From Publishers Weekly
Our quest to create the perfect athlete or the perfect child reflects our drive for mastery and domination over life, says Sandel, a Harvard professor of government and a former member of the President's Council on Bioethics. In this evenhanded little book, which grew out of an essay in the Atlantic
, Sandel says this quest endangers the view of human life as a gift. Allowing genetic engineering to erode our appreciation for natural gifts and talents, Sandel says, will affect how we understand humility, responsibility and solidarity; it deprives parents of "the humility and enlarged human sympathies that an openness to the unbidden can cultivate." (The discussion of perfect children also gives Sandel an opportunity to rag on hyperparenting, a trend he sees as a similar expression of parents' desire for dominion.). In addition, if we all possess varying gifts and talents, then as part of our solidarity with others in our society we should share our gifts with those who lack comparable ones. Although Sandel's book treads over heavily traveled territory, it turns in a different direction from the standard arguments that the problem with bioengineering is that it deprives individuals of autonomy. (May)
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Why does improving our physical and mental capabilities through genetic engineering give us pause? Sandel acknowledges religious positions on that question but, striving for universality, sticks to secular philosophy to answer it. He bases his argument on the principle that life is a gift, which cannot be scientifically proven but which very nearly all people understand and appreciate. It isn't difficult to accept genetic engineering to heal the effects of disease and disability, but enhancing the capabilities of healthy persons or of children even before conception comes to seem increasingly iffy as Sandel expands on the problems of the souped-up athlete and the so-called designer child. Against the argument that individuals and responsible parents have the right to seek maximal capability for themselves and their offspring, Sandel poses the specter of overweening mastery of nature, which historically has led to such ill effects as environmental degradation and genocide. An illuminating ethical analysis of stem-cell research concludes this stellar work of public philosophy. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved