Julian Savulescu

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Julian Savulescu
Born (1963-12-22) 22 December 1963 (age 60)
Alma materMonash University
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy
Doctoral advisorPeter Singer
Main interests
Ethics · Bioethics
Notable ideas
Procreative beneficence

Julian Savulescu (born 22 December 1963) is an Australian philosopher and bioethicist of Romanian origins. He is Chen Su Lan Centennial Professor in Medical Ethics and director of the Centre for Biomedical Ethics at National University of Singapore. He was previously Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, and co-director of the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities. He is visiting professorial fellow in Biomedical Ethics at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Australia, and distinguished visiting professor in law at Melbourne University since 2017. He directs the Biomedical Ethics Research Group and is a member of the Centre for Ethics of Pediatric Genomics in Australia. 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.2 journal in bioethics worldwide by Google Scholar Metrics, as of 2022.[1] In addition to his background in applied ethics and philosophy, he also has a background in medicine and neuroscience and completed his MBBS (Hons) and BMedSc at Monash University, graduating top of his class with 18 of 19 final year prizes in Medicine. He edits the Oxford University Press book series, the Uehiro Series in Practical Ethics.

He completed his PhD at Monash University, under the supervision of philosopher Peter Singer.[2] His doctoral thesis was on good reasons to die and euthanasia. After graduating, he took a Menzies Foundation postdoctoral scholarship,[3] supervised by Derek Parfit[4] before returning to Australia. He established a group on the ethics of genetics at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, Australia. In 2002, he took up the Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics in Oxford. In 2003, he established the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics as director.


Savulescu has a Doctoris Honoris Causa from the University of Bucharest (2014).[5] He was awarded the ‘Thinker’ Award in the top 100 Australian Future Leaders (2009),[6] and is a Monash University Distinguished Alumni (2009).[7] He was ASMR Gold Medalist (2005).[8]

In 2018, Savulescu and a team of co-authors were awarded the Daniel M. Wegner Theoretical Innovation Prize.[9] This prize recognises the author of an article or book chapter judged to provide the most innovative theoretical contribution to social/personality psychology within a given year.[10] He was also shortlisted for the AHRC Medal for Leadership in Medical Humanities in 2018.[11] He was elected a Corresponding Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 2023.[12]

Procreative beneficence[edit]

Savulescu coined the phrase procreative beneficence. It is the controversial[13][14] 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.[15] 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.[16]

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) to determine the intelligence of embryos and possible children;[17] and
  2. that stem cell research is justifiable even if one accepts the view of the embryo as a person.[18]

Savulescu also justifies the destruction of embryos and foetuses as a source of organs and tissue for transplantation to adults.[19] 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 foetuses, 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.[20] This article was published as part of a special double issue, 'Abortion, Infanticide, and Allowing Babies to Die'.[21] The double issue included articles by Peter Singer, Michael Tooley, Jeff McMahan, C. A. J. Coady, Leslie Francis, John Finnis, and others. In an editorial, Savulescu wrote: "The Journal aims in this issue to promote further and more extensive rational debate concerning this controversial and important topic by providing a range of arguments from a variety of perspectives. We have tried to be as inclusive as possible and provided a double issue to include as many as possible of the submissions we received. Infanticide is an important issue and one worthy of scholarly attention because it touches on an area of concern that few societies have had the courage to tackle honestly and openly: euthanasia. We hope that the papers in this issue will stimulate ethical reflection on practices of euthanasia that are occurring and its proper justification and limits."[22] He also stated, "I am strongly opposed to the legalisation of infanticide along the lines discussed by Giubilini and Minerva."[23]

Along with neuroethicist 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.[24]

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.[25] Savulescu argues that humanity is on the brink of disappearing in a metaphorical 'Bermuda Triangle' unless humans are willing to undergo 'moral enhancement'.[26][clarification needed]


Walter Veit has gone further than Savulescu and argued that because there is no intrinsic moral difference between 'creating' and 'choosing' a life, eugenics becomes a natural consequence of procreative beneficence.[13] 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.

