive func-
tioning that is viewed as instrumental to moral thought and/or
behavior. Such technologies are new; controlling human behav-
iors is not. Although specialized social means, such as education
and law, can be improved by technology, they are not essentially
invasive or reconstructive (unless they resort to such things as
bioenhancement). Only impactful events in the local environs of
a person (e.g., hearing a narrative, suering a punishment, receiv-
ing a reward, and so on) are involved with mundane means of
socialization, correction, and so forth. Any lasting change to one’s
behaviors and habits is accompanied by some redistribution or
reorganization of neurological activity. e distinction between
“bioenhancement” and “enviroenhancement” is instead based
on the nature of the method. Technology also permits a third
category, “selection-enhancement,” when an embryo or fetus is
chosen for birth because it meets preset genetic or developmental
criteria. We shall not consider selection-enhancement here.
We must disagree with those who insist on a sharp dichotomy
to rmly separate eorts at moral bioenhancement apart from
eorts at moral enviroenhancement [e.g., Sparrow (2017)]. ere
is a deep connection between utilizing bioenhancement and
enviroenhancement to foster morality, not as regards their role as
distinctive means, but rather with the realization of their common
end. at connection is revealed through a pragmatic assessment
of the conditions needed for their moral eectiveness. Allowing
that dichotomy to stand unchallenged would permit assessments
of bioenhancement to proceed in an unrealistic manner and
potentially arrive at rashly optimistic judgments.
In order to justify labeling an adjustment to human abilities
as a “moral enhancement,” a framework of prior judgments must
be premised. First, it will be important to dene what is meant by
“morality.” Clearly, this opens broad and deep discourse, if not
debate. What emerges from such discourse is that society estab-
lishes what is considered (at any given time) to be “moral.” us,
moral cognitions and actions are internal processes that occur in,
and reect external contexts (MacIntyre, 1998, 1999; Giordano
et al., 2016; Jotterand, 2016). Second, criteria must be applied
for empirically conrming when a physiological/neurological
intervention shis personal conduct in a desired moral direction
(Shook, 2016). ird, distinguishing episodic from enduring
adjustments is necessary. An episodic adjustment made as situa-
tions arise is moral in a limited sense (e.g., “he did a morally good
deed”), while an enduring adjustment, such as an non-reversible
alteration of the brain or a genetically engineered modication,
would be moral in a broader sense (e.g., “she is a more moral
person”). Additionally, expectations should be established about
what may constitute good outcomes for morally enhanced
people as they function in a society in which most people are
not morally altered. A further layer of envisioned prospects for
morally enhanced people as they interact with important civic
institutions, especially law enforcement and governing agencies,
should also be evaluated. e nal section of this paper oers a
hypothetical example illustrating why the civic practicality to a
moral enhancement cannot be taken for granted.
In what follows we shall only consider surpassing and endur-
ing moral enhancements, which includes genetically engineered
modications for above-average moral conduct. Anything called
a “moral enhancement” should at least deliver something that
anyone could verify and want for themselves. What do people
realistically expect from so much more morality? For example,
is it more moral to be less selsh? If an alteration is supposed
to keep one’s overall selshness at a lower level, for example,
what specic course of conduct during a salary negotiation, or
a dispute between parents, would count to prove its eective-
ness? Hence, what percentage wage increase shall the less-selsh
female employee accept from her male supervisor? How many
household duties should the less-selsh parent take over from
the other parent? Such practical scenarios should make readers
feel uncertain and perhaps a bit uncomfortable. In the real world,
each person wants other people to act less selshly toward them,
while acting as self-interested as one already happens to be. If
morality involves some sacrice, who shall be among the rst?
ere won’t be a realistic way to simultaneously enhance mil-
lions or billions of people or to control all social interactions to
guarantee universally fair results (that is why fanciful moral uto-
pias are barely distinguishable from totalitarianisms.) A realistic
framework allows (and accepts) that moral enhancers will not be
uniform in either distribution or manifestation, given that: (a) the
large majority of social interactions would involve at most one
morally enhanced individual and (b) morally enhanced people
would probably not see similar consequences of their engage-
ments within social groups.
