Human Enhancement

Baby-Making Pt. 2:The Fractured Fulfillment of Huxley's Brave New World

We have reviewed the legal and cultural changes that led to widespread use of ART and the creation of thousands of frozen embryos. We have examined the risks and consequences for mothers and their children. We have taken a quick look at some of the social implications. Now, I would like to return to a point I raised in the beginning . . . the Orwellian overtones of some aspects of ART. This is the part that has its rationale in the eugenics of the early 20th century.

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Baby-Making Pt. 1:The Fractured Fulfillment of Huxley's Brave New World

GATTACA is just one of the examples from literature and popular culture that entice us to slow down and think about some of the most serious ethical questions facing us today. Hollywood has given us The Sixth Day on human cloning, The Island on involuntary organ donors, John Q on organ transplantation, and Minority Report on neuroethics, to name just a few. These are joined in literature by works such as C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength and, of course, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Sometimes there is an eerie immediacy to the sci-fi futuristic scenarios depicted in these works. Scripts have had to be altered when real-day science threatened to overtake the in-the-future premise of the plot. Meanwhile, the moral conversation, the bioethical reflection, has struggled to keep up. Law and policy lag even farther behind, often feebly attempting to regulate only after a catastrophe or dispute.

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Nip & Tuck: A Parable

Cosmetic surgery for many elicits an unbidden, irresistible reaction of repugnance. The growing reality of nose jobs, breast and pectoral implants, buttock lifts, and liposuctions – it appalls and disturbs. In a different context, Leon Kass popularized the notion of the ‘wisdom of repugnance.’ This negative response or ‘yuck factor’ is a strong intuition that something is wrong or morally amiss. Folks who worry about Botox rituals discern the stink of ethical death in the cultural air. Their repugnance is an ethical gatekeeper, a barometer of all things pernicious to genuine human flourishing: This far you can go, and no further.

It is worth asking, however, whether this custodial ethical wisdom has anything going for it. To many the issue seems simple enough – we do not need the nuance of philosophers to realize that cosmetic surgery goes against the grain of what nature and her God have granted us. Few will chastise parents who warn their children against the surgical woes of the recently deceased pop star Michael Jackson. This seems obviously wrong. Likewise, the antics of a Jocelyn Wildenstein can be easily dismissed, her face a shocking specter of multiple surgeries. Yes, something has obviously gone awry.

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