We must consider the tradeoffs of such enhancements. It's possible that increased physical attainments can obscure moral, intellectual and emotional understanding. Retarding physical decay of aging can also retard maturity. A stretched spectrum of life could increase the time of decline, debility and dependency. It could also reshape economic competition and the pressures between generations. We have no idea how high the price would be for the gift of longevity as it rearranges relationships in families and in society
We can already both prevent and promote fertility. We can screen for genetic and biological defects in the embryo. How much might we meddle? China, with its one-child policy, has created one generation already top-heavy with boys (117 boys to 100 girls) who will compete aggressively for the limited supply of girls, inevitably leading to trouble. Sex selection is a dangerous tool.
The authors consider the impact of biotechnology on issues of safety, fairness, equality and freedom. They pose the worrisome possibility that biotech enhancements could create a biological "aristocracy" further stratifying classes of people. Trend watchers, looking in another direction, suggest that such power could lead to a greater homogenization of society - extending to human nature what Alexis de Tocqueville saw as leveling influences in democracy.
"Beyond Therapy" is written with such clarity of language that it forces the reader to reflect on philosophical and policy issues for the sheer pleasure of thought. Creators of the biotech "tool kit" empower us to fight disease, restore physical and mental health, foster excellence and encourage self-improvement improving the lot of humankind. How do they also affect our notions of free will and moral responsibility?
Dr. Leon R. Kass, chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, believes that Sept. 11 deepened America's moral seriousness and rallied support for the values of life, liberty, the rule of law and the pursuit of progress. But moral concerns in bioethics are more ambiguous. C.S. Lewis warned that mastering nature without guiding knowledge could lead to nature's mastery of man.
We can't afford to neglect this subject, no matter how difficult it may be to arrive at answers. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have become more complex than the Founding Fathers dreamed of.