Genetic Enhancement - A Threat to Human Rights?

7 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2007


Genetic enhancement is the modification of the human genome for the purpose of improving capacities or adding in desired characteristics. Although this technology is still largely futuristic, debate over the moral issues it raises has been significant. George Annas has recently leveled a new attack against genetic enhancement, drawing on human rights as his primary weapon. I argue that Annas appeal to human rights ultimately falls flat, and so provides no good reason to object to genetic technology. Moreover, this argument is an example of the broader problem of appealing to human rights as a panacea for ethical problems. Human rights, it is often claimed, are trumps: if it can be shown that a proposed technology violates human rights, then it must be cast aside. But human rights are neither a panacea for ethical problems nor a trump card. If they are drafted into the service of an argument, it must be shown that an actual human rights violation will occur. Annas argument against genetic technology fails to do just this. I shall conclude that his appeal to human rights adds little to the debate over the ethical questions raised by genetic technology.

Suggested Citation

Fenton, Elizabeth, Genetic Enhancement - A Threat to Human Rights?. Bioethics, Vol. 22, Issue 1, pp. 1-7, January 2008, Available at SSRN: or

Elizabeth Fenton (Contact Author)

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