Review Of "Wonderwoman And Superman: The Ethics Of Human Biotechnology" By J. Harris

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Harris writes forcefully in defense of genetic screening and manipulation, including the possibility of a new breed of persons: we should not forgo possible benefits, he declares, just because we fear the unknown or our own courage to outlaw real harms. Unfortunately, he too often assumes conclusions of his earlier inquiries (Violence and Responsibility, 1980, and The Value of Life, CH, Dec'85), and almost everything discussed here turns on these assumptions. Harris's broadly consequentialist approach emphasizes the moral equality of each coupled with utilitarian social policy considerations; he shows little sympathy for a priori principles, moral sentiments, or moral traditions. Such an approach permits him to say, for instance, that killing a normal baby does not wrong it, since it is not a “person”--i.e., “a creature capable of valuing its own existence.” Infants and embryos are “pre-persons”--thus resources--who/which can be used for various biotechnical purposes. Harris engages in contemporary debates regarding the use of fetal tissue, wrongful life, genetic screening, eugenics, and commercial exploitation--cf. Joel Feinberg, Harm to Others (CH, Apr'85); Derek Parfit, Reason and Persons (CH, Nov'84); Jonathan Glover, What Sort of People Should There Be? (1984) and Fertility and the Family (London, 1989); and David Suzuki and Peter Knudson, Genethics (CH, Sep'89). Harris provides a rich menu of cases, problems, arguments, and optimistic conclusions.


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