Unrealistic frameworks, by contrast, isolate one “obvious”
moral virtue—altruism or empathy are frequently selected, for
example—and then presume that such a good thing must always
be good no matter the circumstances. By that framework, there’s
no conceivable harm simply from living a more altruistic life, since
human nature is meant to be, and deserves to be, more kind and
generous. Only the technological means of achieving that end,
and not the moral end itself, needs to be scrutinized (DeGrazia,
2016). Although objections raised against these assumptions are
rarely heard [but see Marshall (2014); Carter (2015); and Casal
(2016)], we agree with their concerns that large-scale and long-
term social dynamics should be empirically investigated rather
than reectively intuited.
It should be rst noted that morality is not necessarily contrary
to self-interest.1 Most moral deeds can be benecial to all parties,
as the practices of cooperativeness, trustworthiness, civility, etc.,
are conducive to everyone’s welfare. e question is not whether
conducting oneself in accord with common moral standards is
benecial. When enhancement asks for above-average moral
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behavior, we question how uncommon morality would fare in
the real world of ordinary moral expectations.
If this issue is to be treated as an empirical matter, any intui-
tive generalization about above-average moral people is probably
unsound. What could be reliably predicted from dramatically
enhancing the morality of any randomly chosen person some-
where in the world today? It seems quite dubious that being more
moral than average could ensure that one’s status, income, rela-
tionships, or life prospects are aected in some predictable way,
much less re-directed in the same way as other morally enhanced
individuals. None of these framing presumptions, common to
positive assessments of moral enhancement, can be trusted:
e overall welfare of a person can be predictably increased by
morally enhancing that person.
Social aairs within a group can be reliably improved with the
moral enhancement of even a few individuals.
e overall welfare of a group can be predictably increased by a
moral enhancement to a portion of its members.
e improvement of social relations within group can be reli-
ably accomplished by selecting a moral rule that an individual
can follow, and enhancing many individuals into conformity
with that rule.
ese tenets are unreliable because the intuitive calculations
behind them take morality to be isolable and individualizable.
at permits speculation to imagine that morality’s goodness
must aggregate to improve society no matter what else may be
happening. Concepts about morality in their abstract purity are
poor guides when compared with the collective experiences of
an entire society.
at said, which behavioral modications already regarded
as moral would actually be conducive to widely welcomed social
benets? Taking morality to be as social as the general welfare it
is supposed to yield, and evaluating changes to people’s morality
in terms of empirically conrmable results for society, opens the
entry to the eld of social ethics. Connecting public morals to
social welfare and civic improvement is an approach to social
theory inherited from Cicero, Seneca, and Plutarch, and pursued
by Western political thinkers, both liberal and conservative, from
medieval times to the twentieth century. Eastern philosophy is
also replete with this kind of moral and social theorizing. Even
modern libertarians, opposed to government encroachment upon
private liberties, argue that freer citizens are the kind of virtuous
citizens who are essential to a good society. However, this is not
without contention; one needs only to recall Mandeville’s Fable
of the Bees for poetic illustration of problems that can arise when
attempting to mitigate “private vices for public benet.2
But given that humans are social animals, the capacity to
behave morally enables engagement with productive social rela-
tionships and institutions. It is, as philosopher Owen Flanagan
has noted, an essential part of human ecology (Flanagan, 2007).
Just as public morals are evidently tied to social welfare, it is dif-
cult to deny the social nature of individual well-being:
a persons well-being is shaped by a complex net of intersect-
ing social determinants, and the weighing of outcomes is at the
population level rather than at the individual one (Cabrera, 2017).
e overall connection is becoming clear: the relationship
between one’s individual well-being and one’s moral conduct with
others is mediated by environing social conditions. How one’s
morality aects oneself, as well as others, depends on the social
contexts making behavior meaningful, eective, and productive.
For social ethics, improving individuals morally is foremost
about the social contexts in which conduct occurs. Morality is
not simply about what a person prefers to do; how a person can
behave is largely dependent on environing obstacles or opportu-
nities. is is as true of morality as it already is for any desirable
improvement of personal conduct. Enhancing what people can
do has little to do with them individually; empowerment requires
social opportunity. is approach has been defended by Laura
Cabrera:
Under such a perspective, human enhancement focus shis
from changing the biological reality of individuals, to address-
ing environmental factors that undermine the optimal perfor-
mance of individuals or that can foster wellness. Such a human
enhancement perspective would be consistent with a population
health approach, as it pursues more equitable and accessible
interventions, on the path to addressing social inequality.
Human enhancement does not need to be only about high-
technological interventions for a selected group of individuals;
rather, it should be a continuous project aiming to include
everyone and maximize the public benet (Cabrera, 2017).
