Genetic Screening for Happiness

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations
Final Version – Submitted on 20 October 2006
PHIL 409: Research
For: Dr Nick Agar
Genetic Screening for Happiness: Depraved Design or Moral Mandatory?
Dan Turton
Word count: 14,754 (excluding captions, contents page, footnotes, and references)
Genetic Screening for Happiness
INTRODUCTION .......................................................................................................... 5
HAPPINESS...................................................................................................................... 7
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND GENETICS ..................................................... 14
CONCLUSION ................................................................................................................ 60
REFERENCE LIST ......................................................................................................... 63
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– “Philosophy is useless if it does not drive away the suffering of mankind”
(Epicurus 341-270BC; c.f. De Botton 2000, 55)
The rapid progress of science and technology has a dramatic effect on how we live
our lives. This is especially true in the case of healthcare (Sander 2000). Bionic arms
that are controlled by our thoughts can now replace much of the function of lost
limbs, allowing accident victims to perform lost capabilities, such as being able to put
on their own socks again.1 Reproductive healthcare is no different. The synergistic
effects of the myriad technological and scientific advances have afforded us incredible
control over the ‘miracle’ of birth (De Rycke, Liebaers, & Van Steirteghem 2002).
Assisted reproductive technologies allow many couples who could not reproduce
Tennessee resident Jesse Sullivan has been dubbed “the world’s first bionic man” by scientist Todd
Kuiken who helped develop two motorized arms that move according to input from an amplified
microarray embedded in Jesse’s brain which responds to regular arm-moving thoughts (Annals of
Neurology, 2006, A16).
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naturally to give birth to a child and, in some cases, all the children they want.
Potential parents can even make important decisions about the possible lives of their
child- or children-to-be, based on recent advances in genomics2 and the continuing
development of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). The focus of this essay
will be on the morality of the use of this technology to screen for happiness.
Since technological and scientific progress will continue to advance the capabilities of
genomics and PGD, this essay discusses a vital moral question for our future
generations: if we could genetically screen embryos for the predisposition to become
happy people, should we do so?3 In answering this question, the main philosophical
considerations are the importance of happiness and of procreative liberty; the
freedom to reproduce or not reproduce without interference (Robertson 2003). Both
procreative liberty and happiness will be shown to be of vital importance concerning
the morality of using PGD to screen for happiness in potential children. The thesis
that this essay will defend is that genetic screening for happiness is morally mandatory
and should, therefore, be legally permissible. However, despite the immense
importance of happiness, it should not be legally mandatory because of the
importance of privacy and procreative liberty.
This thesis will be argued for as follows. First, contemporary thoughts and findings
about happiness are discussed and happiness is defined for the purposes of this essay.
Then, the science and technology driving PGD and genomics is briefly described and
an exploration of what it means to be genetically predisposed to develop into a happy
person is carried out. This is followed by an ethical analysis of genetic screening for
happiness that follows the methodology set out by John Robertson (2005), which
shows that screening for happiness is not a depraved design. Consequently, the
Genomics is the branch of biotechnology that attempts to map-out the entire genomes of species’.
The use of bio- and reproductive technologies (generally) to increase happiness is seen as an area in
desperate need of ethical attention, prompting George W. Bush to set up and fund the President’s Council
on Bioethics, who produce documents such as: Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of
Happiness (Kass 2004).
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suggestion that genetic screening for happiness is morally mandatory is offered and
strongly endorsed, although it is argued that screening for happiness should not be
legally mandatory because of some practical and ethical considerations. Finally, this
essay then summarises the discussion and illuminates issues for future research.
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– Not exactly a philosophical definition, but nevertheless…
William James (1902, 78) proposed that the pursuit of happiness is the “secret
motive” behind all of our actions and others have suggested that the best society is
that in which there is the greatest amount of happiness.4 The United States’
Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, even decrees that
all people have the right to pursue happiness, although it fails to define happiness.5
This ‘oversight’ may well have been because the meaning of happiness has been a
subject of formal and informal debate since at least the time of the Ancient Greeks 6
and yet is still widely considered to be an incredibly elusive concept (Diener, Scollon,
Many authors have made this proposal (often discussed as the Greatest Happiness Principle), although
Jeremy Bentham (1789) popularised it (Layard 2005; Parekh 1974).
See (
Aristotle wrote the fundamental work Nicomachean Ethics more than 300 years BCE (c.f. Ross 1995).
And prior to that, in The Euthydemus, Plato quotes Socrates as stating; (after asking who did not desire
happiness – to no response) “Well then, since we all of us desire happiness, how can we be happy?–that is
the next question” (c.f. McMahon 2006, 25).
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& Lucas 2003; Martin 2005; Nettle 2005).7 Despite its nebulosity, the term
‘happiness’ is used in conversation liberally, especially in the last 20 years (McMahon
2006), and is most often understood.8 However, as soon as people are asked what
happiness means, they become veritable ‘umm…’ and ‘arr…’ making machines,
before finally producing one of many possible definitions.9 The reason that we can
understand uses of ‘happiness’ in day-to-day conversation is that, although the term
represents a lot of aspects, they are all interrelated and fall into two main categories;
satisfaction with life, and feeling good (having more positive than negative feelings).10
It is these two components of happiness that constitute the definition used in this
essay. How satisfaction with life and feeling good are combined to create happiness is
discussed below.
A modern version of happiness as satisfaction simply asks if, all things considered, we
are satisfied with our life (Hamilton 2003).11 Although everyone will approach their
answer to this question slightly differently, studies have shown that some aspects of
our lives affect such answers considerably more than others. Heady and Wearing
(1992, 79) claim that “a sense of meaning and purpose” in life is the most telling
indicator of overall life satisfaction.12 Leading a life that we would consider to be
The equivocal nature of ‘happiness’ is acknowledged by Kant in his work Grounding for the Metaphysics
of Morals (1785, 27); “the concept of happiness is such an indeterminate one” (c.f. McMahon 2006, xi).
Daniel Nettle (2005, 7) proclaims that happiness is much like love in this sense; “if you have to ask
whether you are in it or not, you are probably not.” Or for those who have never experienced love, here is
an analogy based on a fishing axiom used by my father; “if you have to wonder whether you have a fish on
your line, then you don’t have one on there”; if you have to stop and think before clapping along with the
‘if you’re happy and you know it…’ song, then ‘happy’ you probably are not.
Since January this year, I have been asking my friends and colleagues (some are both) what they think
happiness is and have rarely managed to leave the conversation before half an hour has passed. Aristotle
must have experienced the same phenomena; (referring to mankind) “with regard to what happiness is, they
differ” (Martin 2005, 11).
Daniel Nettle (2005, 7) dubs these two broad areas of happiness as “comfort” and “joy.” See Ryan and
Deci (2001) for a useful review.
Ed Diener and colleagues have created and adapted the Satisfaction With Life Scale to answer this
question in increasingly consistent ways (Diener et al. 1985; Pavot & Diener 1991; Pavot & Diener 1993;
Pavot, Diener, & Suh, 1998).
Headey and Wearing (1992) interpret their finding as indicating the importance of religious and spiritual
belief. However, it is not clear that the questions used in the studies they refer to can rule out living a
principled life generally, whether for religious or secular reasons (Kasser & Ryan 1996). Indeed, other
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meaningful would be leading our life congruously with our beliefs about what a good
life is. Envisaged in this way, satisfaction in life is similar to Aristotle’s concept of
eudaimonia.13 We have to live a virtuous life (according to our personal conception of
virtue) if we wish to lead a meaningful life, and thereby achieve satisfaction or longterm happiness.
Contemporary hedonistic conceptions of happiness usually consider pleasure and the
absence of pain (re-popularised by Bentham)14 as the blueprint for a happy existence.
By pleasure, hedonists mean feeling good and by pain,15 they mean feeling bad
(Moore 2004). Essentially, strict hedonists consider pleasure to be the ultimate ‘good’
and pain to be the ultimate ‘bad’ (Sinnott-Armstrong 2006). This does not imply that
every hedonist will necessarily perform immoral acts for ‘fun’. Since a hedonist, just
like a devoutly religious person, would probably feel bad if she stole some candy from
a baby, she is very unlikely to do so. Indeed, the hedonist might even go out of her
way to help others because performing pro-social actions makes her feel really good.
We can introspectively evaluate if we are currently feeling good, bad, or indifferent
quite accurately (Davidson 1992, 2004; Davidson et al. 1990) and it would be counterintuitive to claim to be feeling happy while experiencing pain or feeling bad (Layard
Although it might appear that the pursuit of pleasure (feeling good) and the pursuit
of a meaningful life (satisfaction) are likely to lead to divergent outcomes, this is
usually not the case. Research shows that people who feel good are more likely to
studies have shown that religious practice may offer many benefits, such as positive community
relationships, which make it more highly correlated with happiness (Nettle 2005, 156).
Which he proposed in Nicomachean Ethics (Ross 1995).
(Bentham 1789; c.f. Layard 2005; Parekh 1974). Bentham states that “Nature has placed mankind under
the governance of two sovereign masters, pain, and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we
ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do” (Bentham 1789; c.f. Moore 2004, 1).
In this essay, ‘pain’ represents all kinds of physical and mental states, ranging from discomfort to
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altruistically help others16 (e.g. Feingold 1983)17 and that people who are satisfied with
life are much more likely to be feeling good at any moment (Urry et al. 2004).18 Surely
the most desirable kind of happiness would include leading a meaningful and
satisfying life while enjoying the pleasure of feeling good along the way? Recent
concepts of well-being that are used to measure happiness19 take satisfaction, feeling
good, and feeling bad into account (Diener et al. 2003). These general accounts of
happiness are usually referred to as subjective well-being (SWB). For the purposes of
this essay and in line with the majority of conceptions of SWB, Happiness (with a
capital H)20 will refer to usually feeling good, not bad,21 and considering oneself to be
leading a meaningful life that is satisfying in all important areas. 22,23,24 This definition
is useful because, philosophically, it allows for preference and hedonistic accounts of
consequentialism, while not ruling out any other major goals of political philosophy,
such as deontological accounts.25
As Bertrand Russell pointed out: “if you are happy you will be good” (c.f. Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener
2005, 828).
Lyubomirsky, King, and Diener (2005) provide an extensive review of studies that show correlation and
causation between several definitions of happiness and various positive outcomes, including prosocial
behaviour (pages 828, 835, 837).
See Table 1 in (Urry et al. 2004, 370), which shows that respondents’ scores on the satisfaction with life
scale are highly significantly positively correlated (p-value < 0.01) with feeling good (correlation 0.30), as
represented by recordings of asymmetry in the hemispheres of the pre-frontal cortex. The pre-fontal cortex
has long been linked to the general emotional states of positive and negative affect (feeling good and bad),
see Davidson (2004).
Although, it should be noted that the term ‘happiness’ is only used in titles, if at all, because it has high
interest value but tends to create confusion because of its equivocal nature when used anywhere else (Creel
For this essay, the opposite of ‘Happiness’ will be denoted by ‘unHappiness.’
It should be noted that a life of Happiness that includes no instances of feeling bad is no way endorsed in
this essay, as discussed in more detail in the Is Screening for Happiness a Depraved Design? Section below.
See Diener et al. (2003, 192) Figure 1 for a model of what constitutes Happiness.
Hopefully this definition proves more useful than Alexander Pope’s discussion of happiness, which
amounted to a quarter of his Essay on Man, concluding that: “happiness is happiness” (c.f. Gilbert 2006,
33). This quote is taken slightly out of context. However, it accurately represents Pope’s view that
Happiness is hard to define and yet we all know when we are experiencing it (c.f. Gilbert 2006).
Throughout this essay there are numerous references to other studies on various conceptions of
Happiness. If the cited studies refer to positive and negative affect (feeling good and not feeling bad),
satisfaction, or well-being then they are reported as Happiness because they all make up major components
of Happiness as defined in this essay and they all have an increasing effect on each other (Lyubomirsky,
King, & Diener 2005; Urry et al. 2004) as discussed in the main body.
Deontological account s of ethics are discussed below.
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There is much debate in the SWB literature regarding the legitimacy of individuals’
reports of their Happiness (Angner 2005). Indeed, based mainly on the theoretical
and empirical problems with measuring and comparing self-reports of Happiness,
Beckerman (1974, 53) claims that the “concept of happiness is one for which there
can be no scientific objective measure”. Beckerman (1974) is claiming that, because
any scientific tests of Happiness use correlations of some internal or external
phenomena with an a priori definition of Happiness, it cannot be proven that ‘real’
happiness is actually being tested. Furthermore, (Schumaker 2006) explains that many
people have become conditioned to report that they are happy even when they are
not. Schumaker (2006) claims that this occurs because citizens of First-World
countries have so much autonomy that if they haven’t been able to create (or
purchase) their Happiness, then they must be losers unworthy of association with
others. Schumaker (2006) makes a cogent case for this self-reporting bias in real-life
interactions. However, experimental conditions of anonymity and reversed questions
can avoid at least most of this problem (Diener et al. 1999). Furthermore, all of our
linguistic concepts are socially constructed, so to attack such concepts is to attack
much of psychology and many other social sciences. Therefore, any definition of
Happiness that is empirically based on the folk’s conception cannot be disregarded
on the grounds that this conception is a priori. Beckerman (1974) is also wrong to
state that Happiness cannot be measured objectively. Recent developments in
neuroimaging have produced significant correlations between electrical activity in
certain areas of the brain, various SWB measures, and observer reports of individuals’
Happiness (Layard 2005; Urry et al. 2004). Since Happiness is not an imaginary
phenomenon, and since it can be subjectively and objectively assessed, pursuing a
philosophical discussion on the moral merits of trying to increase happiness is a
potentially fertile project.
