Theoretical Medicine

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 231–247 | Cite as

Should we change the human genome?

  • Torbjörn Tännsjö
Special Articles


Should we change the human genome? The most general arguments against changing the human genome are here in focus. Distinctions are made between positive and negative gene therapy, between germ-line and somatic therapy, and between therapy where the intention is to benefit a particular individual (a future child) and where the intention is to benefit the human gene-pool.

Some standard arguments against gene-therapy are dismissed. Negative somatic therapy is not controversial. Even negative, germ-line therapy is endorsed, if the intention is to cure a certain individual (a future child). In rare cases, positive therapy on somatic cells may be warranted. Germ-line therapy may become a valuable method of preventing harm, through ‘genetic vaccination’. If safe methods evolve, it is harmless (though vain), to try to achieve more ambitious goals. Prospective parents should not be prevented from exercising this harmless kind of parental authority.

The paper concludes: Thereis a moral limit to how much we ought to manipulate the human genome, however. We ought not to jeopardize the continued existence of mankind. We ought not to develop methods of germ-line therapy intended in a radical manner to improve human nature, and we ought to leave to prospective parents to decide in individual cases what kind of intervention shall take place.

Key words

eugenics gene therapy germ-line human genetic engineering human nature negative gene-therapy positive gene therapy 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Torbjörn Tännsjö
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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