Oxford Ethicist Advocates Human Enhancement through Biotechnology

DURHAM, NC—Steroids, open-heart surgery, antibiotics—these are all ways people can be made stronger or healthier, but should genetic manipulation be used to achieve the same results? Oxford University Professor Julian Savulescu discusses the ethical implications of using developments in biotechnology and genomics in the 2008 Crown Lecture in Ethics, titled “The Moral Imperative to Enhance Human Beings.”

Professor Julian SavulescuThe free public lecture is scheduled for Sept. 25 at 5:30 p.m. in the Fleishman Commons at the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy on Duke University’s West Campus.

“Should we use science and medical technology not just to prevent or treat disease, but to intervene at the most basic biological level to enhance people’s lives?” asks Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. His answer is an unequivocal “yes.” Savulescu makes the controversial argument that we have the same kind of moral obligation to enhance ourselves and our children as we have to treat and prevent disease.

Savulescu maintains that there are strong social and public-interest arguments in favor of biological enhancements for the population as a whole that could lead to social, moral and economic improvements in society. Many aspects of human character, such as mood, aggression or extroversion, are being found to have genetic determinants and could be changed for the better.

Savulescu doesn’t shy away from the controversial aspects of human enhancement. He has proposed legalizing performance-enhancing drugs in sports such as cycling, provided they are found to be safe. Caffeine was once a banned substance for Olympic athletes, but now that it is legal, Savulescu points out that its use hasn’t changed the nature of sports. If a drug or a new exercise technique both produce improved oxygen-use in the athlete, logic suggests both should be permitted, he asserts.

The former editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics, Savulescu has a bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery and a doctorate in philosophy from Monash University in Australia. He was the founding director of the Ethics of Genetics Unit at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia.

The Crown Lecture in Ethics, named for benefactor Lester Crown, brings speakers to Duke to explore ethical issues in the arts, sciences, medicine, business and other fields. Previous Crown lecturers include Rwandan Paul Rusesabagina, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and conservationist Jared Diamond, Nobel Peace Prize-winner Jody Williams, who works to ban land mines, and U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley.

Seating for the 2008 Crown Lecture is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Parking is available for a fee at the Science Drive Visitor Lot or Bryan Center Parking Garage. For additional information, please call 613-7312 or visit www.pubpol.duke.edu.