An emerging consensus amongst those who study it is that Happiness has three
major causes; circumstances, intentional activity, and genetics (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon,
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& Schkade 2005; Sheldon & Lyubomirsky 2006). The three causes have even been
apportioned approximate weightings; 10% circumstances, 40% intentional activity,
and 50% genetics26 (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade 2005, 116). The most
surprising finding is perhaps that the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and
have found ourselves, make very little difference to our Happiness. The
circumstantial factors that do play a role include (amongst others); health, income
(although not as much as you might think), 27 religious affiliation, and employment
and marital status (Argyle 1999; Diener et al. 1999). If these findings are correct then
it appears that a major component of our Happiness is, at least indirectly, a result of
our genes. This complex issue is discussed in much more detail in the Science,
Technology, and Genetics section below. This leaves a considerable amount of our
Happiness to be accounted for by our intentional activity. Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, and
Schkade (2005) define three categories of intentional activity that can lead to
Happiness; intentionally performing activities that increase Happiness,28 thinking
about circumstances positively,29 and setting and striving for meaningful goals.30
Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, and Schkade (2005, 118) claim that intentional activity is the
“most promising” area for increasing our Happiness and advances in cognitive
behavioural therapy (CBT)31 (Hollon 1998; Layard 2005) and positive psychology
appear to be the best way to achieve these changes (Seligman 2002; Seligman & Steen
The potential role that genetics could play in an individual’s Happiness is discussed in detail below.
After controlling for status, changes in income level above subsistence level have hardly any impact on
happiness at all (Layard 2005). Furthermore, Diener, Horwitz, and Emmons (1985) surveyed the richest
people in the USA (US$100,000,000+) to find that their satisfaction with life was just above average.
Such as trying to be good to other people (e.g. Magen & Aharoni 1991; c.f. Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, &
Schkade 2005).
Such as, if you will exclude the platitude, seeing the glass as half full (e.g. Seligman 1991; c.f.
Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade 2005).
Be they meaningful to you personally (e.g. Sheldon & Houser-Marko 2001; c.f. Lyubomirsky, Sheldon,
& Schkade 2005) or meaningful to society (e.g. Snyder & Omoto 2001; c.f. Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, &
Schkade 2005).
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a type of therapy that trains patients to think more positively about the
circumstances and events in their life, which often leads to behavioural and emotional changes that are
beneficial to their Happiness (Hollon 1998).
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2005; Simonton & Baumeister 2005).32 However, any approach to increasing
Happiness must consider how the various causes of Happiness interact with each
other (Sheldon & Houser-Marko 2001). If an unHappy individual had an unfortunate
genotype33 and lived in miserable circumstances, they might need to attend daily CBT
sessions to achieve anything like Happiness.34 Furthermore, the components of
Happiness (mentioned above)35 also interact with each other (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon,
& Schkade 2005), creating a complex system of interactions with a profound effect
on our lives. Knowing the extent to which our genes can affect our Happiness,
starting life without the genetic disposition to be Happy would be quite unfortunate
indeed. The next section addresses what science and technology can tell us about
how a genetic disposition for happiness could be identified and provided for our
future children.
Those readers familiar with CBT and positive psychology might associate them with treatments for the
depressed among us but this essay is concerned with their equal potency for making averagely Happy
people even Happier.
The genotype of a person is their complete genetic make up.
The interaction of genetic and environmental inputs to create dispositions is discussed in detail in the
next section.
Happiness refers to usually feeling good, not bad, and leading a meaningful life that is satisfying in all
important areas.
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– “The greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions, and not on our circumstances.
We carry the seeds of the one or the other about with us in our minds wherever we go.”
(Martha Washington 1731-1802)36
In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is a widely used method of assisted reproduction that gives
couples who cannot conceive in ‘the traditional way’37 a good chance of pregnancy38
(Silber 2005). Since the science is not yet perfect, approximately ten or more eggs are
extracted and mixed with sperm to form embryos,39 which are then cryogenically
frozen40 (Silber 2005). The embryos are subsequently inserted into the uterus in
batches of up to three,41 to increase the chances of success42 (Silber 2005). Although
Cited from (
Often due to damaged fallopian tubes or poor quality sperm (Silber 2005).
Louise Brown, the first ‘test tube’ baby, was born in 1978 using IVF (McClure 1996).
In New Zealand and the United Kingdom 20-30% of embryos used in IVF treatment result in a
successful birth (Ministry of Health 2005).
The freezing process is slightly degenerative for the quality of the embryo (Munne & Wells 2003) but is
necessary to avoid the risk and discomfort of the initial ‘harvesting’ the eggs (Silber 2005).
Although, “usually no more than two” when fertility is not an issue (Ogilvie, Braude, & Scriven 2005,
Harris (2004, 141) notes that even Germany, a highly religious country, has an Embryo Protection
Act allowing for the implanting of up to three embryos at one time in IVF treatment “in the hope and
expectation that at least one will survive.”
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some studies have suggested that IVF treatment may increase the risk of ovarian
cancer in mothers43 and slightly decrease birth weights,44 these studies have failed to
provide adequate control populations (Kovalesky et al. 2003; c.f. Robertson 2004).
Indeed, even if children produced with the help of IVF are slightly more at risk of
harm than children conceived through coital reproduction, the absolute risk is still
small (Robertson 2004). Clearly, more research needs to be performed in this area
and since long-term latent harms will not even be testable for some time, a conclusive
verdict on this issue is not imminent. However, IVF is widely used and is generally
“thought to be safe both for women and offspring” (Robertson 2004, 9).
Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) can take place before the embryos are
inserted into the uterus in the IVF process. PGD can now be used to test the genome
of embryos to prevent children being born with nearly 1,000 heritable diseases.45 It
should be noted that prospective parents who wish to genetically screen their
potential children can choose to follow a similar IVF process to the one outlined
above, regardless of their ability to procreate without technological assistance.
Figure 1 Human embryo
development from fertilized egg to hatching blastocyst. (a) Fertilized egg with
two pronuclei visible (day
0); (b) two-cell stage (day
1); (c) four-cell stage (day
2); (d) eight-cell stage
(early day 3); (e) 16-cell
stage (late day 3); (f)
morula stage (day 4); (g)
blastocyst stage (day 5)
with inner cell mass
indicated by the arrow; (h)
hatching blastocyst. (c.f.
Ogilvie et al. 2005, 256)
For example, Venn, Watson, & Bruinsma (1999).
For example, Helmerhorst et al. (2004).
On the 14 August 2006, there were 1,129 clinics, performing or researching PGD for some of 1,283
diseases registered with the GeneTests website ( 2006).
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Although there are many specific PGD processes, they all share some basic aspects
(Pellestor, Anahory, & Hamamah 2005). Three days after the sperm has fertilised the
egg, the developing embryo is usually constitutive of between five and ten cells,
known as blastomeres (see Figure 1 above). This is the standard time for removing a
blastomere for PGD46 (De Vos & Van Steirteghem 2001). The blastomere is
removed using a microscopic biopsy pipette while the embryo is anchored with a
holding pipette (see Figure 2 below). A variety of tests can then be performed in
which various chemicals are applied to the blastomere to detect specific genetic
sequences or abnormalities (Ogilvie, Braude, & Scriven 2005). The genome of each
embryo can be screened this way with between 96 and 99% accuracy (depending on
the method used), allowing for the genetically ‘fittest’ embryo or embryos 47 to be
implanted into the uterus (Ministry of Health 2005). Clinics performing PGD usually
recommend a follow-up prenatal diagnosis48 (after successful impregnation) to
substantially diminish the chances of a child being born with a catastrophic genetic
disease (Ministry of Health 2005). Prenatal diagnosis will not be discussed in this
essay because any resultant abortion involves more ethical problems than the
‘screening’ of embryos performed in PGD.49 The only recent genetic technology that
this essay focuses on is the PGD process, of which IVF is an integral part.
Sometimes two blastomeres are removed at this stage (Ministry of Health 2005).
PGD is usually used to ensure that ‘unfit’ genomes are not implanted. For example, embryos with the
genome that has been shown to entail the development of the degenerative brain disorder Huntington’s
disease in 50% of cases, can be destroyed or, legislation permitting, used for research (www.
There are many forms of prenatal diagnosis, that range from having a trained physician feel through the
stomach for abnormalities to an embroscopy, where a live-feeding video camera is inserted into the vagina
and a blood or tissue sample of the embryo is taken (Hobbins et al. 1994).
It could be possible to argue that pre-natal genetic diagnoses and PGD were the same in all relevant
ways, although, the fact that the mother may have to go through the trauma of an abortion should, alone, be
a sufficient enough difference (Savulescu 2001). For more differences see Ministry of Health (2005). For a
specific article about the ethical issues with pre-natal genetic diagnosis, see Callister (2006).
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biopsy of a human cleavage-stage embryo.
(a) Eight-cell embryo, day
3 postfertilization;
(b) embryo on holding
pipette (left), with biopsy
pipette (right) breaching
the zona pellucida;
(c) blastomere removal by
(d) biopsied blastomere
with a clearly visible single
arrow). (c.f. Ogilvie et al.
2005, 256)
Legislation permitting, IVF, PGD, the completion of the Human Genome Project50
in 2003, and the burgeoning corpus of genetic studies could soon allow potential
parents the extensive procreative liberty to screen for many genetically-based
phenotypes. They could choose the embryos with genes linked to higher intelligence,
a particular sexual preference, or even greater Happiness based on their own
conception51 of what constitutes a desirable phenotype52 for their child. However,
complex phenotypic traits, such as intelligence and Happiness, would be much more
difficult to screen for than genetically inherited diseases. Although specific genes that
appear to have some effect on intelligence53 and Happiness54 have been identified, it
is simply not the case that there is such a thing as a Happiness gene. This may come
as a great disappointment to those in the media who seem to revel in the controversy
The main goal of the Human Genome Project was to identify all of the genes in human DNA and to
determine the billions of pairings that make up the human genome ( 2004).
No pun intended.
Phenotypes are observable behavioural dispositions and physical traits (Lewontin 1972).
Joe Tsien and his colleagues genetically engineered mice by adding an extra NR2B gene, which appeared
to make them learn twice as fast and have much better memories than regular mice (Tang et al. 1999).
Unfortunately, however, the mice also appeared to suffer from some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder
whereby they found it much harder to forget unpleasant experiences (Wei et al. 2001; c.f. Agar 2004, 32).
Discussed in more detail below.
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caused by misleading headlines, such as “Attention-Deficit Gene Is Located” from
the Wall Street Journal (c.f. Parens 2004, s4). However, just because there is not a
Happiness gene does not mean that genes cannot have an influence on Happiness.
The notion of a single gene that dictates a phenotypic trait ignores the profound
complexity of how genes and environments interact with each other and endorses the
infamous fallacy of Genetic Determinism. Genetic Determinism is the view that
genes can dictate an individual’s phenotypic traits regardless of environmental
influences (Looren de Jong 2000). The falsity of genetic determinism became wellknown when zoologist and psychologist Konrad Lorenz (1937, 1939) attempted to
create a mutually-exclusive distinction between innate and acquired behaviours,
drawing heavy criticism from developmental biologists (c.f. Mameli & Bateson 2006).
Most notably, Daniel Lehrman’s (1953) reply to Lorenz, asserted that all phenotypes
are a result of a developmental process, whereby genes interact with the environment,
even if the environmental influence is not obvious (c.f. Mameli & Bateson 2006). If
Genetic Determinism was correct, then monozygotic twins55 would be identical in
every respect. The existence of some monozygotic twins with fundamental character
differences shows that this is clearly not the case (Agar 2004). 56 Generally speaking,
the differences in phenotype that are not because of genetics are due to
environmental factors (Lewontin 1972; Sober 2000).
In an informative overview of the role that genes can play in human development,
Erik Parens (2004) shows how phenotypes can be viewed on their degree of genetic
influence. Parens (2004, s11) claims the general consensus is that the variation in
complex personality traits, such as intelligence or a Happy disposition, is
approximately equally due to genetic and environmental influences. Twin studies that
compare the phenotypes of identical twins raised in roughly the same environment
Monozygotic twins are more commonly known as identical twins. They result from a single fertilized
egg splitting into two embryos that have exactly the same DNA.
Richard Lewontin (1994) stresses the point that the fingerprints of identical twins are not identical.
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with those who were raised apart, can calculate an estimate of the degree of genetic
influence on phenotypes, such as Happiness.57 Although this method is not perfect,
the sheer number of studies that have produced similar results provides some
incentive to agree with their general conclusion.
