FRANCISCO GÜELL PELAYO THE POST-HUMANIST EMBRYO
CUADERNOS DE BIOÉTICA XXV 2014/3ª
According to Nick Bostrom, a co-founder of the
movement, transhumanism is a philosophy that “pro-
motes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding
and evaluating the opportunities for enhancing the hu-
man condition and the human organism opened up by
the advancement of technology.”1 The principal aim of
transhumanism is to “focus on radically improving the
quality of life through biological manipulation.”2 To
achieve this goal, genetic manipulation and assisted hu-
man reproduction techniques are given a central role.3
The pre-implantation embryo is at the centre of the
debate: if the embryo can be biologically manipulated
to increase the possibility of living a better life, why not
do it? In this context, biological manipulation is seen
as a favourable, safe, reliable, and convenient form of
Some authors have taken the argument for enhance-
ment further, going one step beyond those who support
the voluntary application of reproduction technologies.4
Such is the case of Julian Savulescu, the current occupant
of the Uheiro Chair in Practical Ethics at the University
of Oxford. Savulescu argues that there is a positive ob-
ligation to make use of technological interventions to
enhance human life.5 “Not only can we enhance, we
should enhance,”6 is the position defended by Savules-
cu. Genetic manipulation, from this perspective, is not
just an opportunity; it’s an imperative.
As viewed by Savulescu, the aim of genetic modi-
ﬁcation is to create happier people: “We want to be
happy people, not just healthy people.”7 Back in 2003,
in the book “Beyond Therapy,” the American Council
1 Bostrom, N. [On line publication] «Transhumanist Values».
2 Savulescu, J. «Genetic interventions and the ethics of
enhancement of human beings». In: The Oxford Handbook of
Bioethics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007, 518.
3 Bostrom, N. «Human Genetic Enhancements: A Transhu-
manist Perspective». Journal of Value Inquiry 4 (37), (2003), 493-506;
Savulescu, J. «The moral obligation to create children with the best
chance of the best life». Bioethics 5 (23), (2009), 274-290.
4 Agar, N. Liberal eugenics: in defense of human enhance-
ment, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 2004, p. 205.
5 Savulescu, J. (2007), op cit. 518.
6 Ibid, 517.
7 Ibid, 520.
of Bioethics anticipated the potential danger of this ap-
plication of biotechnology to the pursuit of happiness,
which emerges when the distinction between enhance-
ment and therapy is not taken seriously.8 Although this
distinction remains a subject of debate, it has been ef-
fectively blurred in the last decade by transhumanism,
and this ambiguity has beneﬁted the theoretical devel-
opment of enhancement.9
In recent years, transhumanists have devoted consid-
erable effort to deﬁning the meaning of a “better life”
and to specifying the physical and psychological traits
required for its achievement. Although these efforts
have not satisﬁed critics,10 the transhumanist project has
not lost any momentum. Indeed, if anything, its pro-
ponents are more convinced than ever, and take it for
granted that these basic questions have been answered.
At this basic level, some of the deepest criticisms
of transhumanism come from those who maintain that
there is an established natural law whose moral de-
mands are contrary to transhumanist aspirations. How-
ever, establishing a constructive dialogue on the basis
of such considerations is difﬁcult at best, as proponents
of transhumanist enhancement tend to consider any
position that invokes a pre-deﬁned essence of life or
a pre-established natural order as vain illusion. Indeed,
such criticisms have been dismissed as the ideology of
a “bio-conservative” group and are assumed to be un-
critically opposed to the use of technology for human
betterment.11 In this oppositional context, the moral ob-
8 President’s Council on Bioethics, Beyond therapy: biotechnol-
ogy and the pursuit of happiness, Dana Press, New York, 2003, 1-27.
9 “Transhumanists (advocates of human enhancement) are
unaffected by the problems associated with maintaining that there
are important differences between enhancement and therapy”.
Bostrom, N., Roache, R. «Ethical Issues in Human Enhancement».
In: New Waves in Applied Ethics, Pelgrave Macmillam, New York,
10 Postigo, E. «Transumanesimo e postumano: principi teorici
e implicazioni bioetiche». Medicina e Morale 2, (2009), 267-282;
Ballesteros, J., Fernández, E. (ed.). Biotecnología y Posthumanismo,
Editorial Aranzadi, Navarra, 2007; Kass, L. Life, Liberty, and the Defense
of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics, Encounter Books, San Francisco,
2002. Habermas, J. Die Zukunft der menschlichen Natur: Auf dem
Wege zu einer liberalen Eugenik?, Suhrkamp, Frankfurtam Main, 2001.
11 Bostrom, N. «In Defence of Posthuman Dignity». Bioethics
3 (19), (2005), 202-214; Bostrom et al., op cit.122; Feito, L. «Hacia
una mayor comprensión del papel de la naturaleza en los debates
bioéticos». Veritas 23, (2010), 111-129; Roache, R., Clarke S.
«Bioconservatism, bioliberalism, and the wisdom of reﬂecting on
repugnance». Monash Bioethics Review 28 (1) 4, (2009), 1-21.