What (If Anything) Is Wrong with Human Enhancement? What (If Anything) Is Right with It?

43 Pages Posted: 21 Apr 2014 Last revised: 26 Jul 2015

Date Written: April 19, 2014


Should human enhancement be prohibited? Subsidized? Mandated? Taxed?

This article is part of a symposium honoring one of my wonderful mentors: Einer Elhauge. It focuses on human enhancement. With advances in reproductive technologies, genetic screening, and concomitant calls for regulation of these things in America the time for discussing these issues has never been better.

Part I offers a reconstructive taxonomy as to different kinds of enhancements, including incorporating one distinction (as to absolute and positional goods and positive and negative externalities) that has been the focus of Elhauge’s own thinking. That said, one leitmotif of this Part is that “enhancement” as a category may not be particularly useful, especially if we accept there are not morally relevant differences in the biological vs. non-biological and treatment vs. enhancement distinctions, such that something like tutoring falls into the category of “enhancement.”

Part II offers a taxonomy of legal/regulatory interventions.

Part III attempts to sketch and interrogate the major arguments offered against human enhancement, including by mapping these arguments onto the taxonomies developed in Parts I and II and showing to which kinds of enhancements they apply and what kinds of legal/regulatory interventions can accommodate some of the concerns they raise.

Finally, Part IV focuses on a question that has received surprisingly scant attention: why enhancement is sought. I will argue that one key reason offered for enhancement, to improve the life of the enhanced in the case of enhancement through reproduction, cannot be sustained for reasons that mirror points I have made elsewhere on the opposite issue, the justification for preventing parents from reproducing in ways that “harm” their offspring.

Keywords: Enhancement, law, bioethics, externalities, inequality, compassion

Suggested Citation

Cohen, I. Glenn, What (If Anything) Is Wrong with Human Enhancement? What (If Anything) Is Right with It? (April 19, 2014). Tulsa Law Review, Vol. 49, 2014, Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 14-15, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2426826

I. Glenn Cohen (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

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Griswold Hall 503
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United States

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