However, to prove the role that genes might play in creating some particular
phenotype to the standard scientific level, Elliot Sober (2000, 354) outlines four
questions which require empirically supported answers. Firstly, statistical analysis
needs to be performed to compare the number of cases with and without the
phenotype in question across various environments, so as to learn to what degree
genes and environmental factors are sufficient or necessary to cause that phenotype
(Sober 2000). Secondly, the approximate degree of genetic influence needs to be
calculated (Sober 2000). The twin studies mentioned above are the best we can
manage for this task. More accurate results could be obtained by long-term
experiments with separate control and test groups. However, enforcing the separation
of identical twins into groups is unlikely to get past any modern human ethics
committees. Thirdly, correlations between the phenotype in question and some
genetic variation need to be found to discover “which genes contribute to the trait”
(Sober 2000, 354). Lastly, a description of how those genes might cause that
phenotype to manifest needs to be posited in such a way that it is congruous with
existing scientific knowledge (Sober 2000). This four-step process is slightly
oversimplified because it does not specify the importance of gene-gene and geneenvironment interactions, which is discussed in more detail below.
On the assumption that all phenotypes are a product of genes and the environment, any difference in
phenotype for people with the same genes must be due to environmental differences. Identical
(monozygotic) twins have the same nuclear DNA. When they are raised in different environments we can,
therefore, attribute any difference in their phenotype to environmental factors. For more detailed
information see (Boomsma, Busjahn, & Peltonen 2002; Parens 2004; Sober 2000).
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It is a common mistake to assume that genetic and environmental factors have an
additive effect on phenotypic traits, such as Happiness.58 Certain genomes can
produce a disparate range of phenotypes depending on the particular environmental
influences, with the interaction between the two influences being a highly important
factor in determining phenotype.59 Some authors (e.g. Krubitzer & Kaas 2005)60 have
argued that genes appear to constrain the developmental options for many traits by
setting the boundaries that phenotypic traits cannot go beyond. George Oster and
colleagues, however, stress that any developmental constraints on phenotypes must
arise from the interaction between genotype and the environment. 61 Although it
might be assumed that our genetic makeup limits us from growing trunks, bionics
and cosmetic surgery (environmental factors) will doubtless develop to the extent that
any rich idiot could have a trunk if he wanted to. A more precise understanding of
phenotypic development would suggest that a genotype will somewhat constrain 62 the
development of an individual’s phenotype in the event that normal environmental
conditions are encountered during development.63
In terms of answering Sober’s (2000) four questions with an eye for the importance
of interactions, research on Happiness is providing increasingly consistent answers to
the first two questions but still only sketchy outlines of possible answers to the
second two. The main contemporary consensus on questions one and two is that
Happiness is approximately 50% genetically influenced and 50% environmentally
Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, and Schkade (2005, 166) give the impression that they are making this mistake.
This was clearly shown by the study of the MAOA gene, which was believed to be linked to violent
behaviour. The study revealed that a low-acting version of the gene lead to a higher than average chance of
developing a violent disposition when the subject was exposed to a violent environment and that it lead to a
lower than average disposition for violence when the subject was not exposed to violence (Caspi et al.
Krubitzer and Kaas (2005) argue that gene-gene interactions constrain development and evolution.
(Oster & Alberch 1982; Oster et al. 1988; c.f. Alberch 1991, 6-7).
More or less (but never absolutely) for specific phenotypic traits.
Mameli and Bateson (2006), who have provided a useful summary of the various problems with
definitions of ‘innateness,’ would probably object to this definition of ‘phenotypic development’ because of
the sophistic use of ‘normal environmental conditions,’ which admittedly could be used to claim that all
counter-examples did not involve normal environmental conditions.
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influenced (Diener et al. 1999).64 And, although answers to questions three and four
still need many blanks filling in, scientists do have some leads. In answer to question
three, the exact combination of genes that affect Happiness is unknown. However,
some genes are being implicated in neurological processes correlated with self-reports
of Happiness. Some of these potential genes and the neurological effects they have
are discussed below. In answer to question four, whichever genes are found to play a
causal role in Happiness will most likely predispose the brain to develop a biological
structure that is more conducive to the chemical activity in the brain that causes us to
feel Happy. Genes interact with in utero and other environmental factors to produce a
unique biological brain structure. That brain structure then interacts with
environmental stimuli to produce chemical reactions in the brain that we experience
as emotions and feelings, one of which is Happiness. The way that biologically Happy
brains respond to stimuli is different to how biologically ‘normal’ or unHappy brains
do. Biologically Happy brains would simply be more conducive to the chemical
activity that correlates with self-reports of Happiness. Some contemporary scientific
answers to Sober’s (2000) questions are elaborated on below.
With the notion of loose genetic constraints on phenotypes in mind, several authors
have contributed to the idea that each person has a “genetically determined” 65
Happiness set point, which day-to-day Happiness fluctuates around (Lyubomirsky,
Sheldon, & Schkade 2005, 116). Erring on the side of charity, Lyubomirsky, Sheldon,
& Schkade (2005) will be interpreted as follows: developmentally early interactions
between an individual’s genotype and the environmental factors they encounter
create a fairly temporally-fixed disposition for the average and range of Happiness
that an individual can expect during a life free of certain abnormal environmental
encounters. Evidence to date indicates that the Happiness set point is decided
It has even been claimed that Happiness may be up to 80% genetically influenced (Lykken & Tellegen
1996), although approximately 50% appears to be the general consensus (Braungart, et al.1992; Diener et
al. 1999; Tellegen et al. 1988; c.f. Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade 2005, 112-113).
A sloppy choice of words from Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, and Schkade (2005) that is assumed to be a
shorthand usage for a more accurate description – see my charitable interpretation below.
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developmentally early, at least by four (Kagan 2003) or ten months old (Fox &
Davidson 1986, 1987, 1988).66 There is also much evidence that some of the
fundamental components of Happiness can be measured using neuroimaging
(reviewed in Davidson 2004; Kringelbach & Rolls 2004; Urry et al. 2004).67
Furthermore, as in other emotional dispositions (McCrae & Costa 1990), the
Happiness set point appears to be stable over a long period of time (Headey &
Wearing 1989). The Happiness set point even remains stable if relatively abnormal
events are encountered, such as winning the lottery (Brickman, Coates, & JanoffBulman 1978) or becoming paralysed as the result of an accident (Brickman et al.
1978; Dijkers 1997). When traumatic accidents or unexpected windfalls happen to
people over 25 years old, their Happiness tends to react accordingly in the short-run
but then returns, at least very close to, the Happiness set point within two years. The
cumulative evidence clearly shows that the Happiness set point is something real and
something that has a substantial genetic component.68
Research is currently underway to identify which general genotypes and specific
combinations of genes are correlated with Happiness. Insights from neuroscience
indicate that genes affecting the production or regulation of the neurotransmitters;
serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins, are the best place to start investigating. There
are approximately 100 billion neurons in our brains that receive information from our
nervous systems and electronically relay it amongst themselves to create our
emotions, thoughts, and behaviour (Layard 2005). The gaps between neurons are
Although there is some evidence that considerable changes in emotional dispositions, such as the
Happiness set point can occur during the often turbulent developmental period from 15 – 25 years old
(Haidt 2006).
Contra Layard (2005), the objection could be raised that the neuroimaging tests cannot tell us anything
about the existence of objective Happiness because the brain activity measured in neuroimaging is
compared for covariance with the existing methods of measuring Happiness, such as self-reporting, the
accuracy of which are debated by many (see Angner 2005 for a review). However, self-reported happiness
has been shown to correlate highly with the reports of friends, co-workers, and experts – who are trained to
identify such occurrences as ‘Duchenne’ (real) smiles (Ekman, Davidson, & Friesen 1990; Layard 2005). It
appears that, as long as genuine smiling is seen as a sign of Happiness, a test of Duchenne smiles in very
young infants, who would not and perhaps could not fake them, could clear this potential problem up.
Recent developments in science are also indicating that the uterine environment and other perinatal
factors may account for some of the variation in phenotypes (Edwards & Beard 1998).
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known as synapses. When the information reaches the end of a neuron, the neuron
releases a chemical neurotransmitter that ‘shoots’ across the synapse to the end of
another neuron (Layard 2005). Only a few of the 50 or more neurotransmitters are
used by each part of the brain (Layard 2005). Therefore, by altering the amount or
action of one or more neurotransmitters, the way a particular domain of the brain
works can be fundamentally altered, changing specific emotions, thoughts, and even
Serotonin regulation has been linked to the 5-HTT gene, which controls the
neurotransmitter-metabolising chemical monoamine oxidase A (Caspi et al. 2002,
2003). Low serotonin levels are routinely discovered in the brains of the suicidal
(Layard 2005; Mann et al. 2000) and the clinically depressed (Mann et al. 2000), leading
to the widespread prescription of Prozac and other selective serotonin reuptake
inhibitors (SSRIs).69,70 SSRIs selectively act on the neurons that use serotonin by
slowing the regular process of them ‘sucking’ the serotonin back up after firing,
thereby allowing the selected neurons to fire more often (Haidt 2006). Although
SSRIs often alleviate the symptoms of depression, panic attacks, obsessive
compulsive disorder, and other low-serotonin-related mental maladies, exactly how
they accomplish it is still debated (Schatzberg, Cole, & DeBattista 2003; Stahl 1998).
SSRIs for everyone is not the answer, however, as all have some negative side-effects
and high serotonin levels can lead to Serotonin Syndrome; seizures, coma, and death
(Sternbach 1991).
Since some important experiments by Robert Heath in the 1960’s, dopamine has
been recognised as the key neurotransmitter for an important part of Happiness;
Although Prozac, created by the drug company Eli Lilly (Layard 2005), was the original SSRI, Paxil,
Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro and others offer options for mental health consumers in terms of the particular side
effect they require (Haidt 2006).
It should be noted that SSRIs are not the only type of agent that acts on serotonin (Stahl 1996). The other
agents that affect serotonin (some apparently in different ways to SSRIs) will not be discussed in this essay
because even less is known about them than SSRIs – the heart of modern psychopharmacology
(Sambunaris 1997; Stahl 1996).
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pleasure (Phillips 2003). High levels of dopamine are active in the brain during sex
and eating (highly pleasurable activities for most people), making the connection
seem rather obvious (Berns 2005). However, more recent research seems to indicate
that dopamine and cortisol (the hormone often associated with stress)71 are both
released in novel situations that require stimulation of the mind and body to
encourage action (Berns 2005). The resulting interaction of dopamine and cortisol in
the brain has the effect of regulating desire or motivation to act. Too little dopamine
activity can lead to Parkinson’s disease.72 However, this is not a good reason for
taking cocaine, amphetamines, heroin, opium, or tobacco (which all increase
dopamine activity in some way) (Nettle 2005) because too much dopamine can lead
to schizophrenia (Gothelf et al. 2005) and psychosis (Layard 2005). Allen Reiss and
colleagues note that dopamine regulation has been linked to, among others, the
COMT gene, which makes enzymes that break down dopamine in the pre-frontal
cortex73 (Gothelf et al. 2005). When only one copy of the COMT gene is present, 74
and particularly if the lone gene is a low-acting variant, various detrimental
abnormalities, including learning difficulties and signs of schizophrenia, are likely to
occur from early childhood onwards, usually resulting in full-blown schizophrenia
and premature death (Gothelf et al. 2005).
Endorphins are the neurotransmitters released during exercise and are the primary
reason that we feel good during and after exercise (De Meirleir et al. 1986). Activated
endorphins can also decrease pain by blocking off the neuronal receptors that would
“Cortisol… is responsible for many stress-related illnesses in humans” (Klein 2006). Furthermore, Both
humans and monkeys in lower-status (and therefore more dangerous – at least evolutionarily speaking)
social positions experience heightened levels of cortisol than those higher up ‘the food chain,’ with a
‘promotion’ resulting in a decrease of cortisol and an increase in life expectancy (Marmot 2004).
People who die from Parkinson’s disease have just one fifth of the normal level of dopamine in their
system (Layard 2005, 215).
The pre-frontal cortex is the front/top area of the brain that is much larger in humans than other animals
and is widely thought to contain much of the circuitry that is involved in our emotions, conscious thought,
and planning (Davidson & Irwin 1999).
Two copies of the COMT gene is the statistical norm (399,999 out of 400,000) (Gothelf et al. 2005).
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otherwise receive the pain neurotransmitters,75 explaining why running stops being
painful when our “second wind” (the endorphins) kicks in (Layard 2005, 216). The
powerful painkiller Morphine mimics the action of endorphins, flooding the brain
with pleasure and blocking the pain messages so that they cannot be received (Layard
2005). Evolutionarily, the ability for pleasure to override pain in some circumstances
would have allowed our ancient ancestors to partake in fitness enhancing behaviour,
such as sex, despite being in some pain, such as sporting a ‘gammy’ knee. 76
Endorphins act mainly in the opioid system in the brain, which has been linked to
“liking” by Kent Berridge and colleagues (Berridge & Robinson 2003, 509; Phillips
2003, 38). Many genes have been found to have some effect on the opioid
neurotransmitters,77 such as the gene variant A118G, which appears to alter
susceptibility to various addictive diseases (Bond et al. 1998). It may appear that a
highly active opioid (liking) system would make all of our experiences more
pleasurable, thereby making us happier. Unfortunately, the more liking-type pleasure
we are experiencing, the less we notice discomfort and pain. We would fail to pursue
meaningful goals and relationships, eventually leading to injury and death, or at least
unHappiness,78 through inaction. Just imagine the results if someone’s full-time job
was eating chocolate cake!
