Faculty of Philosophy James Martin Advanced Research Seminar ...


Dec 11, 2012 (4 years and 4 months ago)


Faculty of Philosophy

James Martin Advanced Research Seminar Series


Oxford Martin
School, Seminar Room 1, Old Indian Institute, Broad St



~ Wednesda

17 November
, 15:



Dr Russell Powell

Program on Ethics of the New Biosciences


A Future Without Genetic Engineering:

Medicine, Evolution and the Preservation of Human



Prominent proponents of genetic enhancement argue that human germ
modification is morally desirable or obligatory because it will result in a net improvement in
human wellbeing. I argue here in favor of a more fundamental point, namely that
engineering will be necessary merely to sustain the levels of health and wellbeing that humans
currently enjoy. I show that a large
scale program of genetic intervention (1)

be necessary to
preserve existing levels of human wellbeing given the
dynamic nature of the evolutionary
environment, and (2)

be necessary to preserve existing levels of human wellbeing due to the
genetic consequences of relaxed selection response in human populations caused by
the increasing efficacy and ava
ilability of conventional medicine and other health
institutional resources. I defend the counterintuitive claim that the greater the effectiveness of
conventional medicine, the greater the need for germ
line modification, since the former in the
bsence of the latter will lead to an increasing reliance on medical technology for the
development of normal human capacities. Although this conclusion follows from the structure of
evolutionary theory, it has been overlooked in bioethics due to various mi
sconceptions about
human evolution, which I attempt to rectify, as well as the sordid history of Darwinian
approaches to ethics and social policy, which I distinguish from the present argument. I conclude
that human genetic engineering is a
prima facie

al imperative grounded in principles relating
to the fair and efficient allocation of limited health care resources across generations

Russell Powell is the Arts and Humanities Research Council Fellow on the Science and
Religious Conflict Project

at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, a James Martin Research Fellow
for the Program on Ethics and the New Biosciences, and a member of the Oxford Centre for
Neuroethics at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. Prior to his appointment at Oxford, R
was a Greenwall Postdoctoral Fellow at Johns Hopkins University and (simultaneously) a Visiting
Assistant Professor of Philosophy and a Senior Research Scholar in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics
at Georgetown University. He received his Ph.D. in Phi
losophy and M.S. in Evolutionary Biology
from Duke University (2009), his Juris Doctor (with honors) from NYU Law School (2002), and his
B.A. in philosophy (summa cum laude) from Binghamton University (1999). Russell specializes in
the philosophy of biolog
ical and biomedical science, with a particular interest in the evolutionary
dimensions of bioethics broadly construed. However, his academic interests are wide
ranging and
highly interdisciplinary. He has published in areas ranging from the philosophy of s
cience to
political and legal philosophy, in journals such as the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science,
Journal of Philosophy, Journal of Political Philosophy, Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, Biology
and Philosophy, European Journal for the Ph
ilosophy of Science, American Journal of Bioethics,
Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, and the Australian Journal of Legal Philosophy. Prior to
commencing his graduate work in philosophy, Russell worked as an attorney in the New York

office of the law fi
rm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP, where he practiced complex
product liability litigation.