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How to Build a Better Human

An Ethical Blueprint

Gregory E. Pence

Medicine has recently discovered spectacular tools for human enhancement. Yet to date, it has failed to use them well, in part because of ethical objections. Meanwhile, covert attempts flourish to enhance with steroids, mind-enhancing drugs, and cosmetic surgery—all largely unstudied scientifically.

The little success to date has been sporadic and financed privately. In How to Build a Better Human, prominent bioethicist Gregory E. Pence argues that people, if we are careful and ethical, can use genetics, biotechnology, and medicine to improve ourselves, and that we should publicly study what people are doing covertly. Pence believes that we need to transcend the two common frame stories of bioethics: bioconservative alarmism and uncritical enthusiasm, and that bioethics should become part of the solution—not the problem—in making better humans.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 224Size: 5 3/4 x 8 3/4
978-1-4422-1762-1 • Hardback • August 2012 • $35.00 • (£21.95)
978-1-4422-1764-5 • eBook • August 2012 • $24.99 • (£15.95)
Gregory E. Pence, professor of philosophy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and an expert in medical ethics, is the author or editor of numerous books on bioethics, including Medical Ethics, Elements of Bioethics, Who’s Afraid of Human Cloning?, and Cloning After Dolly.
Part I—Competent Adults
Chapter 1: What if Your Virtual Life Surpasses Your Real Life?
Chapter 2: Lessons from Bioethics’ History
Chapter 3: Expanding the Mind with Drugs
Chapter 4: Building Better Female Bodies
Chapter 5: Building Better Male Bodies
Chapter 6: Is it Moral to Feel Better than Well?
Chapter 7: Practical Ways to Build a Longer Life
Chapter 8: Is It Wrong to Live to a Hundred?
Chapter 9: Personalized Genomics: Caveat Emptor!
Part II—Choosing Better, Future Children
Chapter 10: Choosing a Better Embryo
Chapter 11: Eugenic Abortions?
Chapter 12: Building Better Fetuses in Utero
Chapter 13: Building Better Kids at Birth: Vaccinations
Chapter 14: Building Better Minds of Children: Ritalin and Adderal
Part III—Changing Human Nature?
Chapter 15: How Not to think about Genetic Enhancement
Chapter 16: Human Enhancement; Six Psychosocial Objections
Chapter 17: Overview: Cloning, Primordial Cells & Enhancement
Chapter 18: Conclusions and Six Practical Proposals
Human enhancement is an important topic. However, too many authors dwell on improbable scenarios, such as genetic engineering of super-babies. By contrast, this book tackles the real ethical dilemmas that our society faces today. Is it wrong for healthy college students to boost academic performance with Ritalin and similar drugs? Is increased longevity a bane or a boon? How can simple interventions like good nutrition and vaccinations produce children who are not only healthier but smarter? Professor Gregory Pence uses science, logic, and ethics to analyze these and many other topics. Along the way, he explains why we need not fear designer babies and other Brave New World scenarios. Legislators and other policymakers should read this timely and fascinating book so that they will know what to regulate—and what to leave alone.
Kerry Lynn Macintosh, Santa Clara University

From Frankenstein to GATTACA innovative biomedical technologies have been portrayed as bogeymen and dystopias. Bringing commonsense to bear on subjects often misrepresented by enthusiasts and alarmists, bioethics professor Gregory Pence, author of Whose Afraidof HumanCloning, clarifies the science and dispels the hype and paranoia surrounding the bioethics of everyday life. He offered reasonable answers to such questions as: Should I use life extending medical or mind enhancing drugs? Is there anything wrong with extending peoples' lives? Should I vaccinate my children? Is it OK to take anti-depressants? Is there something to fear from the new genetics or from stem cell research? How to Build a Better Human provides astute and invaluable advice on these issues and is without a doubt the best "How To" book ever published in bioethics.
Robert Baker

Gregory E. Pence has managed to wed nuance, rigor and wit in the service of one of the thorniest issues in bioethics. The debate over human enhancement is too often shaped by ideologues and zealots – and too infrequently informed by the kind of thoughtful and enjoyable analysis found in How to Build a Better Human.
Kenneth W. Goodman, University of Miami

In How to Build a Better Human, Greg Pence, a medical ethicist, argues that careful, ethical people can use genetics, biotechnology and medicine to improve themselves. To do this, he believes that we must refuse to reject or embrace these advances without careful consideration. In doing so, bioethics can become part of the solution instead of the problem.
UAB - News from University of Alabama at Birmingham

Bioethicist Pence (philosophy, Univ. of Alabama) addresses two extremely interesting and controversial topics in this thought-provoking work. The first illuminates the somewhat silent world of human enhancement. The second focuses on how the discipline of ethics in many cases resists these advances because of its preexisting paradigm which wrongly groups the very efforts that can improve humankind. The book provides several detailed cases of human enhancement activities along with where their trajectory is headed. For example, Pence describes the use of an FDA-approved medication that stimulates wakefulness. But in the situation presented, a student uses the drug to improve studying for the bar exam. Indeed, the drug is legal but was not designed for this purpose. And herein lies an ethical dilemma: is it acceptable to improve cognitive function through an off-label use of a drug? The book also shows how incorrectly clumping ethical problems leads to wrong outcomes. The author uses many examples to prove the point that ethics and human enhancement can coexist if the ethics community applies its principles specifically to each case. After reading this work, it is not hard to see that the improbable future depicted in the movie Total Recall is just over the horizon. Summing Up: Recommended. All academic students and general audiences.