Too few or too many of the neurotransmitters involved in Happiness would clearly
lead to unHappiness and perhaps even premature death. The ideal genotype would
interact with a broad range of commonly experienced environmental inputs to
produce a relatively high Happiness set point without any of the drawbacks of high
levels of the neurotransmitters that result in afflictions, such as Serotonin Syndrome.
To identify the relevant genetic combinations that would interact with most
Otsuka and Yanagisawa (1990) reveal that substance P and neurokinin A act as neurotransmitters of pain
The corollary of this is that the ubiquitous ‘headache’ excuse should in fact be a reason for having sex.
See for example Gianoulakis (2001).
This type of life might appear perfect to subscribers of purely hedonic Happiness but it would not make
people happier given the more realistic definition provided earlier in this essay.
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environmental factors to produce a high Happiness set point, the findings from
neuroscience would have to be combined with correlational studies79 of Happiness.80
The more in-depth the studies become, the more precisely we will be able to
anticipate how a particular genotype will interact with the environment to create a
high Happiness set point. Having a high Happiness set point would increase all
aspects of an individual’s Happiness, directly or indirectly,81 while still enabling them
to experience the hardships of life and the resultant negative emotions. Such
emotions help us to survive and may ultimately be what make us human (Fukuyama
2002).82 Kass (2002, 5) agrees, claiming that the elimination of negative emotions
would create ‘posthumans’ that will replace the decent pursuits of “science, virtue,
and religion” with immediate pleasures, such as “centrifugal bumblepuppy,” which
we can assume to mean ‘sex without love.’
There is no Happiness gene and even complete knowledge of genomics could only
tell part of the story behind why some people are happier than others (Jordaan 2003).
However, a deep understanding of genomics, how genes and environmental factors
interact, and the environmental conditions that our children are likely to encounter
would allow us to effectively screen for Happiness using PGD. Doctors would be
able to identify which genomes would be more likely to produce a higher happiness
set point in the potential child’s expected developmental environment. Due to the
immense complexity of the systems involved, our science and technology has not yet
reached the point where we could genetically screen for Happiness. However, it
seems that it will be a possibility in the not-to-distant future, a possibility that could
The correlational studies can control for the known environmental factors of Happiness and existing
information about genetics to isolate the effect of particular gene combinations and variants to a rough
degree. The more in-depth the studies become, the more precisely we will be able to anticipate how a
particular genotype will interact with the environment to create a high Happiness set point.
Correlational studies encounter the problem of identifying causation, although this has been adequately
accounted for in an important review by Lyubomirsky, King, and Diener (2005), which uses correlational
and longitudinal studies to show that Happiness does indeed cause many of the traits by which it is
The interactions between the various components of Happiness are described above in the Happiness
The notion that unHappiness might be a good thing is addressed in detail in the next section.
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improve the well-being of millions. The next section evaluates whether genetic
screening for Happiness in such a manner is ethically permissible.
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– “Having healthy offspring, who are themselves reproductively fit and happy, is so central to the values of
the human reproductive enterprise that choices over whether to reproduce should fall within a person’s or
couple’s freedom.”
(John Robertson 2003, 459)
The preceding discussion of science and technology suggested that our potential to
affect the happiness of future generations has progressed considerably. It is clear that
it has not yet progressed enough to genetically screen for complex traits, such as
Happiness (Ministry of Health 2005). Indeed, any genetic combinations, which are
preferred for their beneficial effect on happiness, must be thoroughly analysed in the
current population to predict any unfortunate side effects caused by the interaction of
those genes with other genes83 and with relevant environmental factors.84 However,
Genes are pleiotropic – they can affect numerous traits via interdependencies with other genes (Morange
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the time in which these demanding tasks could be accomplished should not be
overestimated. In the past, science has realised mind-boggling achievements, such as
the cloning of animals, less than fifteen years after it was deemed “impossible” (Solter
& McGrath 1984, 1319).85 The morality of genetically screening for Happiness must
be assessed immediately so that legislation can be in place before the progression of
science and technology drops the practical possibility into our laps. The best method
for accurately gauging the morality of an approaching scientific or technological
advance is Pragmatic Optimism; to assume that the technology is already available
and that it works perfectly (Agar 2004). With Pragmatic Optimism about the advance
in mind, we can produce a more useful moral result because it allows us to evaluate
the ethical dilemmas underpinning the debate without getting bogged down in the
practical problems that the inevitable progression of technology will eventually
resolve.86 The remainder of this essay will assume Pragmatic Optimism about
genetically screening for Happiness; that a predisposition for Happiness can be
identified during PGD, and that the requisite IVF procedure is no more dangerous
than coital reproduction. This would allow potential parents to choose to have a child
with a genetic predisposition for Happiness.
Just as the advent of IVF was met with a torrent of moral objections (e.g. Kass 1971),
PGD for non-disease traits, such as Happiness, is likely to incur a similar deluge.
Following the lead of distinguished bioethicist, John Robertson (2005), this essay will
focus on the morality of a potential new use for PGD, instead of discussing the ethics
of PGD generally. Robertson (1994, 2003, 2005) has discussed many of the blanket
objections to PGD and finds them unconvincing. This essay will proceed on the
Testing on animals, such as mice, would in no way be sufficient because, despite their genetic similarity
to us (Kim et al. 1992), some of our genes still interact differently with each other and with environmental
factors (Willeke et al. 2002).
Agar (2004, 33) cites Solter & McGrath (1984, 1319) as claiming that cloning mice appeared to be
“impossible” and yet Wilmut and colleagues proved that sheep could be cloned, with the birth of Dolly in
1996 (Wilmut et al. 1997).
The only major moral objection that Pragmatic Optimism avoids is that the burden of proof is on the
government to prove that non-coital reproduction is safe (Robertson 1988). This is a fair objection,
although defining what is safe and what is not would doubtlessly be polemical.
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assumption that Robertson (2005) is correct to dismiss the ethical arguments that
object to all uses of PGD so as to create the space for a much deeper treatment of
the morality of genetic screening for Happiness.87 Furthermore, Robertson’s (2005)
methodology for assessing the morality of new uses for PGD will be used to show
that there is nothing depraved about potential parents’ exercising their right to
procreative liberty by using PGD to screen for Happiness.
As Robertson (2003, 447) defines it, procreative liberty, the right “to decide whether
or not to reproduce”, is constituted of the right to pursue genetically related offspring
and the right to avoid producing genetically related offspring, both of which are
claim-rights. In addition to conferring the freedom to pursue or omit to pursue some
end, which all liberties provide, claim-rights are such that other people have a moral
duty not to interfere with an individual’s exercise of this freedom (Flathman 1976).
As with most claim-rights in modern liberal countries, procreative liberty is a negative
right, as opposed to a positive right (Robertson 2003). If procreative liberty were to
be a positive right then individuals’ could demand that the state or other parties
provide all that they need to reproduce. However, procreative liberty is better
understood as a negative right, such that interference in reproductive decisions by the
state or any other party should only be allowed in a very limited set of circumstances
(Robertson 2003). Those circumstances, in which procreative liberty can justifiably be
interfered in by the state, are limited to occasions when more harm would result if the
state did not interfere.88 However, to understand if more harm would result from an
exercise of procreative liberty than from an interference with procreative liberty, the
value of procreative liberty needs to be established.
By not discussing the ‘playing God’ argument, or other common objections from what Robertson (2003,
442) calls the ‘strict traditionalists’, it is acknowledged that some readers may not be swayed by many of
the liberal arguments that follow.
This is a close approximation of Mill’s (1859) Harm Principle.
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Robertson (2003) claims that procreative liberty is valued so highly by so many
people because reproduction is an activity that allows individuals to flourish, both in
their current sociocultural environment and in a more evolutionary sense. Even if we
do not realise it, a considerable portion of the reason that reproduction is so
important to us is because we have evolved life and genetics-conserving emotions
and impulses (Dawkins 1976). Even if the evolutionary account is not considered, it
is still clear that the majority of the world’s population desires to have children and to
frustrate that desire would cause great emotional harm to them. It is hard to place an
exact value on procreative liberty, especially considering that various individuals
would prioritise reproduction differently. However, for at least some people,
successful reproduction may be prioritised above their own wellbeing or even
survival. Therefore, procreative liberty should be valued accordingly.
Robertson (2003) proposes a useful methodology for assessing if it is morally
permissible for the state to interfere in individuals’ exercise of procreative liberty in
potentially contestable cases, such as genetic screening for Happiness. Firstly, it must
be shown that the purported exercise of procreative liberty is actually “centrally
connected with reproductive choice” as it is commonly conceived (Robertson 2003,
455). If the controversial action can be viewed as essentially an exercise of procreative
freedom, then the congruence of the reasons for proposed action with the “prevailing
understandings about why reproduction is valued” is tested and compared against any
foreseen harms that might result from the action (Robertson 2003, 455). The more in
line the reasons for performing the contentious action are with the extant values
associated with reproduction, then the more likely it is that minor harms will be
overlooked (Robertson 2003). Robertson (2005) has even used this methodology for
assessing the moral permissibility of new uses for PGD. Although Robertson (2005)
has not assessed the morality of screening for Happiness, what follows is a detailed
analysis of this potential new use for PGD using his methodology.
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Robertson (2005) notes that many reproductive decisions depend on potential
parents’ expected child-rearing outcomes. Indeed, if two individuals both knew that
they had a recessive gene for the same terrible congenital disease then they are likely
to seriously consider whether or not to risk the chance of a diseased and unHappy
child that would be the result of their standard reproduction. Robertson’s (2005, 99)
point is that; since the genome of a potential child can affect parents’ choice whether
or not to reproduce, “some choice over the genome of prospective offspring should
fall within the scope of procreative liberty”. The important judgment here is deciding
how much scope potential parents should have to obtain and act upon genetic
information about their potential children. Since the widely perceived goal of
reproduction is to have “healthy offspring, who themselves are reproductively fit and
happy” (Robertson 2003, 459) and to raise them in such a way that allows them to
flourish, then choosing a child predisposed to Happiness seems completely congruent
with society’s conception of the values underpinning reproduction. Indeed, desiring
to have a Happy child is so harmonious with the positive ideals of reproduction
(Martin 2005) that even potential parents with no reason to expect that a child that
they conceived would be genetically disposed to unHappiness should be morally
permitted to use PGD to screen for Happiness unless undue harm would result.
Since the parental pursuit of Happiness is so thoroughly central to what we value in
reproduction (Martin 2005), the potential harm caused by allowing PGD must now
be evaluated. The remainder of this section discusses several potential harms and
argues that none of them provide sufficient reason to interfere in potential parents’
pursuit of happiness for their children. The potential harms discussed below are;
harm to the rejected embryos, harm to the chosen embryo, and harm to society.
When PGD is performed, any leftover embryos are effectively destroyed. Assessing
the potential harm that genetic screening for Happiness would cause to the rejected
embryos is not a particularly empirical issue. Rather, it is usually discussion that
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hinges on personal beliefs about when life begins, or when a fertilised human egg
becomes a person that deserves rights. This issue has attracted considerable debate
since IVF became feasible, although that debate will not be rehashed here. The most
pleasing answer to this problem is to take a relatively flexible central stance, as
Robertson (2003) recommends. Robertson (2003, 457) convincingly argues that;
while fertilised human eggs are “too rudimentary in development” to be assigned any
particular rights, a fertilised human egg is clearly different, and more important, than
a random bunch of human cells. Indeed, while no one would accuse a child of being
immoral if they were playing a fun game cutting up unwanted human hair, the same
might not be said about the game of cutting up unwanted human embryos. Since we
may never reach a conclusion on exactly when a fertilised human egg becomes a
person deserving of rights, we shall proceed on the assumption that PGD should
only be performed for a good reason that is in line with the values that we place on
reproduction. As mentioned above, the reasons supporting genetic screening for
Happiness are very likely to be in line with societal values regarding reproduction and,
as discussed below, will be for the good of the chosen embryo and society generally.