For example, if recycling cans and bottles is a good thing to
do, few people could actually do this until a recycling industry
is assembled and public infrastructure is in place to allow many
people to easily recycle some of their household garbage. Asking,
“Who is a good recycling person?” makes no sense until many
people can recycle when they want to; motivating people to be
good recyclers is pointless until society provides for recycling.
In general, for social ethics, the right social context allows good
deeds to happen, which in turn benet society. Adjusting social
conditions where people are expected to act morally is far more
intelligent and productive for social welfare than just making
some people decide to behave better. Philosophically stated,
ought” implies “can”: when and where people are to do what they
ought, conditions are to be arranged so they can.
Social conditions cannot be le out of account; they shape
morality as much as morality guides society. Unless it is supposed
that ones morality is uncorrelated with one’s overall well being, or
it is imagined that one’s well being is achievable, no matter what
society is like, how a society functions largely explains the moral
capacities of its members.
What does this perspective from social ethics imply for any
practical mode of moral enhancement? We oer two initial rec-
ommendations. First, to re-iterate, a sharp dichotomy between
moral bioenhancement and moral enviroenhancement is
unsound in both concept and practice. Eective and large-scale
bioenhancement should include enviroenhancement in tandem
as a unied strategy. Moral bioenhancement pursued without
due regard for appropriate moral enviroenhancement may
satisfy purely conceptual notions about individualized moral-
ity, but it will not satisfy real-world plans for human welfare.
Second, moral enviroenhancement should only be pursued while
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Frontiers in Sociology | www.frontiersin.org December 2017 | Volume 2 | Article 21
anticipating how established social institutions should adjust in
order to appropriately deal with morally enhanced individuals.
is recommendation is especially the case for enduring moral
enhancements. e nal portion of our essay enlarges upon this
thesis.
Moral bioenhancements that aord enduring eect in order
to produce above-average cooperativeness and congeniality (and
below-average tendencies toward conict and aggression) may be
labeled as “civil enhancers (CEs).” By denition, a functional CE
would yield a large and reliable reduction in a person’s behaviors
that could be threatening to other people, or would initiate and
escalate violence. We are not talking about moral rehabilita-
tion or normalization, which at most improves morality up to
society-wide standards. Civil enhancement produces people who
are morally abnormal, by being much less likely than the average
person to ever engage in threatening or aggressive behavior.
What would happen if civil enhancement were enacted while
leaving civic institutions unaltered? Let us consider a specic
example: how might a civic institution, such as a society’s legal
system, handle issues of criminal intent and responsibility for
persons modied by civil enhancement? Setting aside the ethi-
cal issues attached to the idea of mandatory neurotechnological
treatment of oenders [consult Focquaert (2014)], we simply
try to predict the fate of a hypothetical person already civilly
enhanced for whatever reason.
Consider this imaginary legal case—a hypothetical person P
was provided with a CE, which dramatically reduces the likeli-
hood of choosing to indulge in aggressive or abusive conduct.
P has been using CE as supervised by a competent clinician.
On a certain day, P is arrested for getting into a violent ght
and is accused of instigating the violence. e legal defense for
P argues during the trial that, in light of conicting witnesses
and ambiguous evidence about who started the violence (e.g., no
video surveillance), the additional fact that P was properly using
the CE should be admitted as evidence tending to show that P was
probably not the instigator. Aer all, as the legal defense would
point out, surely the purpose of a reliable CE is to reduce criminal
intent, and hence to reduce the chances of criminal responsibility.
Our questions about this hypothetical situation ensue. Should
P’s use of CE be admitted as evidence under such circumstances?
If admitted, how should the evidence be presented/explained to
the jury? Are any special jury instructions needed for their delib-
erations? And if P is convicted on some charge, should the same
evidence be available for sentencing deliberations? How should
P’s use of CE aect sentencing, if at all? ree basic options seem
available. Option (A): P is less blameworthy, since P is less respon-
sible for bad behavior, which was not suciently moderated by
the weak CE (and thus, P is entitled to, and perhaps also requires,
a stronger CE). Option (B): P is equally blameworthy as anyone,
for P is just as responsible for intentional conduct, regardless of
enhancement (and P needs a stronger CE, too). Option (C): P is
more blameworthy, since P is more responsible for bad behavior,
which was caused by P’s deeper viciousness despite the use of the
CE (and, therefore, P is sentenced to use a stronger CE as well).
