The Ethics of Enhancement of Intellectual Abilities in Children: A Risk of Creating 'Superhuman' Disabled?

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Jenny Krutzinna


Human enhancement continues to be hotly debated by both 'professionals' andacademics, and increasingly also by the general public. This is no surprise, given thatthe idea of making human beings better - individually and collectively - has existedfor centuries. Parents appear to be especially receptive to new ways of improving thequalities of their offspring - first and foremost their cognitive abilities - in the hopeof giving them the best life possible. At the same time, children as not-yetautonomous persons are vulnerable to the decisions made on their behalf. Thisdynamic has led to a long-running philosophical debate about the moralpermissibility of paediatric enhancement. Unfortunately, this debate has somewhatstalled at the point of disagreement on general permissibility, with both sidesstrongly relying on the notion of well-being to support their respective positions.Rapid progress in the sciences, including the development of the new CRISPR-Cas9technique, holds much promise for effective cognitive enhancement in children, andthis makes proper ethical assessment an urgent matter.Arguing that enhancement is here to stay and that prohibition is not a feasible optionin a globalised world, I suggest that the debate should instead focus on whatcognitive enhancement in children is likely to mean for the welfare of children.Addressing the question of whether enhancement of intellectual abilities in childrenis likely to lead to the creation of 'superhuman' disabled children - that is, childrenwith superior or even yet-unseen cognitive capacities but a disability in some othersense (medical, social or both) - I draw on evidence from various fields, includingeducation, law, disability studies and sociology, to demonstrate that the positiveeffect of cognitive ability on individual well-being is frequently overestimated andcan thus not serve as a moral justification for cognitive enhancement. Furthermore,the current legal environment with regard to children with higher intellectual abilitiesgives cause for concern about the well-being of future cognitively enhanced childrenand urges us to address prevailing shortcomings in educational provision beforedeliberately engaging in the creation of more cognitive potential. Suggesting that anymoral judgment about cognitive enhancement should focus strongly on the endspursued, I argue that the welfare of children is endangered not so much by the newpossibilities and methods of enhancement as by the failure to fully appreciatechildren's need for the provision of appropriate opportunities to match theirindividual abilities.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2017