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Dr Susan Hall

Home country: South Africa

Year of enrolment: 2010

Graduation date: December 2012

Department: Philosophy

Supervisor: Prof Anton van Niekerk

Dissertation title: Harm and enhancement: philosophical and ethical perspectives

Abstract: The distinction between treatment and enhancement is often considered to be a morally significant boundary, which, at the very least, marks the limits of our moral obligations. This conviction holds despite the fact that treatment and enhancement are situated along a continuum of interventions that are directed towards the improvement of human functioning. The distinction between these two sorts of interventions is based upon a notion of normative normality, which suggests that we are morally obligated to provide interventions which are directed toward the achievement of normal functioning, but that no obligation exists to improve functioning beyond this point. This dissertation will subject this position to critique by examining the constitution of normal functioning, and by suggesting that this kind of functioning cannot operate as a normative standard which determines the limits of our moral obligations. The moral desirability which we attribute to the achievement of normal functioning is based upon the independent ethical imperative to promote the possibilities for well-being of moral agents. This motivation, however, equally suggests that we will be obligated to provide certain kinds of enhancement interventions which will be likely to promote the welfare interests of moral agents, when these become available. This argument also implies that the development of enhancement technologies will require us to rethink our ethical conception of harmful non-benefits. We currently think of the non-provision of medical treatment and some environmental enhancements, such as education, as harmful to the extent that state intervention is justified to rectify this. We recognise that such non-provision, and the resultant failure to promote the welfare interests of moral agents, where such promotion is possible, harms persons by putting them in a worse position than they could have been in, with regards to their chances of leading a good life. The new technological possibilities offered by the prospect of genetic enhancement mean that we might soon have a better alternative, in terms of our chances of leading a good life, to the level of functioning that we have thus far been able to achieve. This implies that the non-provision of these enhancements would be harmful to the extent that intervention to bring about this provision would be justified.

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