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Beyond an Open Future: Cognitive Enhancement and the Welfare of Children

Journal paper
Jenny I. Krutzinna
Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics Volume 26, Issue 2 April 2017, pp. 313-325

Discussions about the ethical permissibility of pediatric cognitive enhancement frequently revolve around arguments about welfare, and often include an appeal to the child’s right to an open future. Both proponents and opponents of cognitive enhancement claim that their respective positions best serve the interests of the child by promoting an open future. This article argues that this right to an open future argument only captures some of the risks to the welfare of children, therefore requiring a broader ethical approach. Further, it suggests that a thorough moral assessment of the ends pursued is needed before concluding on the moral permissibility of cognitive enhancement in children, which ultimately hinges on the effect on the overall welfare of the child, beyond an open future.

Shaping Children: Ethical Callenges to Cognitive Neuro-Enhancement

Conference presentation
Jenny Krutzinna

Conference Details

Pediatric Neuro-Enhancement – Interdisciplinary Research Week
Ethical, Social and Legal Questions in Comparison between North America and Germany
7-11 March 2016, Osnabrück / Germany

Conference Organiser: Universität Osnabrück, with support from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research

Human Enhancement: Is it really ‘good for you’?

Conference presentation
Sarah Carter, Jenny Krutzinna

Abstract

“In terms of human functioning, an enhancement is by definition an improvement on what went before. If it wasn’t good for you, it wouldn’t be enhancement.” – John Harris, p. 9 (Enhancing Evolution).  

This quote encapsulates a pretty common assumption about enhancements – not only the definitional element of the first half, but also the arguably more normative claim at the end ‘if it wasn’t good for you, it wouldn’t be enhancement.’ It is of course reasonable to assume then that enhancements are, not only good things generally, but are also good things for the people who undergo them; that they are good for the enhanced individual. However, Jen has argued, and Sarah has explored, the fact that that this can’t always be said to be the case.

Jen has argued that cognitive enhancement is not something that is an inherently good thing to bestow on young children, and that this can be demonstrated clearly in the way that we deal with gifted children in our society today, and could even lead to unforeseen consequences such as a new kind of disability. Meanwhile Sarah has explored the idea that moral enhancement (for all its conceptual issues) is something that does not directly benefit the enhanced individual, and that efforts to offer someone a reason to undergo such an intervention are likely to fall flat. Today, they discuss their research.

Conference Details

“Reflections on Bioethics and Law – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”
Centre for Social Ethics and Policy, School of Law, The University of Manchester / UK
4 November 2016

Cognitively enhanced children: the case for special needs and special regulatory attention

Journal paper
Jenny Krutzinna
Law, Innovation and Technology, Volume 8, Issue 2, November 2016

Despite the welfare of the child being afforded special legal and moral importance, it appears that the law is currently not objective in its application to children. There is an undeniable link between healthy child development and education, with the latter greatly impacting on mental health and general well-being. Drawing on the example of the differential treatment of gifted children in an educational context, I argue that the legal framework with regard to learning disabilities and cognitive impairments operates contrary to the proclaimed goal of protecting and promoting the welfare of the child. This, I argue, constitutes unjustified discrimination, especially since there is a case to be made that highly cognitively able children could be considered disabled under a social model of disability. Whilst the group of affected children is small at present, developments in cognitive enhancement technologies mean that many more children might in the future be affected. Since the law currently fails gifted children, it will by analogy also likely fail cognitively enhanced children.

Cognitively Enhanced Children: Learnings from their Gifted Predecessors

Conference presentation
Jenny Krutzinna

Abstract

Despite the welfare of the child being the ‘paramount consideration’, it appears that the law is currently not objective in its application to children. There is an undeniable link between healthy child development and education, with the latter greatly impacting on mental health and general well-being. Drawing on the example of the differential treatment of gifted children in an educational context, I argue that the legal framework with regard to learning disabilities and cognitive impairments operates contrary to the proclaimed goal of protecting and promoting the welfare of the child. This, I argue, constitutes unjustified discrimination, especially since there is a case to be made that highly cognitively able children could be considered disabled under a social model of disability. Whilst the group of affected children is small at present, developments in cognitive enhancement technologies mean that many more children might in the future be discriminated against. In addition, since the most promising cognitive enhancement interventions involve genetic technologies, such as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, authorisation from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority will likely be required. This means the state will be acting as a facilitator in ‘creating’ cognitively enhanced children, and as a result shares in the responsibility for such children and their particular welfare needs. Given the current treatment of gifted children in our educational and welfare system and the similarities to cognitively enhanced children, it is time to start regulating for the future.

