re: Transhumanist medical ethics?

J. Eric Mortensen (
01 Mar 99 18:55:18 +0100

Nick Bostrom:

>Eric Mortensen wrote:

>> Second, it sounds like you want happiness to be made into a moral obligation?

>I'm not claiming that it is morally wrong if somebody wants to make
>themselves unhappy for awhile, but I think it is wrong to create an
>entity that we know would be horribly unhappy (you can use a
>different example than Down's syndrom). Especially if the being is
>such that it is unable to terminate its suffering, (which it can
>hardly do when it's too young anyway).

I am not unsympathetic to your argument, I too would like to see as few unhappy entities created as possible. I for one, would probably not want to have a child which would suffer unnecessarily when alive. I would hope as many as possible would agree with me, to minimize suffering. But what I find, eh, troublesome, is the predictable unintended negative consequences of this moral obligation: the tendency to view people with diseases as freaks, somehow different from the rest of us. Human history tells us that the us versus them mentality will lead to persecution (if not by the state, then by ordinary people) of such minorities and their parents.

I believe it would be more fruitful (safer if you will) to foster a culture of understanding and compassion for those with serious disabilities, and to accept that even though some parents regrettably wish (for their own selfish reasons) to have children with disabilities, the ultimate responsibility must lie with the parents (because if not then it must lie with bureaucrats, who are notoriously bad at making decisions for other people).

But again, I can see your point.

>In many cases, it would *save* society a lot of money to pay for the
>intervention. A retarded or sick child is very expensive for our
>welfare programs; if that child could be made healthy, gifted and
>well-natured it would instead contribute to society.

In other words, the parents impose external costs on society (assuming a government-sponsored welfare program). A valid point (given its assumption), but the dilemma can be solved by having third parties (charities) help pay for the child's welfare.

Anyway, I believe the (legal and moral) enforcement costs will be substantial.

> On the other hand, I concede that it is without its problems to give parents
> a carte blanche on what to do and what not to do. Most people accept intervention
> if mothers abuse drugs while pregnant, for instance. I would probably favor
> a moral code that minimized the number of obligations a parent must have,
> since arguably what counts as an important intervention will be so difficult to
> agree on.

>Yes, it will be hard to agree on what counts as important, and some
>will probably argue against genetic therapy altogether. Some
>compromise will no doubt be necessary, but it is worth thinking about
>what would be the ideal outcome (combining protection of
>the childrens' interest with maximal reproductive freedom of

Agreed, and my ideal is probably close to yours.