Additional questions arise. Could contemporary law and
legal theory determine a ranking of A, B, and C? Is there any
amount of possible neurological information to directly deter-
mine whether A, B, or C is the correct option? ese questions,
and the premises upon which they are based, are not esoteric,
but rather are becoming ever more realistic as the law seeks to
engage the brain sciences [e area of neurolaw has emerged
at this intersection; see Morse and Roskies (2013)]. To be sure,
some neurological determination would be convenient, but it
turns out that neuroscience alone cannot yet provide such infor-
mation, or accomplish such a normative task (Shats etal., 2016).
Perhaps neuroethics can proactively develop answers by work-
ing in tandem with the other disciplines already mentioned.
In the meantime, needless to say, the civic institutions for law,
criminal justice, and corrections are at present unprepared for
these kinds of issues.
One additional question can be asked to narrow the issue
to genetic/developmental means to accomplish moral bioen-
hancement. If P had received this reliable CE treatment during
conception or gestation, should this person be treated dier-
ently (option A or C) from other people who never had any form
of CE? We leave the reader to their own thoughts about possible
answers and their implications, for both this particular issue
and the overall trajectory and consequences of bioenhancement
in society.
NOTES
1. ere oen is an egoistic component to an altruistic action,
since some aspect of that act (something about its results, or
its meaning, or the evoked responses from others, and so on)
must be reinforcing to the actor in some way (Avram etal.,
2014; Giordano etal., 2016).
2. Physician-philosopher Bernard Mandeville’s poem “e
Grumbling Hive, or Knaves Turn’d Honest,” included in his
1724 book e Fable of the Bees: Private Vice; Publick Benets,
explored the respective roles and proper balancing of personal
moral conduct and public economic and social gain [consult
Goldsmith (1985)].
AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
Both authors contributed equally to this article.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
is work was supported in part by funding from the European
Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme
under grant agreement 720270: HBP SGA1 (JG), by unrestricted
research grants from the AEHS Foundation (as part of Project
Neuro-HOPE), and Halo Neuroscience (JG), and by federal
funds UL1TR001409 from the National Center for Advancing
Translational Sciences (NCATS), National Institutes of Health,
through the Clinical and Translational Science Awards Program
(CTSA), a trademark of the Department of Health and Human
Services, part of the Roadmap Initiative, “Re-Engineering the
Clinical Research Enterprise” (JG).
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Conict of Interest Statement: e authors declare that the research was con-
ducted in the absence of any commercial or nancial relationships that could be
construed as a potential conict of interest.
e handling editor declared they sit on the same committee, though no other
collaboration, with one of the authors JG.
Copyright © 2017 Shook and Giordano. is is an open-access article distributed
under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). e use,
distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original
author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal
is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or
reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
... Moral enhancement is of interest to us because, as Thomas Douglas has pointed out, "according to every plausible moral theory, people often have bad or suboptimally good motives" [1]. In the past decade or so, moral bioenhancement (MBE) has been identified and distinguished as a potential type of moral enhancement that utilizes biomedical interventions "employed for directly controlling some aspect of human neurocognitive functioning that is viewed as instrumental to moral thought and/or behaviour" [2]. Such methods thereby go beyond traditional methods in their use of biomedical technologies. ...
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Some have claimed that moral bioenhancement undermines freedom and authenticity – thereby making moral bioenhancement problematic or undesirable – whereas others have said that moral bioenhancement does not undermine freedom and authenticity – thereby salvaging its ethical permissibility. These debates are characterized by a couple of features. First, a positive relationship is assumed to hold between these agency-related concepts and the ethical permissibility of moral bioenhancement. Second, these debates are centered around individualistic conceptions of agency, like free choice and authenticity, which hail from an atomistic tradition of autonomy. My view is that emphasizing individualistic conceptions of autonomy do not provide particularly strong foundations on which to argue about the issue of the permissibility of moral bioenhancement. This is because individualistic autonomy is not the kind of agency-related consideration we ought to value. Instead, I propose that we investigate the relationship between moral bioenhancement and a more relational kind of autonomy. Focusing on this latter relationship, on my view, clarifies the potential for moral bioenhancement to support or enhance people’s autonomy.
... Both neuromodulatory techniques and other "well-being neuroenhancements" are used outside the clinical, fostering further concerns about RECM and derivative neuroethical issues (ie, autonomy, limits of enhancement, effects upon personality, civic readiness, etc.), which are similar to those reported in the developed world. 8,10,11 Despite such concerns about RECM, there is little academic engagement of these issues in the training of researchers and clinicians. This too may reflect poor or non-existent funding of ethics/bioethics/neuroethics studies and programs. ...
