A matter of choice? : an ethical enquiry of human reprogenetic technology

何以抉擇? : 論基因科技對人類生殖倫理的挑戰

Student thesis: Master's Thesis

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  • Hoi Yin Erika YU


Awarding Institution
Award date15 Jul 2008


The rising technology of human reprogenetic intervention has provided a host of potentialities to combat currently intractable diseases. Recent research on such technology has promised the possibilities of choosing individual endowments that are traditionally taken as given. Such possible choices may enable existing individuals to exercise considerable control over future individuals. This situation poses a special type of ethical puzzle. Although any decisions made in the present will have direct impact on certain future individuals, the interests of these future individuals cannot properly be taken into account in the present decision-making because they have not yet existed. Prospective parents seem to be justified to choose whatever endowments for their offspring provided that the new life will be worth living. Against this background, some believe that a utilitarian ethical approach is ethically plausible because it can get around this puzzle by evaluating such decisions in light of impersonal states of affairs. In this approach, although the personal interests of future individuals are considered as irrelevant to ethical decisions, they can nonetheless be looked after by the comprehensive utilitarian consideration of utility maximization. This work explores if the utilitarian approach can really provide plausible moral guidance regarding the uses of the reprogenetic technology. The work has two major purposes. The first is to discuss how the utilitarian perspective may approach the ethics of the technology and what makes the approach seemingly appealing. It concludes that impersonalism and utility maximization are the two fundamental considerations that are rooted in the utilitarian approach and account for its seeming appeal. In particular, these two considerations seem to capture our perceived obligations to future generations. The second purpose is to evaluate these two considerations. I will argue that impersonalism overlooks the moral good of parent-child relationship in human reproduction and the overemphasis of utility calculation further undermines its value. Accordingly, the utilitarian approach is ethically inappropriate, and its seeming appeal is a misconception. This study concludes by proposing an alternative ethical perspective to approach the ethics of the reprogenetic technology. It contends that the key oversights of the utilitarian approach are in fact common to the mainstream ethical discussions of the rising technology: it presupposes an over-individualistic conception of personhood and overstresses the importance of individual choice in the context of reproduction. In contrast, the proposed perspective argues that human reproduction not only marks a beginning of a new life but also a lifelong and intimate human relationship, where what is called for and valued is acceptance, engagement and devotion rather than selection or choice. Accordingly, it suggests that the ethical challenge posed by the rising technology is not so much about how to choose among various endowments as about not to be too preoccupied by such choices in human reproduction.

    Research areas

  • Moral and ethical aspects, Genetic engineering