Some critics might consider genetically screening for Happiness as a depraved design,
claiming that it should not even be allowed because it would harm the future child by
decreasing its autonomy (e.g. Habermas 2003). This point raises many issues about
the identity of the child and the extent to which a harm-filled life is better than no life
at all. This is known as the non-identity problem (Parfit 1976, 1984). Although the
non-identity problem will not be afforded much discussion in this essay due to its
considerable complexity, the conclusion that it might engender is that only being
born into the most abhorrent of lives would be worse than never living. David Heyd
(1992, xi), however, takes a particularly extreme “person-affecting” approach to the
non-identity problem, insisting that there is no harm caused by bringing an individual
into existence, regardless of the quality of that life, because non-existence has no
‘quality’ at all and is, therefore, utterly incomparable. According to Heyd (1992),
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choosing the embryo that is genetically predisposed to become the unHappiest child
is not immoral because an unHappy life is immeasurably better than the fate of nonexistence that would have otherwise befallen the unHappy embryo. Heyd (1992)
would ask; which person has been harmed by this action? To Heyd’s credit, trying to
find a specific individual that would be counterfactually-harmed by such an action is
difficult. 89
Having said this, it still seems intuitively immoral to knowingly create a child that is
likely to experience a life of harm when a child with much better life-prospects could
have been conceived instead – which is clearly the case where genetic screening for
Happiness is considered. Parfit (1984) and Brock (1995) explain this intuition by
alluding to a conception of harm that is not centered on an individual. Rather, their
alternative conception of harm teleologically asks whether the total situation is made
better or worse because of an action. According to this conception of harm, the lifeprospects of the embryo chosen for its genetic Happiness disposition can be directly
compared to life-prospects of any other potential child that particular parents could
also feasibly produce.90 Using the example of genetic screening for Happiness we
should all intuit that it would be morally better to choose the embryo that is
predisposed to a Happy life over the embryo that is predisposed to an unHappy life,
unless there is some other harm to take into account. This intuition is probably based
on the teleological notion that all-things-considered the situation would be better if
the embryo with the Happy genetic predisposition was chosen at very least because
of the value of having Happy people in our society. Agreeing with Heyd (1992) on
the non-identity problem would make genetic screening for Happiness morally
permissible (along with many other much more morally questionable reproductive
uses of technology). However, Heyd’s (1992) prima facie plausible interpretation of the
i.e. it would be difficult to find a person that would be more harmed if the action were performed than if
it were not.
Although, both Brock (1995) and Parfit (1984) astutely note that this harm test only works when the
number of lives to be created is the same in competing scenarios (c.f. Robertson 2003).
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non-identity problem will be rejected in favour of Parfit (1984) and Brock’s (1995)
alternative conception of harm to ensure that any intuitive fears regarding genetic
screening for Happiness can be addressed and allayed to create a conclusion that will
be more generally acceptable.
Most of the criticisms against PGD for non-disease traits are focused on the risks of
potential psychological and physical harm to the resultant child (Robertson 2005).
The physical risks can be disregarded in this essay because Pragmatic optimism has
been invoked to make the procedure flawless. However, the potential psychological
risks deserve brief treatment. There is a salient worry that parents might place undue
pressure on their children to bear particular phenotypes or pursue particular life goals.
While some guiding and education of children is well within parents’ procreative
liberty, there should be a limit to the extent to which parents should be allowed to
restrict the life-prospects of their children (Robertson 2003). One potential critic of
screening for happiness who adopts this type of argument is Jürgen Habermas (2003),
who claims that genetic enhancements made before birth are morally different from
modifying a child’s environment because they do not allow the child to object.91
However, it is not difficult to envisage situations where parents can exercise their
procreative liberty by influencing their children’s environment without them being
able to object, such as playing classical music to embryos in utero. This allows for a
slightly modified version92 of Agar’s (2004) appeal to consistency; the Nurture
Principle. The Nurture Principle purports that if parents are permitted to attempt to
Habermas (2003) appears to be resigned to the ‘fact’ that any genetic tampering with a child before its
birth will result in negative outcomes. However, this avoids the real ethical argument, as explained while
discussing Pragmatic Optimism above. It seems quite implausible that a teenager would rage against her
parents when she discovered that her life-choices had been restricted to quite Happy and above. This event
even seems impossible (and smells like genetic determinism) because of the interactions between genotype
and environment it appears that anyone bent on becoming depressed would be able to do so through
dedication to dwelling on the negative and participating in deleterious behaviour.
The modification is just to soften the principle to screening for various genomes instead of modifying
(via genetic engineering) the genomes, although Agar’s (2004) original principle still appears valid.
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enhance their children’s traits by modifying their environment93 then they should also
be permitted to attempt this by screening their genome (Agar 2004, 113).
Furthermore, since Happiness has been shown to cause improvements in several
traits, which would increase the autonomy of the potential child, claims that genetic
screening for Happiness would undermine the autonomy of the child could not be
more incorrect. Considering the safety of IVF and PGD offered by pragmatic
optimism, Habermas (2003) and others could not coherently make the claim that the
child resulting from genetic screening for Happiness is likely to suffer more harm
than a child produced through coital reproduction.
As a result of genetically screening for Happiness, more people will have a relatively
high Happiness set point and thereby experience less negative emotions. A high
Happiness set point leads to a predisposition to experience positive emotions. When
a person is experiencing positive emotions, the neurotransmitters that are released
can block or drown out the neurotransmitters used for communicating the
information for negative emotions (Layard 2005).94 A potential concern here is that
the importance of negative emotions might be being overlooked. It could be argued
that genetic screening for Happiness might harm the resultant child by restricting
their access to negative emotions that are vital to some aspect of their development.
Allen and Babcock (2004) provide an excellent review of how depression and other
negative emotions could have been an evolutionary adaptation for our ancient
ancestors.95 However, Layard (2005, 27) claims that predispositions for depression
It is clearly morally permissible for parents to try to get their children into ‘good schools’ in the hope that
they will gain more intellectual enhancement than if they attended a less desirable school (Harris 1998).
Layard (2005, 21) takes this claim a bit further by asserting that Happiness can essentially be measured
on one dimension that runs from “extreme misery to extreme joy,” citing Green et al. (1999), “an earlier
draft” of Kahneman et al. (2004), and Russell and Carroll 1999). This claim is true for Layard’s definition
of happiness, see Layard (2005, 12), and for the definition of Happiness used here but it should be noted
that it is possible for positive and negative emotions to occur simultaneously (Larsen, McGraw, &
Cacioppo 2001; Schimmack et al. 2000; Schimmack 2001, 2005) and even to be simultaneously satisfied
and dissatisfied with one’s life (Davern & Cummins 2006) or Happy and unHappy (Ryff et al. 2006)
depending on how the questions are posed.
A trait is considered to be an evolutionary adaptation if it has been selected for through the pressures of
natural (or Darwinian) selection. That is, the adaptation provides some advantage to the organism so that it
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and anxiety are “much less essential than they were” because of the ‘cotton woolwrapped’ nature of contemporary Western societies.
Melancholic artists, such as Edvard Munch, might proclaim that a reduction of
negative feelings would rob the world of its creative art. 96 Indeed, a study of famous
deceased men found that artists and creative writers had suffered more depression
than average (Post 1994). However, a closer analysis shows that depressive artists
tend to create most of their works when they are in their manic (happier) times
(Jamison 1993). Furthermore, depressive artists who were being treated with the
emotionally-neutralising drug Lithium97 reported being equally or more pleased with
the creativity of their output (Frederickson 1998; Frederickson et al. 2000; Marshall et
al. 1970; Schou 1979). Richards et al. (1988) also tested the creativity of first-degree
relatives of depressed artists, finding that the less depressed children, parents, and
siblings were more creative. This shows that it was not the negative feelings that
enabled these artists to be creative but some, as yet unexplained, interaction between
their genes and environment.98
Negative emotions are not required for someone to be creative. Nonetheless, they do
play a very important role in our lives. Eisenberger and Lieberman (2004) explain
how the ancient physical pain systems in our brain are also used for social pain,
showing that social rejection is as important to be aware of and avoid as physical
pain. Indeed, we are unlikely to be eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger in our lifetime99 but
if our proposals for copulation are constantly rejected then our genes are very
is more likely to survive and procreate than the other organisms that are competing for the same allotment
of scare resources (Holland 1992).
When Munch, the depressive author of the famous painting The Scream, was asked why he did not do
something about his ailments retorted: “They are part of me and my art. They are indistinguishable from
me, and it would destroy my art. I want to keep those sufferings.” (c.f. Layard 2005, 220).
Lithium has the effect of pulling down very high emotions and pulling up very low emotions, effectively
stabilising both the manic and the depressive moments regularly encountered by manic depressives (Layard
All of the references from this paragraph were cited from Layard (2005).
Unless a Jurassic Park-type theme park with very lax security and cheap drinks is set up soon.
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unlikely to be reproduced. If we experienced no negative emotions then not only
would we have trouble picking up on the subtle cues that a member of the opposite
sex would like it if you brushed your teeth occasionally, we would also find it
impossible to make decisions. Ever since the famous case of Phineas Gage, 100 there
has been increasing evidence that without emotions (positive and negative) we are
simply unable to make decisions well or at all because they provide reference points
for the heuristics and various evaluations we make during even the simplest decisions
(Fleischman 2002; Gilbert 2006). Fortunately, while having a high Happiness set
point will reduce the amount of negative feelings a person experiences, it will not
diminish them to a restricting level. Concerns about genetic screening for happiness
removing useful negative emotions are therefore unfounded. People with high
Happiness set points would be able to feel the whole gamut of emotions, make
decisions effectively, and have ample opportunities to pass on their genes.101 Since
the resultant child of genetic screening for Happiness would not have their artistic or
social abilities impeded (indeed they would more likely be enhanced), the fear that
PGD for Happiness could unduly harm the child is completely unsubstantiated.
In The Conquest of Happiness, Bertrand Russell (1930) asked: “What is more enviable
than happiness?”102 This intriguing question leads to the potential argument that it
would be unethical to increase the Happiness of some because the relativity of
Happiness would negate any net benefit, as the unHappy would became jealous and
even more depressed. If this were shown to be the case then, as with other positional
In an accident in 1848, Phineas Gage’s head was impaled with a tamping iron through the pre-frontal
cortex, where emotions and planning are processed, but he managed to survive (Macmillan 2000). His once
level-headed and intelligent behaviour changed erratically after the accident, however. He no longer
possessed the full spectrum of emotions and had great difficulty making decisions and getting on with
people in a variety of situations (Harlow 1848; c.f. Fleischman 2002).
Smiling is a natural phenomena for Happy people (Ekman et al. 1990) and smiling at someone has been
shown to make the recipient of the smile find the ‘smile-er’ much more attractive (O’Doherty et al. 2003).
Cited from Martin (2005, 1).
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goods,103 any tax dollars spent on genetically screening for Happiness would
effectively be wasted and the rich would benefit more than the poor unless there was
complete subsidisation. This is clear a violation of Rawls’ (1973) egalitarian Maximin
principle; that any change in distribution should benefit those that are worst-off.
Although Happiness is partially relative, it will be shown that the small amount of
relativity does not make genetically screening for Happiness unduly harmful to
The notion that Happiness is relative has found support from the Ancient Greeks, 104
economists,105 political scientists,106 and psychologists107 (Veenhoven 1991).
Supporters of the relativity of Happiness claim that our capricious subjective
assessments of Happiness are made by comparison with others and especially with
those closest to us, such as our neighbours (Veenhoven 1991). Veenhoven claims
that populations are generally unhappy during periods of war and economic
depression108 (showing that there are objective causes of Happiness) and that some
circumstantial and objective factors have a lasting effect on Happiness.109 Veenhoven
(1991, 1) purports that some of the misattributions of the relativity of Happiness
occurred because the guilty authors were using life satisfaction measures instead of
“overall happiness.” Veenhoven (1991, 1) interprets “overall happiness” as hedonic
happiness; feeling good and not feeling bad, which he considers to be mainly
governed by the satisfaction of our basic needs, as opposed to by comparison with
others. Veenhoven (1991, 1) is wrong to discount life satisfaction from “overall
happiness.” Any efficacious definition of Happiness should take into account life
Positional goods are traits or possessions that gain their advantages only from their relative stance to
others’ manifestations of that good. Height is a good example. The taller someone is, the better they would
be at basket ball but only as long as everyone else remained the same height.
(Tatarkiewics 1975; c.f. Veenhoven 1991).
(e.g.Van Praag et al. 1979; c.f. Veenhoven 1991).
(e.g. Gur 1970; c.f. Veenhoven 1991).
(e.g. Inglehart & Rabier 1984; c.f. Veenhoven 1991).
(Veenhoven, 1984; c.f. Veenhoven 1991).
(Veenhoven, 1984; c.f. Veenhoven 1991).
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satisfaction or at least its causal effect on hedonic happiness. 110 People who are
satisfied with their life when they are more successful or rich than those around them
will feel better when they are doing better than their neighbours (Crawford et al.
2000). The important point to note here is that those of us who are extrinsically
motivated (and therefore compare themselves to others when assessing their
Happiness) do not compare fairly inconspicuous goods, 111 such as Happiness
(Schwartz 2004). Rather, they compare conspicuous goods, 112 such as the number of
luxury cars they own and the size of their house (Layard 2005).
For those who are unfortunate enough to be materialistic, comparisons with
neighbours’ conspicuous goods will occur and will cause unHappiness unless they
happen to be wealthy enough to be the richest amongst their peers (Schwartz 2004).
However, an increase in the number of Happy people is unlikely to be a great cause
of these comparisons, despite the fact that Happiness has been shown to have a
causal effect on rapid promotions and high salary levels in the work place
(Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener 2005).113 This is because Happiness is not correlated
with materialism (Diener & Biswas-Diener 2002), therefore even rich Happy people
will not necessarily become consumers of conspicuous goods, and Happiness is
correlated with inconspicuous forms of consumption, such as spending time building
important social relationships (Nickerson et al. 2001). Furthermore, Happy people are
more likely to volunteer their time and money to help others, especially the unHappy
(Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener 2005). 114 Therefore, Genetic screening for Happiness
will increase the number of Happy people, while not having a noticeably detrimental
See discussion above in the Happiness section and especially Footnote 29.