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The body-to-head transplant (BHT) planned to be undertaken later this year at China’s Harbin Medical University by neurosurgeons Sergio Canavero and Xiaoping Ren has attracted considerable attention and criticism. The intended operation gives rise to philosophical queries about the body–brain–mind relationship and nature of the subjective self; technical and ethical issues regarding the scientific soundness, safety, and futility of the procedure; the adequacy of prior research; and the relative merit, folly, and/or danger of forging new boundaries of what is biomedically possible. Moreover, that this procedure, which has been prohibited from being undertaken in other countries, has been sanctioned in China brings into stark relief ways that differing social and political values, philosophies, ethics, and laws can affect the scope and conduct of research. Irrespective of whether the BHT actually occurs, the debate it has generated reveals and reflects both the evermore international enterprise of brain science, and the need for neuroethical discourse to include and appreciate multicultural views, values, and voices.
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Neuroethics has rapidly developed as a theoretically rich and practically significant field at the intersection of brain science, social science, philosophy, and law. This chapter is an analysis and discussion of the most debated issues in neuroethics as it has evolved over the last 15 years. I take the opportunity to examine whether or not a foundational claim about the duality of neuroethics (i.e., the ethics of neuroscience and the neuroscience of ethics, as well as their interaction) has been a feature of these debates. After noting the most important events in the development of this field, I examine ethical issues in four key areas that form the core of neuroethics research and discourse: (1) neuroimaging, with a focus on incidental findings, brain privacy, and the impact of imaging on normative judgments of moral and criminal responsibility; (2) functional neurosurgery for psychiatric disorders, focused on capacity to consent and patient autonomy; (3) cognitive and moral enhancement; and (4) chronic disorders of consciousness, with particular attention paid to how prognostic uncertainty can impact life-sustaining care. In the case of point four, these issues should be framed by the question of what is in the best interests of patients with these disorders, which is difficult to know given their neurologically compromised condition. In the concluding section, I speculate on some of the new ethical questions that may arise from advances in neuroscience in the future and how these advances may shape the continued evolution of debate in neuroethics.
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Commentary: Moral Bioenhancement Worthy of the Name - Volume 26 Issue 3 - ROBERT SPARROW
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The dominant understandings on human enhancement, such as those based on the therapy–enhancement distinction or transhumanist views, have been focused on high technological interventions directly changing biological and physical features of individuals. The individual-based orientation and reductionist approach that dominant views of human enhancement take have undermined the exploration of more inclusive ways to think about human enhancement. In this perspective, I argue that we need to expand our understanding of human enhancement and open a more serious discussion on the type of enhancement interventions that can foster practical improvements for populations. In doing so, lessons from a population health perspective can be incorporated. Under such a perspective, human enhancement focus shifts from changing the biological reality of individuals, to addressing environmental factors that undermine the optimal performance of individuals or that can foster wellness. Such a human enhancement perspective would be consistent with a population health approach, as it pursues more equitable and accessible interventions, on the path to addressing social inequality. Human enhancement does not need to be only about high-technological interventions for a selected group of individuals; rather, it should be a continuous project aiming to include everyone and maximize the public benefit.
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Ongoing developments in neuroscientific techniques and technologies—such as neuroimaging—offer potential for greater insight into human behavior and have fostered temptation to use these approaches in legal contexts. Neuroscientists are increasingly called on to provide expert testimony, interpret brain images, and thereby inform judges and juries who are tasked with determining the guilt or innocence of an individual. In this essay, we draw attention to the actual capabilities and limitations of currently available assessment neurotechnologies and examine whether neuroscientific evidence presents unique challenges to existing frameworks of evidence law. In particular, we focus on (1) fundamental questions of relevance and admissibility that can and should be posed before the tests afforded in Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals or Frye v. U.S. are applied and (2) how these considerations fit into the broader contexts of criminal law. We contend that neuroscientific evidence must first be scrutinized more heavily for its relevance, within Daubert and Federal Rule of Evidence 702, to ensure that the right questions are asked of neuroscientists, so as to enable expert interpretation of neuroscientific evidence within the limits of their knowledge and discipline that allows the judge or jury to determine the facts at issue in the case. We use the analogy provided by the Daubert court of an expert on the phases of the moon testifying to an individual’s behavior on a particular night to ensure that we are, in fact, asking the neuroscientific expert the appropriate question.