Bioethics Blogs

Enhancement as Nothing More than Advantageous Bodily and Mental States

Guest Post by Hazem Zohny

Some bodily and mental states are advantageous: a strong immune system, a sharp mind, strength.  These are advantageous precisely because, in most contexts, they are likely to increase your chances of leading a good life.  In contrast, disadvantageous states – e.g. the loss of a limb, a sense, or the ability to recall things – are likely to diminish those chances.

One way to think about enhancement and disability is in such welfarist terms.  A disability is no more than a disadvantageous bodily or mental state, while to undergo an enhancement is to change that state into a more advantageous one – that is, one that is more conducive to your well-being.  This would hugely expand the scope of what is considered disabling or enhancing.  For instance, there may be all kinds of real and hypothetical things you could change about your body and mind that would (at least potentially) be advantageous: you could mend a broken arm or stop a tumour from spreading, but you could also vastly sharpen your senses, take a drug that makes you more likeable, stop your body from expiring before the age of 100, or even change the scent of your intestinal gases to a rosy fragrance.

Would all such changes be instances of enhancement?

According to this welfarist approach, yes – at least to the extent that such changes are likely to improve your well-being.  The idea here is not to bog down the concepts of enhancement and disability with contestable boundaries tied to problematic concepts like normal and abnormal traits and functioning, along with unproductive attempts to distinguish treatment from enhancement.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.