Inconspicuous consumption is the spending of money or time (time is money – e.g. Knapp 1990) on
products or activities that do not show off status or resources.
The concept of Conspicuous Consumption, the wasteful consumption of goods to prove honour and
status, has been discussed since Thorstein Veblen introduced the idea in his influential work The Theory of
the Leisure Class, first published in 1899.
Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener (2005) cite (Diener et al. 2002; Graham et al. in press; Marks & Fleming
1999; Staw et al. 1994).
Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener (2005, 837) review dozens of studies on this topic, concluding that
Happiness causes heightened “generosity and helpfulness”, especially to the needy (e.g. Cunningham,
Steinberg, & Grev 1980; Isen 1970; O’Malley & Andrews 1983; Rosenhan, Underwood, & Moore 1974).
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effect on the people who pursue materialistic goals, and especially not on those who
are worst-off. This result satisfies Rawls’ (1973) Maximin principle and shows that
genetic screening for Happiness will not cause undue harm to society through the
relativity of Happiness.
It might also be suggested that government spending on subsidising genetic screening
for Happiness is harmful to society, and therefore unethical, because that money
could be better spent providing more capabilities or freedoms to their citizens.
Amartya Sen (1983, 1993, 1999) proposes that increasing the capabilities of citizens
will allow them to better envisage and pursue their own conception of Happiness.
This is undoubtedly true in developing countries where citizens may not have the
financial or other resources to acquire the accoutrements needed for healthy
subsistence (Layard 2005). However, in Western countries the situation is not quite
the same because most citizens are already provided with the basic capabilities and
freedom to function and flourish if they choose to do so. This is not to undermine
the importance of welfare or education. Indeed, they can and do play an important
role in Happiness in Western countries.115 However, Bentham (1789), Mill (1861,
1863) and many other great thinkers would claim that such capabilities and freedoms
are only useful as a means to the end of Happiness, since happiness is the greatest
good.116 Many people have objected to the claim that Happiness is the most
important value in life (Scarre 1996). For example, a deeply religious Protestant
person might claim that a life of suffering and worship in the name of God is the
most important value in life.117 However, it is not clear that someone who believed in
struggling through life to ensure an eternity in paradise would be unHappy during
It is also clear that educating our children on how to be Happy, such as by being aware of the emotional
manipulations of advertising, could improve their lives. See Layard (2005, Chap. 14) for some suggestions.
Mill, like Aristotle, considered Happiness to be the ultimate good (end); “happiness is desirable, and the
only thing desirable, as an end: all other things being only desirable as means to that end” (Mill 1861, 234;
c.f. Scarre 1996, 137).
Some people even see the pursuit of Happiness as a kind of modern faith (McMahon 2006).
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their life because the thought of the ‘ultimate payoff’118 would probably keep their
spirits high, thereby making them satisfied with their life.119 Indeed, even if
individuals are genuinely not driven by subconscious hedonistic desires, they are
driven by the desire to act in accordance with their own values, both of which fall
under the rubric of ‘Happiness’ as defined in this essay. Therefore, as James (1902)
claimed, even those who profess to be pursuing some other end are likely to be
pursuing Happiness, whether they realise it or not. 120 However, even if any readers
remain unconvinced of the subconscious pull of Happiness, this does not detract
from the force of this argument, as long as they admit to the less contentious claim;
that the conscious pursuit of pleasure or of life-satisfaction is important to the clear
majority of people.
Regardless of if we can escape the pursuit of Happiness, it is morally important to ask
if Happiness is more important than freedom or capabilities because, if it is not, then
it would be unethical to pursue Happiness for our citizens at the expense of their
capabilities and freedoms. Depression can debilitate and de-motivate its sufferers in
ways that can significantly impinge on their autonomy, even to the point where they
are unable to pursue courses of treatment that could help them regain it (DiMatteo,
Lepper, & Croghan 2000). This finding could support the argument for increasing
Happiness or for increasing capabilities. However, findings from Lyubomirsky, King,
& Diener (2005) show that increasing Happiness in any person (not just those
suffering from depression) can cause improvements in optimism,121 willpower in the
face of compulsion,122 efforts to fight illness,123 immunity,124 pain resistance,125
In philosophy of religion, going to heaven or some equivalent is often referred to as the ‘ultimate
payoff’ (e.g. Bader, Mencken, & Parker 2006).
Indeed this could be easily studied using a combination of neuroimaging and subjective well-being tests.
As previously cited in the Happiness section, William James claimed that, consciously or
subconsciously, happiness was our “secret motive” (James 1902, 78).
(e.g. Schuettler & Kiviniemi ‘in press’; c.f. Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener 2005).
(e.g. Tice & Wallace 2000; c.f. Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener 2005).
(e.g. Schuettler & Kiviniemi ‘in press’; c.f. Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener 2005).
(e.g. Cohen et al. 2003; c.f. Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener 2005).
(e.g. Alden, Dale, & DeGood 2001; c.f. Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener 2005).
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longevity,126 activity,127 sociability,128 coping,129 and problem solving capabilities,130 all
of which would help develop an individual’s capabilities and freedoms. Despite the
strong arguments for Happiness being the ultimate end, it is clear that this debate is
ongoing.131 Although, since Happiness helps to enable people to pursue their own
conception of the greatest good by increasing their capabilities and freedoms, and so
will not produce net harm to society, there should be no ethical concerns with
investing tax dollars into the Happiness of citizens instead of other options.
The discussion above plainly shows that none of the proposed ethical objections to
genetically screening for Happiness provide good reason for the service not to be
allowed to parents who wish the best for their child because it cannot be shown that
undue harm would be caused to any party. When combined with the fact that the
reasons supporting genetic screening for Happiness are in line with the underlying
values of reproduction, this absence of foreseeable harm fulfils the requisite criteria
of Robertson’s (2005) methodology for assessing the morality of uses for PGD.
Therefore, according to Robertson’s (2005) methodology, liberal access to using
PGD to screen for Happiness is morally permissible and should be allowed to take
place free from state or other party interference.
Clearly, there are other effective options for increasing the Happiness of children,
such as good education (Layard 2005), good parenting while young (Haidt 2006;
Martin 2005), cognitive behavioural therapy (Hollon 1998; Layard 2005), positive
psychology (Seligman 2002; Seligman & Steen 2005; Simonton & Baumeister 2005),
meditation (Davidson et al. 2003), and even pharmaceutical drugs, such as Prozac,
administered under the correct conditions (Haidt 2006; Layard 2005). Indeed, all of
(e.g. Devins et al. 1990; c.f. Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener 2005).
(e.g. Cunningham 1988; c.f. Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener 2005).
(e.g. Isen 1999: c.f. Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener 2005).
(e.g. Smith, Ruiz, & Uchino 2004; c.f. Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener 2005).
(e.g. Staw et al. 1994; c.f. Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener 2005).
For example, (Gasper 2004; Scanlon 1993) and see Bellotti (2001, Chap. 6, 119) on “Why Happiness is
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these options should be recommended and available to those who need them.
However, the interaction between genomes and environments must not be ignored.
Given an unfortunate genome, an individual could be attempting all of the above
techniques to become Happy and may have to continue practising them until the day
they die. Parents would not choose this for their children and they should not have
to. They should be allowed to genetically screen their potential children for
Happiness so that the children can start out life with the incredible advantage of a
disposition for Happiness. Perfectly in line with what society values about
reproduction, genetic screening for Happiness will provide increased well-being for
the children, peace of mind for their parents, and general benefit to the community –
hardly the results of a depraved design.
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– “What is more enviable than Happiness?”
(Bertrand Russell 1872-1970)132
The previous section clearly reveals that genetic screening for Happiness is not a
depraved design. Rather, it would patently be very beneficial to all concerned, and
especially the potential child. If genetic screening for Happiness is indeed such a
positive course of action then perhaps parents should not have the liberal freedom to
pursue it, rather they should be encouraged or even forced to genetically screen for
Happiness. This proposal raises new ethical concerns that will have to be weighed
against the considerable benefits of more, or all, future children having a
predisposition to be Happy. The most important issues raised by the proposal of
encouraging or forcing parents to genetically screen for Happiness are discussed
below. First, the importance of Happiness is established so that it can be compared
with any valid ethical concerns that follow. Then the arguments for procreative
From The Conquest of Happiness (c.f. Martin 2005, 1).
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freedom and the rights of the potential child are assessed and compared to the
benefits of Happiness. Following this, the morality of forcing parents to genetically
screen for Happiness is tested on both utilitarian and deontological views. Finally, the
practical considerations of distributing and paying for the process are discussed to
show that genetically screening for Happiness should be morally but not legally
mandatory as illuminated by some examples.
The importance of Happiness is crucial to the outcome of this debate on whether
genetically screening for Happiness should be morally or legally mandatory. It is
impossible, however, to evaluate the importance of Happiness without referring to
other important life goals. While many consider Happiness to be the most important
goal (e.g. Bentham 1789), it could well be asked; why it is Happiness and not health,
autonomy, freedom, or accomplishment that underpins all other goals? (Layard 2005,
112). Freedom, and health are the main contenders for Happiness’ role as ultimate
the goal, and between them, these three goals form the backbone of the U.S.
Declaration of Independence.133 As argued above,134 freedom allows us to pursue our
own conception of a meaningful life and, therefore, Happiness. However, the U.S.
government, and many others, create laws to restrict the freedom of their citizens for
two main reasons; to protect the health and Happiness of all.135
Whenever a government increases the taxes on cigarettes, it is interfering (via the
‘free’-market) with its citizens’ liberal freedom to pursue the life that they choose to
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their
Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Cited from ( with emphasis added (italics).
In the Is Screening for Happiness A Depraved Design? section.
As directed by the Declaration of Independence: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes
destructive of these ends [Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or
to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its
powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” Cited from
( with emphasis added (italics).
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lead. Governments (rightly in this author’s opinion)136 create such laws to protect the
health of its citizens. Good health is useful for citizens because it gives them more
freedom by providing the capacity to perform more activities and pursue more life
choices for longer, while not burdening the government coffers. When combining
this notion with the finding that freedom is good because it helps us to pursue
Happiness, it can be concluded that governments’ responsibility to ensure the health
and freedom of its citizens is really just to ensure their Happiness. Furthermore, since
Happiness at least somewhat overlaps with health (as usually feeling good and not
bad) and accomplishments (as part of a satisfying life), Happiness is the strongest
candidate for the universally desired ultimate goal (Gilbert 2006).137 If there are still
dissenters to the paramount importance of Happiness, then they must at least accept
that Happiness is one of the few ultimate ends138 because of the causal role
Happiness plays in improving individuals’ accomplishments, health, longevity,
autonomy, and even virtuousness,139 which should be enough for the arguments
given here to remain valid.
The right of procreative liberty demands that potential parents should have the
freedom to have or not have children as they see fit (Robertson 1994, 2003, 2004).140
In the past and in the previous section, procreative liberty has been used to argue that
parents be able to use new and emerging reproductive technologies, such as IVF
(Boivin and Pennings 2005). However, forcing the use of new reproductive
technologies on parents would deny their procreative liberty. As stated above,
procreative liberty is a claim-right and so any state or other-party interference is
considered unethical unless a competing right is under greater threat (Robertson
Although, alternatives to cigarette smoking should be offered if, as with Native Americans in the U.S.,
there are important culturally-specific rituals based on cigarette smoking (Henderson et al. 2005).
Indeed, Layard (2005), as Bentham (1789) did before him, claims that Happiness is the value by which
all other values are measured by, allowing us to decide between otherwise potentially irreconcilable values,
such as being ethical or prudential.
If that is not a contradiction in terms.
See the discussion above and an in-depth review by Lyubomirsky, King, and Diener (2005).
Procreative Liberty is widely accepted as a right and is enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of
Rights (Article 16) and the Human Rights Act (Article 12). Cited from Boivin and Pennings (2005, 784).
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2003). Indeed, because having children is often one of people’s most important life
goals (Boivin & Pennings 2005), interfering in procreative liberty by enforcing the use
of PGD would cause harm to many citizens (Robertson 2004). As above, harm in this
sense should be interpreted as Mill (1859) conceived it: a setback in one’s goals,
which would lead to decreased satisfaction with life and, therefore, to
If governments were to make genetic screening for Happiness mandatory, it should
not frustrate any of potential parents’ valid life goals and would not interfere with
their rights to have children. Rather, it just requires that they acquire their children in
a certain way.142 Furthermore, enforcing genetic screening for Happiness will only
impede potential parents’ life goals if those goals are to have either unHappy or
completely naturally born children, or if they harbour fears about health problems
that the process may cause. Pragmatic Optimism about the technology has been
invoked for this essay so that both PGD and the related IVF procedures are assumed
to work perfectly. This eliminates any potential concerns about the health of the
potential child.143,144 The irrationality of the life goal to have naturally born children is
likely to become obvious when potential parents with that goal are questioned as to
the value of natural processes. If they can provide a reason at all, it is likely to be one
Although frustrating the goals of citizens is likely to cause their unHappiness, studies show that (on
average) having children makes people no happier (Feeney 1994; Kahneman et al. 2004; Myers 1992;
Walker 1977; c.f. Gilbert 2006, 221).
