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J Med Ethics. 2011 Oct;37(10):611-5. doi: 10.1136/jme.2010.042226. Epub 2011 Apr 22.

I'll be a monkey's uncle: a moral challenge to human genetic enhancement research.

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Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities and History of Medicine, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA.


The potential for genetic engineering of enhancements to complex human traits has been the subject of vigorous debate for a number of years. Most of the discussion has centered on the possible moral consequences of pursuing enhancements, especially those that might affect complex behaviours and components of personality. Little has been written on the actual process of implementing this technology. This paper presents a 'thought experiment' about the likely form of final preclinical testing for a technology to enhance intelligence as a prototypical multiplex trait. The significance and the potential dangers of implementing enhancements in humans, especially to highly valued traits such as intelligence, would mandate a thorough programme of testing in animals, including non-human primates such as chimpanzees. The implications this would have for researchers, society and, most importantly, the animals themselves are discussed, and the paper concludes with a suggestion for a morally justifiable approach to resolve the tragic question of what to do with research animals who have a cognitive capacity that is close to that of humans.

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