Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 161–177 | Cite as

Is Human Enhancement also a Personal Matter?

  • Vincent MenuzEmail author
  • Thierry Hurlimann
  • Béatrice Godard
Original Paper


Emerging technologies are increasingly used in an attempt to “enhance the human body and/or mind” beyond the contemporary standards that characterize human beings. Yet, such standards are deeply controversial and it is not an easy task to determine whether the application of a given technology to an individual and its outcome can be defined as a human enhancement or not. Despite much debate on its potential or actual ethical and social impacts, human enhancement is not subject to any consensual definition. This paper proposes a timely and much needed examination of the various definitions found in the literature. We classify these definitions into four main categories: the implicit approach, the therapy-enhancement distinction, the improvement of general human capacities and the increase of well-being. After commenting on these different approaches and their limitations, we propose a definition of human enhancement that focuses on individual perceptions. While acknowledging that a definition that mainly depends on personal and subjective individual perceptions raises many challenges, we suggest that a comprehensive approach to define human enhancement could constitute a useful premise to appropriately address the complexity of the ethical and social issues it generates.


Biomedical enhancement Enhancement technologies Genetic engineering Ethical issues 



We are greatly indebted to R. Stenne, L. Baret, P.-A. Côté and J. Bisping for their helpful and constructive comments on earlier versions of this paper. This project was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no competing financial interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vincent Menuz
    • 1
    Email author
  • Thierry Hurlimann
    • 1
  • Béatrice Godard
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of medicine, Department of Social and Preventive MedicineBioethics Programs, University of MontrealMontrealCanada

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