Conference Details

Human Enhancement and the Law: Regulating for the Future
7-8 January 2016
St. Anne’s College, Oxford / UK

Conference Organiser: The NeuroLaw Project, supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Cognitive Enhancement: Of Child Geniuses and Disability

Conference presentation
Jenny Krutzinna

Abstract

Assuming that the purported goal of much legislation as well as ethical argument is the protection of the welfare of children, I challenge some of the conceptions which currently inform the cognitive enhancement debate. Using an example from English education law, I demonstrate that there are gaps in the debate which need to be addressed if we are to continue attempts to increase children’s cognitive abilities, whether by pharmacological, genetic, or other means. Addressing a problematic asymmetry in interpreting what is good for children, I suggest that we ought to look for alternative interpretive concepts, such as offered by the concept “DiffAbility” and the idea of neurodiversity. This should lead to actual enhanced well-being of children independt from notions of normality and/or disability, rather than an enhancement only of abilities.

 

Conference Details

IAB 2016
14-17 June 2016, Edinburgh, Scotland
Organiser: International Association of Bioethics

 

Keywords
Cognitive Enhancement; Welfare of the Child; Social; Model of Disability; Giftedness Studies; Child Development
Discipline(s) – Public Health, Ethics and Law

Can a Welfarist Approach be Used to Justify a Moral Duty to Cognitively Enhance Children?

Journal paper
Jenny Krutzinna
Bioethics, Volume 30, Issue 7, February 2016, pp 528-535

The desire to self-improve is probably as old as humanity: most of us want to be smarter, more athletic, more beautiful, or more talented. However, in the light of an ever increasing array of possibilities to enhance our capacities, clarity about the purpose and goal of such efforts becomes crucial. This is especially true when decisions are made for children, who are exposed to their parents’ plans and desires for them under a notion of increasing wellbeing. In recent years, cognitive enhancement has become a popular candidate for the promotion of wellbeing; welfarists even impose a moral duty on parents to cognitively enhance their children for the sake of their wellbeing. In this article, I aim to show that welfarists are mistaken in inferring such a moral obligation from the potential benefit of cognitive enhancement. In support of this, I offer three arguments: (a) the vagueness of wellbeing as a theoretical concept means it becomes impossible to apply in practice; (b) the link between cognition and wellbeing is far from unequivocal; and (c) quantification issues with regard to cognition make a duty impossible to discharge. In conclusion, I reject the welfarist approach as a justification for a parental moral obligation to cognitively enhance children.

Can a Welfarist Approach be Used to Justify a Moral Duty to Cognitively Enhance Children?

Conference presentation
Jenny Krutzinna

Conference Details

Enhancing Understanding of Enhancement
27-28 October 2015, Belgrade, Serbia

Conference Organisers: The Center for the Study of Bioethics & The Hastings Center

Who Wants to Live Forever? The Ethics of Immortality. [DE]

Conference presentation
Jenny Krutzinna

Abstract (German)

Wir werden immer älter und bleiben dabei im Durchschnitt sogar gesünder. Große medizinische und technologische Fortschritte ermöglichen einen stetigen Anstieg der durschnittlichen Lebenserwartung und einige ambitionierte Biogerontologen sprechen sogar von der Möglichkeit der Unsterblichkeit, die mehr oder weniger greifbar zu sein scheint.

Aber nicht alles was machbar ist, ist auch erstrebenswert. Besonders die potenziellen gesellschaftspolitischen Konsequenzen stellen uns vor eine Herausforderung und erfordern eine gezielte ethische Betrachtung. Einem Recht auf gesundes und langes Leben stehen Forderungen nach globaler Gerechtigkeit und einer Gesamtnutzenbetrachtung gegenüber. Und schließlich stellt sich auch die Frage, in wie weit aus individueller Sicht ein deutlich verlängertes Leben wünschenswert ist.

 

Conference Details

3-7 October 2012, Würzburg / Germany
MinD-Akademie – (R)Evolutionen
Organiser: Mensa-Hochschul-Netzwerk