It should be noted that criminals are often not allowed to procreate during their sentence and there are
some cases in which courts have ruled that certain individuals must not ‘make’ anymore children, such as
the parents of four children that were all born with very high levels of cocaine in their bloodstream
(Robertson 2004, 19-20). Presumably these decisions are based on some more important right or goal than
Procreative Liberty, such as the likely health, freedom, and happiness of the resultant child.
It should be noted that whether IVF has no negative health effects whatsoever on the children it helps to
produce is still hotly debated (Hampton 2004). However, any debilitating health effects caused by IVF
must be very minor or they would have been clearly identified already. Furthermore, even if children born
from IVF did encounter some health problems, it would not be a reason to prevent genetic screening for
Happiness unless the health problems were so severe that they made the child less Happy than the increase
in Happiness it would have received from the process.
There are also many concerns about the mental health of the potential child, which mainly worry that the
child will be stigmatised in some way because of the process of their creation (Dresser 2006). These
concerns might apply to some uses of technology but not to genetic screening for Happiness because IVF is
already “widely accepted” (Hughes et al. 2004, 1108) and Happiness is a trait that is unlikely to draw
criticism or jokes when some children will still have big ears.
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of those already refuted by many authors (see Robertson 2003, 2004, 2005)145 or that
unnatural processes are just ‘yucky.’ The perfectly-healthy first ever person born using
IVF, Louise Brown (McClure 1996), would probably not appreciate the irrational
insinuation that she is the product of a ‘yucky’ process and therefore not as good as
people conceived the ‘good old-fashioned way.’146 However, regardless of the
irrationality of some people’s life goal’s, if they can be shown to be covered by
procreative freedom and in line with the values that society holds in regard to
reproduction then they should be allowed, if they cause no undue harm (Robertson
It must be assessed then, if the potential parental goal of having an unHappy child is
morally permissible. Although it may seem a patently ridiculous desire for parents to
wish for an unHappy child, some potential parents might believe that an unHappy
child might in some sense be better off. Indeed, some potential parents might think
an unHappy child would be more creative and they might value creativity more than
Happiness, therefore indirectly desiring that their child will be unHappy. This desire
can be discounted because it is based on the erroneous belief that unHappiness
causes creativity, which has been refuted above.147 Of course parents do knowingly
make some decisions that make their children unhappy, such as making their children
go to school and do their homework. However, these decisions are intended to
increase the long-term autonomy and Happiness of the children (Martin 2005) thus
parents are permitted to follow them through. In fact most Western governments
ensure that children are forced to be educated, legislating to make home schooling or
attendance at school mandatory. Governments force parents to educate their children
because they recognise the right of children to be provided with autonomy and
Happiness, which education helps to supply in the long-run.
Such as ‘playing God’ or ‘messing with natural selection’ arguments, which are not discussed in this
essay due to space restrictions.
The intuition-based ‘yucky’ objection has been used by Kass (1997) to ‘argue’ against cloning equally
ineffectively. Not that this author condones cloning necessarily.
In the Is Screening for Happiness A Depraved Design? section.
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Similarly to refusing to educate their children,148 if potential parents do not genetically
screen for Happiness, then they are clearly limiting their potential children’s capacity
for autonomy and Happiness, thereby violating the children’s fragile rights.
Governments plainly have a responsibility to prevent harm (Epstein 1998) 149
especially to children, who cannot protect themselves and are sometimes most at risk
from their parents (Berrick 1998). Many governments recognise their special
responsibilities regarding children and have enacted specific laws, which allow them
to intervene when parents’ decisions are detrimental to the health, autonomy, or longterm Happiness of their children.150 In New Zealand, children can be removed from
the custody of their parents if they have been found to be abused by any means. 151
Notably, this includes abuse by depravation.152 If potential parents refused to screen
their children for Happiness then they would be depriving their children of the best
chance for life-long Happiness.
The right to Happiness should be passive, so that it becomes the task of governments
to provide it for their citizens because Happiness is what most people want 153
(Gilbert 2006; Layard 2005; Schumaker 2006) and democratic governments gain their
It sounds bizarre but some parents choose not to educate their children at all and governments have to
intervene to protect the rights of the child. See Gleitman and Newport (1995) for a discussion that includes
examples of parents locking their children in attics, to the extreme detriment of their autonomy and
Epstein refers to Mill’s (1859) harm principle; that the government should not intervene to restrict
freedoms unless the restriction will prevent more harm than it causes.
For example; from the Preamble of the United Nations Convention on The Rights of The Child, which
was ratified by New Zealand and enforced by the United Nations in 1990: “Recognising that the child, for
the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in
an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding” and “Bearing in mind that, as indicated in the
Declaration of the Rights of the Child, "the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs
special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth,"” and from
Artical 3; “1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare
institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child
shall be a primary consideration.” Cited from (
See the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989; “Article 14. A child is in need of care
and protection if -(a) The child is being , or is likely to be, harmed (whether physically, emotionally or
sexually), ill-treated, abused, or seriously deprived; or (b) The child's development or physical or mental or
emotional wellbeing (wellbeing) is being, or is likely to be, impaired or neglected, and that impairment or
neglect is, or is likely to be, serious and avoidable” cited from (
“To be Happy is a right, we believe, a natural human entitlement” (McMahon 2006, 13).
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authority from the people and should use it for the people. 154 However, even if the
right to Happiness is active, so that governments should not frustrate their citizens’
attempts to pursue happiness, they should still have the responsibility to create the
means for the fruitful pursuit of Happiness. Since children’s rights at least supersede
adult citizen’s rights and the right to Happiness at least supersedes procreative liberty,
protecting the right to Happiness for all citizens, and especially children, is the proper
role of governments. Governments could make genetically screening for Happiness
mandatory to decrease the risk of children being born with an unfortunate genome
that may make it harder for them to pursue Happiness effectively (through no choice
of their own). Indeed, although children have not developed the mental capacity (or
even heads!) with which to decide to pursue Happiness before they are born, we can
safely assume that they would choose to do so, given the opportunity.155 However, as
long as potential parents are committed to raising a child in a loving manner and can
provide a reason for not wanting to genetically screen for Happiness that is in line
with societies values regarding reproduction, then forcing them to undergo the (at
very least) inconvenient procedure of PGD appears to violate their procreative
liberty, which may also considerably affect their Happiness.
Governments are posed with a very difficult decision as to whether genetic screening
for Happiness should be mandatory. According to Robertson’s (2005) methodology
they must respect children’s right to (at least pursue) Happiness and potential parents’
procreative liberty in the cases where the child would not suffer undue harm. Indeed,
following Robertson’s (2003, 2005) lead, it may be beneficial not to create any blanket
legislation that would cover all uses of PGD for Happiness because of the potentially
As noted in the U.S. Declaration of Independence “That to secure these rights, Governments are
instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any
Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish
it…” (
Again this raises issues surrounding the non-identity problem. However, both a utilitarian and a
deontological view applied to this case would have the potential children recommend (if they could) that
the ‘best embryo for the job’ is selected for birth. See the discussion of these arguments below.
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great harm it would cause to some individuals and the general fear and unrest that
such a breach of liberties might cause in a liberal democracy.
The moral case for making genetic screening for Happiness mandatory appears to be
strong so far. However, it has only been indirectly tested by the two dominant ethical
theories; consequentialist and deontological accounts of morality. If the discussion of
the rights that children and regular citizens should have (above) is satisfactory, then
most of the argumentation needed to allow governments to ethically make genetic
screening for Happiness mandatory, on a deontological view, has already been
provided. Deontological accounts of morality are based on the notions of the duties
and rights of individuals and states (Blackburn 2005). Discerning what those rights
and duties should be is the difficult part of constructing a deontological account of
morality. Rawls (1973) provides a useful method for establishing deontological rights
and duties; the ‘veil of ignorance.’ Rawls (1973) asks any would-be constitution-maker
to imagine that they were about to be born into the community that has to follow the
rules they make and that they have no idea what life they will be born into, they could
become a naturally talented athlete or perhaps a cripple. The fear of being born a
disadvantaged minority is supposed to lead to a constitution that is even more fairminded than a democracy, in which minorities could suffer from the ‘tyranny of the
majority’ (Mill 1859; Tocqueville 1835).
It is clear from the discussion above that the right to Happiness is so important that
it would be created by anyone under the veil of ignorance. Furthermore, the veiled
constitution-maker would take particular care to make provisions such that minorities
and those unlikely to have the power to seize Happiness for themselves are afforded
special rights to ensure that they are not excluded from the benefits of a Happy life.
The veiled constitution-maker should clearly make a rule that the rights of children
are given special consideration because everyone is guaranteed to be a child at some
stage and children are obviously not in a position to grasp Happiness for themselves.
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Therefore, based on deontological ethics, the veiled constitution-maker would make
genetic screening for Happiness mandatory, unless there were some particular issues
that would make it completely impractical to do so.156
Deontological accounts of ethics sometimes produce the same conclusions as their
philosophical counterpart (consequentialist accounts), despite reaching those
conclusions in different ways. Utilitarianism, the “paradigm” consequentialist view
(Sinnott-Armstrong 2006, 1), was originally popularised by Bentham (1789) and
designed to maximise Happiness, since Happiness was thought to be the greatest
good.157 Unfortunately, methods for accurately measuring and predicting Happiness
are only now becoming exact enough to use utilitarian principles to guide government
decisions (e.g. Van Praag & Baarsma 2005). The inability to accurately measure
Happiness caused a theoretical and practical shift to maximising preferences, known
as Preference Utilitarianism (Sinnott-Armstrong 2006). Preference Utilitarianism is
the view that the satisfaction of desires that are both informed and rational 158 is the
goal of all action (Brandt 1979), including governmental law-making, since everyone
is generally the best judge of how to make themselves Happy. The number of drug
addicts that populate the major cities of the world is testament to the falsity of this
claim (Gilbert 2006). Since individuals can make bad choices about what they desire
and they may not have the required information to make the ethically correct decision
in all circumstances, heuristics are needed to help guide them. Rule Utilitarianism can
provide these heuristics and, with the support of the government can turn them into
Unfortunately, the deontological moral test may have its results considered null and void if the nonidentity problem (Parfit 1984) is taken very seriously. However, the deontological test has been included to
address the moral intuition that abusing someone’s rights is wrong, whether or not they might not have
It should be noted that Bentham (1789) and Mill (1863) defined Happiness narrowly; as pleasure and the
absence pain. This definition fails to encompass all of the aspects that are commonly thought to constitute
Happiness (as discussed above in the Happiness section) and is susceptible to Nozick’s (1974) famous
‘experience machine’ argument. The argument claims that people would not want to be plugged into a
machine that could provide them with all sorts of pleasure because people also desire meaning in their life
(Nozick 1974).
This disclaimer avoids desires that are based on false beliefs or irrational thinking, such as desiring to
dive into an empty swimming pool because you think that it is full of water (false belief) or when you know
that it is empty but think that it is still the right thing to do (irrationality or malfunction in thinking).
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laws, making it arguably the most pragmatic utilitarian account.159 Although Rule
Utilitarianism could be used to make rules that maximise Happiness or the
satisfaction of preferences (Sinnott-Armstrong 2006), it should be remembered that
the satisfaction of preferences is now an outdated placeholder for Happiness (Layard
2005), which, as defined in this essay, includes feeling good and being satisfied with
If making genetic screening for Happiness mandatory increases the total Happiness
of all then, according to Rule Utilitarianism, a rule making it mandatory should be put
into place. Making genetic screening for Happiness mandatory would inconvenience
the potential parents, as some of them would have to go through the process of IVF
and PGD when they would not have had to otherwise, perhaps decreasing their
Happiness for a few weeks. And, a small number of potential parents will have their
uninformed or irrational life goals regarding reproduction frustrated, as discussed
above, potentially making them quite unHappy. The cost of performing the process
also needs to be taken into account because it will be paid for by the citizens one way
or another. On the other hand an efficacious educational campaign could allay the
concerns of the potential parents with uninformed or irrational life goals (at a slight
cost) and countless children can expect better, Happier lives. Happy children will also
reduce stress, thereby increasing the Happiness of parents (Martin 2005), and become
Happy adults. Happy adults are more productive in the workplace (eventually
repaying the cost of the process), contribute more to their communities, and, most
importantly, live Happy lives!160 It could be argued that the Happiness of the child
and, therefore any resulting benefits, should not be counted in the equation because
they are not a person at the time of decision-making. However, a more pragmatic, or
teleological (Kymlicka 1990), account of utilitarianism would measure the net
Another advantage of Rule Utilitarianism is that the rules can be created to maximise Happiness in the
long-run by preventing the insecurity that might be caused by debtors sending all of their income to help
the needy in Africa, instead of repaying their creditors.
Many of the benefits of being Happy, such as workplace productivity and community spirit, have been
discussed above and reviewed in Lyubomirsky, King, and Diener (2005).
