Why Not Play God?

Australian bioethicist Julian Savulescu argues that ethical objections to interfering with nature are too late.

A protégé of the philosopher Peter Singer, Julian Savulescu is a prominent moral philosopher at the University of Oxford, where he directs the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. He also edits the Journal of Medical Ethics. Savulescu isn’t shy about stepping onto ethical minefields. He sees nothing wrong with doping to help cyclists climb those steep mountains in the Tour de France. Some elite athletes will always cheat to boost their performance, so instead of trying to enforce rules that will be broken, he claims we’d be better off with a system that allows low-dose doping.

So does Savulescu just get off being outrageous? “I actually think of myself as the voice of common sense,” he says, though he admits to receiving his share of hate mail. He’s frustrated by how hard it is to have reasoned arguments about loaded issues without getting flamed on the Internet. Savulescu thinks we need to become far more adept at sorting out difficult moral issues. Otherwise, he says, the human species will face dire consequences in the coming decades.

I caught up with Savulescu in Australia, where he was on sabbatical. We talked about a wide range of looming ethical issues, from new technology that will change how we’re born and how we die, to transhumanism, to how the world might end.

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