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Human enhancement has been a much debated topic in the last decades covering a wide range of existing, emerging and visionary technological interventions that blur the boundaries between interventions aimed at therapy and those beyond therapy and species typical features, as well as interventions targeting vulnerabilities, prevention, restoration, rehabilitation, and protection from harms. Discussion of issues related to human enhancement is nothing new. This book, Enhancing Human Capacities, makes clear that the desire to enhance ourselves is all-too-human, and that enhancement brings along different perspectives about its acceptance, value and risks.
Julian Savulescu, Ruud ter Meulen and Guy Kahane, three well-known scholars in the area of bioethics and medical ethics, did a remarkable job with the selection of relevant and insightful papers to accompany each of the sections that Enhancing Human Capacities offers to its readers. While it is true that there have been many books and reports covering issues connected to human enhancement, the book remains one of a few in which, by covering the major forms of human enhancement, reviews different visions about what constitutes human enhancement, up-to-date scientific developments as well as the different ethical, social and policy implications connected to human enhancement.
This edited book is divided into seven parts. The first part covers main concepts and issues about enhancement, such as what is meant by enhancement, whether it is a descriptive or a normative concept and its relation to well-being and human flourishing. This first part also discusses the role of autonomy and evolution in the discussion around human enhancement.
Each of the following parts covered a major category of enhancement: cognitive, mood, physical, lifespan and moral enhancement, respectively. The different chapters making up each section offer the reader a survey on the current state of the science, discussion on some of the main conceptual, ethical and social issues as well as some policy implications related to the enhancement category at hand. The last section of the book is dedicated to two chapters, one focused on the American context and the other one in the European Union, exploring the general policy issues that human enhancement raises.
Some ethical and social issues are common to the different areas of enhancement, such as the need for balancing the benefits and risks involved social justice issues, coercion and identity. Other issues seem to be more unique or important to specific forms of enhancement, such as issues connected to cheating and authenticity in the case of physical and cognitive enhancement; the idea of making people feel “better than well” connected to mood enhancement; questions about the value and meaning of life connected to life expansion, for instance one of the chapters discusses the idea of whether living longer is better; and the possibility of increasing the capacity to engage in moral behavior connected to moral enhancement. Similarly in the last part of the book, it is interesting to see the commonalities and the differences in policy from the US and the European Union, from how different areas of enhancement might be under different regulation schemes to the need for better forms of governance in relation to human enhancement interventions.
The book offers a comprehensive review of different perspectives on human enhancement, including philosophy, biology, neuroscience, and the social sciences. However, its focus is mostly from a Western perspective. It would have been interesting to hear more about how human enhancement is perceived in other parts of the world, such as Asia or Latin America.
The book has an overall accessible style given that the main concepts are described either in the first part of the book or in the first chapters of each section covering a major area of human enhancement. However, the fact that it covers different disciplinary perspectives could require the reader to have certain familiarity with some of terms use during the discussion or with certain analogies presented. The book is suitable for those who are already familiar with the discussion but who have focused only on a major area of human enhancement and wish to learn more about other specific area(s). The book is also suitable for those who want to see the big picture around the topic of enhancing human capacities and better understand how it could impact their lives.
Enhancing Human Capacities is a meaningful contribution for scientists, policy makers and the general public that provides a good review of the ethical, conceptual and social issues at stake in human enhancement, as well as their policy implications. These issues are likely to affect us all, and as such it is needed to be well informed on how the debate and discussion is moving forward.
© 2012 Laura Cabrera
Laura Cabrera is a postdoctoral researcher in bioethics and emergent technologies in the Institute for Biomedical Ethics at Basel University. Laura received a BSc in Electrical and Communication Engineering from the Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM) in Mexico City, and a MA in Applied Ethics from Linköping University in Sweden. She received a PhD in Applied Ethics from Charles Sturt University in Australia. Laura’s current research focuses on neuroethics and emergent technologies, especially those connected to medical issues and individual/social perspectives.
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