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2004 CACE Penner Debates

Building a Better Human

Is it morally acceptable to enhance the chemical and genetic nature of persons?

September 16, 2004

Focusing on the moral acceptability of genetic enhancement, speakers Dr. Hook and Dr. Peterson presented a thought-provoking and enriching evening at the 2004 Penner Debate. With over 750 in attendance, including many Wheaton College students, the speakers, aided by moderator Steven Penner, engaged in a variety of topics surrounding the ethical application of genetic enhancement. One of the first, was the actual definition of enhancement. Dr. Hook distinguished between healing and enhancement with the former being therapy, genetic or otherwise, that is used to "heal" a person from an affliction as opposed to an actual "enhancement," in which a person voluntarily changes his or her body chemistry. On the other hand, Dr. Peterson presented enhancement as synonymous with an "improvement" that encompasses the entire person, referring to the many improvements recorded in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments. He did provide four questions that one should consider as guidelines to a moral application of enhancement.

Another topic explored was the societal repercussions of enhancement, such as the potential for an extreme type of inequality-those that are "in" and those that are "out"-based on genetics. For example, if the Smiths can pick and choose the traits of their child, maybe we should too, so our child can compete? But the Jones can't afford it and the XYZs don't believe in it. What happens to these children? Or, if one carries an inherited gene that could create challenges for future offspring, than is that person bound by societal pressures to assure a healthy child by eradicating this gene?

For further engagement on this subject, the debate is available online through WETN in several file formats. With rapid developments in genetic engineering and with stunning results in pharmacology, scientists are providing new ways to enhance human performance. Ought we pursue the opportunity to chemically or genetically enhance our bodies? Should parents provide their children with enhancement drugs or treatments? How much latitude do humans have to shape their abilities and characteristics? Are there natural or divine limits to our progress?

This debate will provide candid and helpful analysis of the issues surrounding performance-enhancing technologies. The speakers will provide ethical guidelines rooted in a Christian worldview, with sensitivity to the current developments in pharmacology and genetics.


"Some enhancements are morally acceptable for the Christian"

James C. Peterson, Ph.D.
Roy A. Hope Chair in Theology, Ethics and Christian Worldview
Professor of Theology and Ethics
McMaster Divinity College, Ontario


Enhancement is morally unacceptable for the Christian

C. Christopher Hook M.D.
Chair, Non-Malignant Hematology Group, Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN)

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