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Views & Reviews Review of the Week

The search for human perfection: we can, but should we?

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 08 June 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b2218
  1. W F Bynum, Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London
  1. w.bynum{at}

    In time, medical science could make us very different kinds of people. W F Bynum reviews a new collection of essays that ask how right it is to pursue the quest for perfection

    When politicians meddle with health services they call it reform, hoping that people won’t notice that change is not necessarily for the better. “Human enhancement” has the same ambiguity as “medical reform,” and the phrase itself seems to stack the cards against anyone who is dubious about the medical technologies and procedures that aim to alter human beings in some way or another.

    The list of possible and already realised human “enhancements” is large and growing. Advertisements in university newspapers in elite US institutions offer large sums for eggs or sperm from young people with athletic, intellectual, or other desirable attributes. Fertility clinics may offer sexing of the sperm. Memory and cognitive functions can be enhanced by chemicals; gene therapy promises much more. Cloning could produce copies of individuals with particular characteristics. Scientists working to increase longevity hint that human lifespans can be extended …

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