Julian Savulescu

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Julian Savulescu
Julian Savulescu 2009b.jpg
Born (1963-12-22) 22 December 1963 (age 56)
Alma materMonash University
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy
Main interests
Ethics · Bioethics
Notable ideas
Procreative beneficence

Julian Savulescu (born 22 December 1963) is an Australian philosopher and bioethicist. He is Uehiro Professor of Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford, Director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Sir Louis Matheson Distinguished Visiting Professor at Monash University, and Head of the Melbourne–Oxford Stem Cell Collaboration, which is devoted to examining the ethical implications of cloning and embryonic stem cell research. He is a former editor and current board member of the Journal of Medical Ethics (2001-2004 and 2011-2018), which is ranked as the No.1 journal in bioethics[1] worldwide by Google Scholar Metrics as of 2013. In addition to his background in applied ethics and philosophy, he also has a background in medicine and completed his MBBS (Hons) at Monash University.

He completed his PhD at Monash University, under the supervision of philosopher Peter Singer.[2]

Procreative beneficence[edit]

Julian Savulescu coined the phrase procreative beneficence. It is the controversial[3] putative moral obligation of parents in a position to select their children, for instance through preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), to favor those expected to have the best life.[4] An argument in favor of this principle is that traits (such as empathy, memory, etc.) are "all-purpose means" in the sense of being instrumental in realizing whatever life plans the child may come to have.[5]

In some of his publications he has argued for the following:

  1. that parents have a responsibility to select the best children they could have, given all of the relevant genetic information available to them, a principle that he extends to the use of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and preimplantation genetic diagnoses (PGD) in order to determine the intelligence of embryos and possible children;[6] and
  2. that stem cell research is justifiable even if one accepts the view of the embryo as a person.[7]

Julian Savulescu also justifies the destruction of embryos and fetuses as a source of organs and tissue for transplantation to adults.[8] In his abstract he argues, "The most publicly justifiable application of human cloning, if there is one at all, is to provide self-compatible cells or tissues for medical use, especially transplantation. Some have argued that this raises no new ethical issues above those raised by any form of embryo experimentation. I argue that this research is less morally problematic than other embryo research. Indeed, it is not merely morally permissible but morally required that we employ cloning to produce embryos or fetuses for the sake of providing cells, tissues or even organs for therapy, followed by abortion of the embryo or fetus." He argues that if it is permissible to destroy fetuses, for social reasons, or no reasons at all, it must be justifiable to destroy them to save lives.

Further, as editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics, he published, in 2012, an article by two Italian academics which stated that a new-born baby is effectively no different from a foetus, is not a "person" and, morally, could be killed at the decision of the parents etc.[9]

Along with neuro-ethicist Guy Kahane, Savulescu's article "Brain Damage and the Moral Significance of Consciousness" appears to be the first mainstream publication to argue that increased evidence of consciousness in patients diagnosed with being in persistent vegetative state actually supports withdrawing or withholding care.[10]

In 2009, Professor Savulescu presented a paper at the ’Festival of Dangerous Ideas,’ held at the Sydney Opera House in October 2009, entitled "Unfit for Life: Genetically Enhance Humanity or Face Extinction," which can be seen on Vimeo.[11] Savulescu argues that humanity is on the brink of disappearing in a metaphorical ‘Bermuda Triangle’ unless humans are willing to undergo 'moral enhancement'.[12][clarification needed]


Robert Sparrow wrote, in the Journal of Medical Ethics, that Savulescu's justification for the principle of procreative beneficence can and should be extended further. If parents have a moral obligation to create children likely to have the best possible life, they should prefer to have children that have been genetically engineered for an optimal chance at such a life, even if those children bear little or no genetic relation to them.[13]

Rebecca Bennett, however, criticizes Savulescu's argument. Bennett argues that "the chances of any particular individual being born is spectacularly unlikely, given the infinite number of variables that had to be in place for this to happen. In order for any particular individual to exist, that individual's parents have to have been created in the first place, they have to meet at the right time and conceive us at a particular time to enable that particular sperm to fuse with that particular egg. Thus, it is clear that all sorts of things, any change in society, will effect who is born.". According to Bennett, this means that no-one is actually harmed if one does not select the best offspring, as the individuals born could not have had any other, worse life as they would otherwise never have been born - "choosing worthwhile but impaired lives harms no-one and is thus not less preferable", as Bennett puts it. Bennett argues that while advocates of procreative beneficence could appeal to impersonal harm, which is where one should aim to ensure the maximum possible potential quality of life and thus embryos without or with the least impairments should be selected (as the impersonal total quality of life will be improved), this argument is flawed on two counts. Firstly on an intuitive level, Bennett questions if benefit or harm that doesn't affect anyone (i.e it is impersonal) should be worthy of consideration as no actual people will gain or lose anything. Secondly and on a theoretical level, Bennett argues that attempting to increase the sum total impersonal happiness (or decrease impersonal harm) can lead to repugnant conclusions, such as being obliged to produce as many offspring as possible to bring more people into the world to raise the level of impersonal happiness, even if the quality of life of individuals suffers for it due to scarcity and overcrowding. Bennett argues that this conclusion is repugnant because "it cares little about what we normally regard as morally important: the welfare of individual people".[14]

Norbert Paulo criticised Savulescu's argument for moral enhancement, arguing that if democratic governments had to morally enhance their populations because the majoritarian population are morally deficient, they could not be legitimate as they manipulated the population's will. Thus in Paulo's view, those advocating large-scale, state-driven and partially mandatory moral enhancement are advocating a non-democratic order.[15] This argument is fastidious, because the democracies operate by electing the legislative, and as a consequence the executive, tasked with managing the affairs of electorate, presumably including the mentioned above. If the legislative elected by the will of majority of population decides to implement specific policies, a next election will reflect this.

