Genetic Enhancement in the Twenty-First Century: Three Problems in Legal Imagining

Posted: 22 Feb 2000

See all articles by Roberta M. Berry

Roberta M. Berry

Georgia Institute of Technology - School of Public Policy


This article presents three stories seen through the eyes of attorneys in an imagined future when genetic enhancement is legal, technically feasible, and widely engaged in. Reflection upon this exercise in "legal imagining" leads to conclusions about three essential features of good regulatory policy regarding genetic enhancement.

The first story concerns enhancement gone wrong. Baby Jean?s parents purchased a cognitive enhancement package for their daughter, but a rare error in the enhancement process has left her with severe cognitive impairments instead. Her parents are consumed with guilt and are searching for legal remedies. The second story concerns enhancement resented. Kevin Klavier?s parents selected a genetic enhancement package that helped him grow up to be a musically gifted and strikingly handsome young man. Kevin is a successful professional pianist but increasingly feels not only "inauthentic" but irremediably so. Kevin is searching for legal remedies as well. The third story concerns the social consequences of "successful" enhancement. A small group of women has been genetically enhanced in ways that tremendously improve their capacity to play basketball. The attorney for the League of Women?s Professional Basketball ponders what, if anything, the League can or should do in response to the potential influx of these women who, if admitted to League play, will change the nature of the game.

Three important points emerge from these stories. First, our paramount policy goal must be safeguarding the best interests of children. Second, motivational issues are central to the potential harms connected with genetic enhancement. Third, we must anticipate the predictable incentives to genetic "upgrading" of offspring in pursuit of a competitive edge ?- our games as well as all the other inventions of human civilization can change quickly and dramatically, in ways very hard to predict or control, once humankind itself is put in play.

Note: Copyright (c) 1999 by the Wake Forest Law Review Association,Inc.

Suggested Citation

Berry, Roberta M., Genetic Enhancement in the Twenty-First Century: Three Problems in Legal Imagining. Wake Forest Law Review, Vol. 34, No. 3, Pp. 715-735, 1999, Available at SSRN:

Roberta M. Berry (Contact Author)

Georgia Institute of Technology - School of Public Policy ( email )

685 Cherry St.
Atlanta, GA 30332-0345
United States
404-385-1704 (Phone)
404-385-0504 (Fax)


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