Net Positive Externalities from Genetic Enhancements

As a society, we praise those who are exceptional, whether it be intellectually or musically talented, athletically gifted or artistically genius. Part of this is sheer awe of their talent, but also part is because of the positive externalities they have on our society. Those who make great discoveries in math or science often help us to understand the way the world works and these discoveries can also be used for medical discoveries. Great athletes provide entertainment for those who watch them compete and also can inspire young athletes to strive to train harder and be better. Even those who are not classified as “exceptional” can benefit society. It is relatively clear that having a smarter population helps society as a whole and the same goes for a healthier population; whereas having a taller population or a prettier one does not. When discussing transhumanism (H+) and genetic enhancements it is important to focus on the enhancements which would benefit the individual and society rather than only the individual.

While the main argument of many opponents to genetic enhancement is “If the gap between the privileged and the underprivileged continues to grow, wealth-based access to health care and future genetic enhancements will threaten the basic structures of society” (Mwase, 88), this is a not a valid argument as to why genetic enhancement should not be allowed. “[The] increase in unjust inequalities due to technology is not a sufficient reason for discouraging the development and use of the technology. We must consider its benefits, which include not only positive externalities but also intrinsic values that reside in such goods as the enjoyment of health, a soaring mind, and emotional well-being” (Bostrom, 113). Also it is not clear that (at least to begin with) genetic enhancements would increase inequality, but might actually decrease it. One of the greatest benefits of the discovery of the human genome is the ability to understand genetic disorders. While many genetic disorders are extremely complicated, there are over 4000 genetic disorders which are the result of a defect in a single gene (News Medical). While today we are still trying to figure out how to fix many of these defects, it seems likely that this will be a much easier problem to solve than how to enhance something such as memory or health where multiple genes play a role. This seems to indicate that, minimally, initial genetic enhancements would decrease the inequality gap rather than widen it. Also, in the same fashion that most countries provide free public education and many free accesss to health care, it would make sense for governments to provide free or reduced cost genetic enhancements to those who can not afford the enhancements if they have a net benefit to society.

While there are clearly issues with genetic enhancement that need to be flushed out as they become a more realitic options, enhancements which have positive externalities should be allowed in theory.


Work Cited.

Bostrom, Nick. “Human Genetic Enhancement: A Transhumanist Prespective.” Holland, Stephen. Arguing About Bioethics. New York: Routledge, 2012. 105-115.

Mwase, Isaac M. T. “Genetic Enhancement and the Fate of the Worse Off.” Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal (2005): 83- 89.

News Medical. 8 February 2014.

5 thoughts on “Net Positive Externalities from Genetic Enhancements

  1. Of course, altering genetic anomalies would be very useful, but then there is the problem of cost. These treatments would be very expensive and seem only accessible to the rich. In theory, there could be governmental programs that reduce the cost, but then this cost is shared via taxation. Furthermore, different countries will implement this governmental care differently; some will gladly share the cost amongst the taxpayers, while others may not. Also, some will implement certain restrictions and others will not. Thus, problem of inequality could still exist, just between different cultural societies.

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