Other information[edit]

In 2009 Professor Savulescu was awarded a Distinguished Alumni Award by Monash University.[16]

In 2009 he was also announced as the winner in the Thinking category of The Australian newspaper's Emerging Leaders Awards.[17]

He has co-authored two books: Medical Ethics and Law: The Core Curriculum with Tony Hope and Judith Hendrick[18] and Unfit for the Future: The Need for Moral Enhancement (published by Oxford University Press) with Ingmar Persson.[19]

Professor Savulescu is a member of the Board of Directors Executive Committee of the International Neuroethics Society.[20]

He has also edited the books Der neue Mensch? Enhancement und Genetik (together with Nikolaus Knoepffler),[21] Human Enhancement (together with Nick Bostrom),[22] Enhancing Human Capacities,[23] The Ethics of Human Enhancement [24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Bioethics - Google Scholar Metrics". scholar.google.co.uk. Retrieved 24 September 2019.
  2. ^ Savulescu. philosophy.ox.ac.uk
  3. ^ de Melo-Martin I (2004). "On our obligation to select the best children: a reply to Savulescu". Bioethics. 18 (1): 72–83. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8519.2004.00379.x. PMID 15168699.
  4. ^ Savulescu J (October 2001). "Procreative beneficence: why we should select the best children". Bioethics. 15 (5–6): 413–26. doi:10.1111/1467-8519.00251. PMID 12058767.
  5. ^ Hens, K.; Dondorp, W.; Handyside, A. H.; Harper, J.; Newson, A. J.; Pennings, G.; Rehmann-Sutter, C.; De Wert, G. (2013). "Dynamics and ethics of comprehensive preimplantation genetic testing: A review of the challenges". Human Reproduction Update. 19 (4): 366–75. doi:10.1093/humupd/dmt009. PMID 23466750.
  6. ^ Savulescu, Julian (2001). "Procreative Beneficence: Why We Should Select the Best Children". Bioethics. 15 (5–6): 413–26. doi:10.1111/1467-8519.00251. PMID 12058767.
  7. ^ Savulescu, J (2002). "The embryonic stem cell lottery and the cannibalization of human beings". Bioethics. 16 (6): 508–29. doi:10.1111/1467-8519.00308. PMID 12472112.
  8. ^ Savulescu, J (1999). "Should we clone human beings? Cloning as a source of tissue for transplantation". Journal of Medical Ethics. 25 (2): 87–95. doi:10.1136/jme.25.2.87. PMC 479188. PMID 10226910.
  9. ^ Adams, Stephen (29 February 2012). "Killing babies no different from abortion, experts say". ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  10. ^ Savulescu, J.; Kahane, G. (2009). "Brain Damage and the Moral Significance of Consciousness". Journal of Medicine and Philosophy. 34 (1): 6–26. doi:10.1093/jmp/jhn038. PMC 3242047. PMID 19193694.
  11. ^ Genetically enhance humanity or face extinction – PART 1 on Vimeo. Vimeo.com (9 November 2009). Retrieved on 2016-05-16.
  12. ^ Fukuma, Satoshi. "Death and Life Studies, Fit for the Future? Modern Technology, Liberal Democracy and the Urgent Need for Moral Improvement" (PDF). University of Tokyo Global COE Program. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
  13. ^ Sparrow, Robert (4 April 2013). "In vitro eugenics". Journal of Medical Ethics. 40 (11): 725–31. doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-101200. PMID 23557913.
  14. ^ Bennett, Rebecca (2014). "When Intuition is Not Enough. Why the Principle of Procreative Beneficence Must Work Much Harder to Justify its Eugenic Vision". Bioethics. 28 (9): 447–455. doi:10.1111/bioe.12044. PMID 23841936.
  15. ^ Paulo, Norbert, and Jan Christoph Bublitz. "How (not) to argue for moral enhancement: Reflections on a decade of debate." Topoi 38, no. 1 (2019): 95-109.
  16. ^ Professor Julian Savulescu. Monash.edu.au (13 February 2013). Retrieved on 2016-05-16.
  17. ^ Nocookies. The Australian. Retrieved on 16 May 2016.
  18. ^ Hope, Tony; Savulescu, Julian; Hendrick, Judith (2008). Medical Ethics and Law: The Core Curriculum. Churchill Livingstone. ISBN 978-0443103377.
  19. ^ Persson, Ingmar; Savulescu, Julian (2012). Unfit for the Future: The Need for Moral Enhancement. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199653645.
  20. ^ "Governance". International Neuroethics Society. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
  21. ^ Knoepffler, Nikolaus; Savulescu, Julian, eds. (2009). Der neue Mensch? Enhancement und Genetik. Alber. ISBN 978-3495483077.
  22. ^ Savulescu, Julian; Bostrom, Nick, eds. (2011). Human Enhancement. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199594962.
  23. ^ Savulescu, Julian; ter Meulen, Ruud; Kahane, Guy, eds. (2011). Enhancing Human Capacities. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1405195812.
  24. ^ Clarke, Steve; Savulescu, Julian; Coady, C.A.J.; Giubilini, Alberto; Sanyal, Sagar, eds. (2016). The Ethics of Human Enhancement: Understanding the Debate. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198754855.

External links[edit]

Media related to Julian Savulescu at Wikimedia Commons