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Human Enhancement and Distributive Justice: What are the Implications for Policy and Practice?

June 23 2010


ESRC Innogen Centre, Open University, Milton Keynes, UK

Organised by: Innogen

New life sciences innovation offers not only the prospect of applications with profound impact on economic life but also the possibility of changing basic parameters of human nature with significant impact on distributive justice.

So far, nature as such has been theorised as something given and beyond human control (i.e. chance). Therefore, to define something as natural has been to relegate it to the realm of fortune or misfortune than justice or injustice. Theories of justice from Hobbes and Locke to Rawls and Nozick clearly maintain this distinction between the two realms.

However, the successful decoding of human genome and subsequent advances of genomics-based technologies create expectations of genetic enhancements which go beyond therapy and begin to change our static conception of nature to a new one: nature can be something dynamic and within human control.

Genetic enhancements are defined as modifications of the human genome for the purpose of improving capacities or ‘adding in’ desired characteristics. This implies that genomics-based technologies can make possible what so far has been thought to be impossible: the just distribution of capacities such life extension and health improvement, and desired characteristics such as stamina, strength, dexterity, flexibility, intelligence and imagination.

The aim of this workshop is to explore the following questions:

  • What is the relationship between human enhancement and justice?

  • Can contemporary social and political theories deal with the possibility of just human enhancement?

  • What are the implications of just (and unjust) human enhancement for policy and practice?,23374,en.t4.html