Subject Material

Ethical Dilemmas Regarding Human Enhancement

Published: 16.11.2011, Updated: 04.03.2017
  • Embed
  • Easy Reader
  • Listen
  • Print

In some ways, all human enhancement advances may work for a  better human condition, but what other aspects of this technology do we have to consider? Use of new technology raises many ethical dilemmas.


Check that you understand the meaning of the words in this task before reading the text:

MyTask - Click icon to open task!MyTask - Click icon to open task!
Forfatter: Amendor

Pros and Cons

Children who are born with what others consider an unattractive trait, like a big nose or protruding ears, may no longer have to endure the pains of being bullied by their peers. Aging men and women can reduce the signs of aging, like wrinkles and sagging skin. People going through a life crisis can, with the right kind of medication, be given help to work their way through it. Seriously ill patients can be cured of their illnesses. These are some of the pros.

Riccione, Miss cosmetic Surgery 2011. Competitors compete for the title of Miss cosmetic Surgery 2011 in Riccione, Italy.Riccione, Miss cosmetic Surgery 2011. Competitors compete for the title of Miss cosmetic Surgery 2011 in Riccione, Italy.
Fotograf: Riccardo Gallini
But there are also some possible cons that need our consideration. For instance, our society’s focus on outward beauty has created a beauty ideal that is impossible for most people to achieve. Most of those who strive to achieve this ideal will never be satisfied, but go through life feeling the oppression of the ideal. This, again, could increase our consumption of psychiatric medication.

Our standardized beauty ideal, which is being spread to most of the world, is causing Africans to change their noses to look more Caucasian. Thousands of Chinese people every year have their eyes enlarged, thereby making them look more western. If this trend continues, will we all start looking like replicas of each other?

And what if we develop genetic modification to its full potential? If we manage to change our genes to eliminate traits that are unfavourable to mankind, we may also reduce our genetic diversity. This could have serious ramifications, for instance, in the case of a pandemic: if there is less genetic diversity, more people will be struck down by the same virus or bacteria. This does not bode well for mankind.

It is not possible to undiscover what has been discovered or to unreseach research. We cannot ignore the technology we have developed. But along with this research and technology comes the responsibility to handle it wisely – for the good of mankind.


Tasks and Activities


"Human enhancement' refers to the use of medicine, technology, and techniques to improve the capacities of people beyond what we would consider normal or healthy." Future of Humanity Institute 

  1. Discuss the following areas of human enhancement. Which would you accept and which would you reject? Give reasons.
    • drugs to reduce signs of aging
    • beauty enhancement (fat removal, change physical appearance: eyes, ears, nose, etc.)
    • medication to help a person through a crisis
    • medication to help serious mental problems
    • correction of serious physical defects
    • pills to make us happier
    • medicines to improve our memories
    • medicines to improve alertness
    • drugs to improve strength and stamina
    • training techniques to improve strength and stamina
    • genetic intervention to make chidren smarter and healthier
    • drugs to extend our lifespan
  2. The title of this article is "Ethical Dilemmas......". What is a "dilemma"? Explain and give an example. Why and in which sense is human enhancement an ethical dilemma?
  3. Should there be control organisations which monitor and approve the use of medicines and technology in the area of human enhancement? Why? Who should establish and run such organisations?


There are constantly new revelations and discussions of doping in sports. The professional cyclist, Lance Armstrong, is one example of an athlete who has been caught cheating. Can you name any other famous sports personalities who have been caught taking drugs to enhance their performance. Which sport did they compete in? Make a presentation where you illustrate their story with pictures and subtitles. Focus on biographical facts, their accomplishments within their particular sport, possible reasons for cheating, how they cheated, how the abuse was revealed, how people responded, the consequences for themselves and their sport. Where do we draw the line as to what should be allowed and not allowed of medicines and techniques in sports?





Further Reading

Would You Like to Be Superman? 




Related content

Current material for