Conference article

The Medicine-society Relationship in the Debate on Human Enhancement

Francesca Marin
CIGA, Centre for Environmental Law Decisions and Corporate Ethical Certification, University of Padua, Italy

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Published in: Proceedings from the Societas Ethica Annual Conference 2011; The Quest for perfection. The Future of Medicine/Medicine of the future; August 25-28; 2011; Universita della Svizzera Italiana; Lugano; Switzerland

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 74:5, p. 65-73

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Published: 2013-01-28


ISSN: 1650-3686 (print), 1650-3740 (online)


The unprecedented development in the fields of biomedicine and the diffusion of sophisticated technologies has led to a rethinking of medical practice. In particular; human enhancement makes this re-examination urgent because in general it refers to enhancing healthy human beings with medical means to improve their abilities and traits. In other words; through human enhancement there is an application of medical knowledge and technologies to issues that are not originally thought as medical ones: medicine is not simply used to overcome biological pathologies; but to actually improve human capacities. Nevertheless; it would be wrong to exclusively explore this aspect within the conversation about the proper aims of medical practice; neglecting the purposes of society. Indeed; medicine does not exist in isolation and it must be in dialogue with the societyit serves.

If that is true; what kind of relationship can be established between the proper aims of medicine and the purposes of society? Is there any order of priority? Should medicine be constantly redefined on the basis of social needs/desires?

To discuss these issues; the paper will be developed in three stages: first; by focusing on the therapy/enhancement distinction and its limitations; second; by referring to the ends/goals of medicine distinction proposed by Edmund D. Pellegrino; third; by analysing the latter distinction as regards the debate on human enhancement.


Human Enhancement; Therapy; Vulnerability of the human being; Ends and goals of medicine


[1] President’s Council on Bioethics. 2003. Beyond therapy. Biotechnology and the pursuit of happiness. Washington DC; Government Printing Office.

[2] Wiesing; Urban. 2008. “The history of medical enhancement: from restitutio ad integrum to transformatio ad optimum?” In Medical enhancement and posthumanity; ed. Bert Gordijn; and Ruth Chadwick; New York; Springer; pp. 9-24.

[3] Parens; Erik. 1998. “Is better always good? The enhancement project”; in Enhancing human traits. Ethical and social implications; ed. Erik Parens; Washington DC; Georgetown University Press; pp. 1-28.

[4] Project Report. 1996. “The goals of medicine. Setting new priorities” in The Hastings Center Report Vol. 26; Special Supplement November–December; pp. 1-28.

[5] Pellegrino; Edmund D. 2001. “Toward a reconstruction of medical morality: the primacy of the act of profession and the fact of illness” In Physician and philosopher. The philosophical foundation of medicine: essays by Dr. Edmund Pellegrino; ed. Roger Bulger; and John McGovern; Charlottesville; Carden Jennings Publishing; pp. 18-36.

[6] Pellegrino; Edmund D. 1999. “The goals and ends of medicine: how are they to be defined?” In The goals of medicine: the forgotten issues in health care reform; ed. Mark J. Hanson; and Daniel Callahan; Washington DC; Georgetown University Press; pp. 55- 68.

[7] Pellegrino; Edmund D. 2004. Biotechnology; Human Enhancement; and the Ends of Medicine. The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity. Available from: (Accessed 30 November 2004).

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