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Happiness that results from the decision. This is because a person will be born and it
will be too late to take their interests into account, in this case, after they are born.
Singer (1993) recommends that we consider the Happiness of future peoples more
than we currently do when making decisions that will affect them. Future people
would clearly have the right to be very angry with us if we did not take the obvious
steps to ensure their chances of Happiness, especially if existing people would have
benefited from the potential people’s Happiness once they arrive! The benefits of
genetically screening for Happiness clearly outweigh the harms and the costs.
Therefore, Rule Utilitarianism deems that making genetic screening for Happiness
mandatory is ethical, unless there are some, as yet unaccounted for, pressing practical
problems in doing so.
Although, ethically, only the right to procreative liberty opposes making genetic
screening for Happiness mandatory, there is, in fact, a particularly pressing practical
problem that would make enforcing PGD very difficult to legislate for; unprotected
sex. In order to genetically screen for Happiness, people who desire to be parents
must report to an appropriate PGD clinic before conception. This would require that
no heterosexual couples had unprotected sex, which would be incredibly difficult for
a government to enforce (Robertson 2004).161 Despite the concerns of the Catholic
Church (Kerr-Pontes et al. 1999), governments around the world already spend
considerable amounts of money on social marketing campaigns to reduce the
emotional and physical damage that can be caused by unprotected sex (Gaffeo 2003),
to limited success (Gayle & Lange 2004). In order to effectively prevent unprotected
sex, Governments would have to spend considerable sums of money funding sex
police and pass invidious legislation, allowing massive violations of privacy. This
would dramatically decrease freedom and, therefore Happiness.162
See Note 63 (Robertson 2004, 20).
A recent survey by Kahneman et al. (2004) revealed that people are at their Happiest when they are
having sex. And presumably having a police officer watching to ensure that it was ‘done properly’ would
ruin the Happiest part of most people’s lives.
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However, governments could enforce temporary sterilisation of all people from the
age of puberty onwards, so that no direct observation took place. There are two main
problems with mass temporary sterilisation. Firstly, less people would use condoms,
causing sexually transmitted infections, such as the deadly HIV virus, to spread
rapidly (Ku, Sonenstein, & Pleck 1994) and cause untold suffering and unHappiness.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this would be a gross violation of
procreative liberties that could drastically disrupt many peoples’ purpose in life and,
therefore, their Happiness. Due to these practical considerations, it would be
unethical to enforce all couples to genetically screen their possible children for
Happiness unless it was performed during the pregnancy as pre-natal genetic
diagnosis, which has already been dismissed as too morally problematic.163 Therefore,
governments should only make genetic screening for Happiness compulsory for
potential parents who use IVF and do all that they can to inform the other potential
parents about the benefits of using PGD to genetically screen their potential children
for Happiness.
The conclusion above requires some clarification. This essay is arguing that parents
who require IVF for childbirth due to infertility or because they desire to screen for
congenital diseases should also be informed about the embryos’ genetic disposition to
become Happy children. When fully informed by genetic counsellors, it will then be
up to the parents to exercise their procreative liberty and, for instance, decide
between genomes that might be Happier but with some disease or unHappy but
disease-free. Where the genetic defects are less harmful to the child, there should be a
moral obligation for the parents to select a Happy potential child. However, as the
genetic defects become more harmful to the potential child then this obligation fades
away. There should be a strong moral obligation against not choosing an embryo with
more chance of being Happy without having some good reason that is in line with
Due to the mental and physical pain caused to the parents because of a late-term abortion.
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what society values about reproduction, such as raising healthy and Happy children
(Robertson 2003). 164
A major deterrent to potential parents genetically screening their possible children for
Happiness would be the financial cost, especially for poor parents. To ensure that the
considerable divide between the rich and the poor, which is clearly evident in the
United States (Uslaner & Brown 2005), does not increase, genetically screening for
Happiness has to bear little or no financial cost. If genetically screening for
Happiness were controlled by the free market then it would take quite some time
before the cost of the procedure lowered to the point where the poor could afford it.
To prevent this, governments must wholly or partially own and operate the PGD
clinics or pass sufficient legislation to have control over the process. Moreover,
governments should make the time needed to undergo the process of screening a part
of parental leave so that indirect financial costs can also be avoided.
Another deterrent to potential parents genetically screening their possible children for
Happiness would be the lack of knowledge about or trust in the procedure, especially
for some minorities. Some minority groups are notoriously hard to inform because of
language, cultural, and educational barriers (Guttman & Salmon 2004). However,
when the health message is important (as in the case of genetically screening for
Happiness) there is a moral imperative to tailor the information for all audiences
(Freimuth & Mettger 1990). The idea behind the widespread dissemination of this
information would be to create a social norm of moral requirement to genetically
screen for Happiness. There would be no legal repercussions for not using PGD to
screen for Happiness but the desired state of affairs is such that parents who
knowingly produce a child without first screening it for Happiness will be widely
thought of as performing an immoral action unless they had a particularly good
reason to do so. This reason could feasibly be religious or cultural belief, but would
For more discussion on how such cases might be managed, see (Robertson & Savelescu 2002).
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certainly not be of the ‘it’s a fifteen minute drive to the PGD clinic’ variety. By
providing the service, the necessary information about genetically screening for
Happiness, and a socially-relevant incentive to all potential parents for free,
governments will enable all parts of society to reap the full benefits of Happiness.
This egalitarian approach to real (as opposed to nominal) rights would satisfy Rawls’
(1973) deontological Maximin principle; that any change in distribution should
benefit those that are worst-off, and prevent the steadily-increasing social isolation in
countries such as the United States (Putnam 2001).
The cost to governments of informing about, researching, controlling, and
performing genetic screening for Happiness will be considerable and ongoing.
Fortunately, this necessary taxpayer investment will not only be repaid with the
ultimate goal; a Happier society. It will also be repaid with the cold hard cash of a
booming economy. Firstly, Happier workers boost the economy because they are
more productive (Schofield 1998); they spend less time moping at work and more
time mopping (if they are cleaners). A Happier society will also attract more
tourists,165 further boosting the economy. Finally, the societies that are amongst the
first to provide access to genetic screening for Happiness will be more attractive to
skilled migrants because the society will be a Happier place to live and the migrating
potential parents would get the opportunity to achieve the ultimate parental goal
(Martin 2005); all but totally ensuring increased Happiness for their children. This
would allow governments who endorsed genetic screening for Happiness to pick and
choose the best skilled migrants, further boosting the economy. It should be noted
that ‘the economy’ and money generally should not be considered anywhere near as
important as Happiness. However, the above points are raised to show that genetic
screening for Happiness will pay for itself financially as well as in the ultimate payoff;
Thailand markets itself as the ‘Land of Smile,’ trying to create the image of a friendly citizenry to
increase tourist numbers, which its economy relies on (Boonsirichai 2002).
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a Happier society, thereby eliminating any practical concerns about the cost of
informing about, researching, controlling, and performing the process.
The discussion above leads to several recommendations for legal and moral
obligations in the assisted reproductive technologies area, which is still desperately
short of guidance in most countries (Nelson 2006). Unprotected sex should not be
made illegal for practical reasons and because its impingement on privacy and
procreative liberty would create undue harm to society. However, there should be (an
even more) concerted effort by governments to discourage it. Furthermore,
governments need to inform all of their citizens about how to use the free PGD
clinics to give their potential children the best chance of leading a Happy life and,
therefore, benefiting the whole community. This information should also be
presented in such a way that it becomes a pervasive view that failing to screen
potential children for Happiness without a good reason is immoral. Governments
should also make genetic screening for Happiness mandatory for potential parents
who use IVF or PGD, as it would be morally impermissible to miss the chance of all
but completely securing a Happier life for the possible child. However, if the parents
have a good reason not to choose the embryos that are genetically predisposed to be
Happy then they should not be legally obligated to do so because that would unduly
impinge on their procreative liberty. This will lead to situations where potential
parents and physicians at the clinic may have to decide between embryos that are
predisposed to Happiness and a potentially less-desirable congenital trait, and
embryos that are not predisposed to Happiness or a potentially less-desirable
congenital trait.
Congruent with both the deontological and consequential theories of ethics discussed
above, in these situations the physicians should discuss the matter with the parents to
evaluate what would create the most Happiness for them and especially for the
potential child without frustrating their reasons for reproducing that are in line with
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what society values about reproduction. For example, a decision between a child
predisposed to Happiness and deafness, and a child that was not disposed to
Happiness or deafness, will most likely result in the Happy child being chosen
because it is not clear that deafness makes people unHappy.166 In a similar case,
parents might wish to exercise their procreative liberty and choose to produce a deaf
child without a predisposition to be Happy, perhaps if they themselves were deaf.
While legal, this would be considered immoral and PGD clinics should be allowed to
exercise their liberal right not to offer their services to cause an end which they do
not believe in (Robertson 2005).
Another example might see parents with the choice between a child predisposed to
Happiness and Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome,167 and a child that was not disposed to
Happiness or Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome. In this case, the child without Lesch-Nyhan
Syndrome should be chosen because the child with Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome would
suffer a terrible life. Cases in which parents choose to create a child that will only
have a life of suffering are often referred to as ‘wrongful life’ because by all accounts
there could be no good reason for desiring to produce a life of suffering (Botkin
1988). Indeed, to desire to produce such a life would not be covered by the right to
procreative liberty because the reasons could not possibly be compatible with
society’s values about reproduction; that it is good to lovingly raise healthy and happy
children (Robertson 2003). Although the decision between potential children with a
predisposition for Happiness or Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome would not choose the child
with the predisposition for Happiness, the decision itself would still be made with
maximising Happiness, especially of the child, in mind. To be able to effectively make
these decisions about the effect various other traits and diseases will have on
The debate on this matter is still very much open (Brock 2005; Sparrow 2005). However, any
disadvantages that deafness cause are unlikely to have a dramatic effect on Happiness because deaf people
can still pursue most of their life goals and experience positive emotions like non-hearing-impaired people
can (Guerrero 2006).
Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome is a terribly debilitating genetic disorder that causes many mental and physical
problems that onset from birth and include, most disturbingly, compulsive self-mutilating behaviours
(Nyhan 1997).
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Happiness, huge amounts of research should be performed. As the research
develops, it will become increasingly accurate so that the Happiness of the potential
children will be in increasingly safe hands, allowing more and more parents to fulfil
their dream of ensuring their children grow into Happy people (Martin 2005).
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– “We all want to be happy, and we’re all going to die. You might say those are the only two
unchallengeably true facts that apply to every human being on this planet.”
(William Boyd 1895-1972 on ‘Topper’)
This essay has answered the question: If we could genetically screen embryos for the
predisposition to become Happy people, should we do so? First, Happiness was
discussed and, crucially to the subsequent arguments, defined as usually feeling good,
not bad, and considering oneself to be leading a meaningful life that is satisfying in all
important areas. Then the technology required to genetically screen for Happiness
was discussed and it was shown that; although the science and technology needs
more development before Happiness can effectively and safely be screened for, it
may not be long before we have the required knowledge and capabilities. Following
this, Robertson’s (2005) methodology for assessing the morality of uses of PGD was
explained and discussed. The conclusion of that discussion was that genetic screening
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for Happiness is morally permissible because it was covered by procreative liberty
and caused no undue harms to any party. Making genetically screening for Happiness
mandatory was then evaluated, including a deontological and consequentialist
assessment. This discussion revealed that genetic screening for Happiness is morally
mandatory. However, the problem of policing unprotected sex and impinging on
valid exercises of procreative liberty entailed that making genetic screening for
Happiness legally mandatory was impractical and possibly immoral.
The conclusion reached above has considerable implications for further research into
bio-ethics generally. This essay argued that it is morally mandatory to use PGD to
ensure that children are born with a predisposition to the non-disease trait;
Happiness. Although Happiness is clearly a case unto itself because of its possible
status as the most important goal in life, this result should encourage more debate on
the morality of allowing potential parents to genetically screen for other non-disease
traits. The immense importance of Happiness identified in this essay also
demonstrates the need for investigation into the morality of genetically engineering
children to provide them with the genome with the maximum chances of Happiness.
The genetic engineering of Happiness raises some similar moral issues to genetically
screening for Happiness, although it is widely considered to be much more ethically
problematic in most aspects (Liao 2005). Ironically, however, if widespread genetic
screening for Happiness turned out to be a mistake, then the only way to correct it
might be genetically engineering our unHappiness back! Clearly much more research
is needed in all of these areas and more if the rapacious development of science and
technology is to be kept on a moral leash (Collins 2003).
The quest for Happiness is one shared by nearly all of us, whether we realise it or not
(James 1902). Who would not wish Happiness for themselves? Who would not wish
Happiness for those they cared for? Who would not wish Happiness for their
children? Children in the United States are only Happy about half of the time (Larsen
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& Lampman-Petraitis 1989) – is that enough? Potential children do not have the
capacity to wish anything. However, if they could wish for any one thing, it would
surely be Happiness. When the progress of science and technology make the gift of a
predisposition for Happiness available it is morally mandatory that governments and
potential parents do whatever they can to provide it for the possible children that
cannot yet pursue Happiness for themselves.
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