Rebecca Bennett, however, criticises 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".[27]

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.[28]

Other information[edit]

In 2009, Savulescu was awarded a Distinguished Alumni Award by Monash University.[29] In the same year, he was also announced as the winner in the Thinking category of The Australian newspaper's Emerging Leaders Awards.[30]

He has co-authored two books: Medical Ethics and Law: The Core Curriculum with Tony Hope and Judith Hendrick[31] and Unfit for the Future: The Need for Moral Enhancement (published by Oxford University Press) with Ingmar Persson.[32]

Savulescu is a member of the board of directors executive committee of the International Neuroethics Society.[33]

Together with John Harris, Julian was called a leading figure in New eugenics.[34]

He has also edited the books Der neue Mensch? Enhancement und Genetik (together with Nikolaus Knoepffler),[35] Human Enhancement (together with Nick Bostrom),[36] Enhancing Human Capacities,[37] The Ethics of Human Enhancement.[38] He was also a co-author of Love Is the Drug: The Chemical Future of Our Relationships addressing the future potential widespread use of aphrodisiacs. In it, he argued, that certain forms of medications can be ethically consumed as a "helpful complement" in relationships. Both to fall in love, and, to fall out of it.[39][40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Bioethics - Google Scholar Metrics". scholar.google.co.uk. Retrieved 24 September 2019.
  2. ^ Savulescu. philosophy.ox.ac.uk
  3. ^ "Menzies Foundation". 28 October 2022.
  4. ^ "Julian Savulescu". The World Technology Network. 24 October 2014. Retrieved 24 August 2021.
  5. ^ "Doctor Honoris Causa". UniBuc - Universitatea din București. 26 November 2018. Retrieved 24 August 2021.
  6. ^ "Professor Savulescu named 'top emerging thinker'". Oxford Martin School. Retrieved 24 August 2021.
  7. ^ Faculty Board Agenda, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing, and Health Sciences. Meeting No3. 2009. Available at:http://www.med.monash.edu.au/assets/docs/facultyboard/meeting-files/3-2009/agenda.pdf Accessed 24 August 2021.
  8. ^ Professor Julian Savulescu, National Press Club National Australia Bank Address, 8 June 2005. Accessed 24 August 2021.
  9. ^ "Wegner Theoretical Innovation Prize | SPSP". www.spsp.org. Retrieved 24 August 2021.
  10. ^ Everett1, Kahane2, Earp3, Caviola4. Crockett5, Faber6, Savulescu7 (2018). "Beyond Sacrificial Harm: A Two Dimensional Model of Utilitarian Decision-Making". Psychological Review. 125 (2): 131–164. doi:10.1037/rev0000093. PMC 5900580. PMID 29265854.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Arts and Humanities Research Council. Health Humanities Medal 2018. Accessed 24 August 2021
  12. ^ "Fellow Profile – Julian Savulescu". Australian Academy of the Humanities. Retrieved 23 November 2023.
  13. ^ a b Veit, Walter (2018). "Procreative Beneficence and Genetic Enhancement". KRITERION – Journal of Philosophy. 32 (11): 1–8. doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.11026.89289.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ 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. hdl:2123/12262. PMID 23466750.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ Adams, Stephen (29 February 2012). "Killing babies no different from abortion, experts say". ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  21. ^ "Journal of Medical Ethics: 39 (5)". Journal of Medical Ethics. 39 (5). 1 May 2013. ISSN 0306-6800.
  22. ^ Savulescu, Julian (1 May 2013). "Abortion, infanticide and allowing babies to die, 40 years on". Journal of Medical Ethics. 39 (5): 257–259. doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101404. ISSN 0306-6800. PMID 23637422. S2CID 2296017.
  23. ^ Savulescu, Julian (1 May 2013). "Abortion, infanticide and allowing babies to die, 40 years on". Journal of Medical Ethics. 39 (5): 257–259. doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101404. ISSN 0306-6800. PMID 23637422. S2CID 2296017.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ Genetically enhance humanity or face extinction – PART 1 on Vimeo. Vimeo.com (9 November 2009). Retrieved on 2016-05-16.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ 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. S2CID 25583876.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ Professor Julian Savulescu. Monash.edu.au (13 February 2013). Retrieved on 2016-05-16.
  30. ^ Nocookies. The Australian. Retrieved on 16 May 2016.
  31. ^ Hope, Tony; Savulescu, Julian; Hendrick, Judith (2008). Medical Ethics and Law: The Core Curriculum. Churchill Livingstone. ISBN 978-0443103377.
  32. ^ Persson, Ingmar; Savulescu, Julian (2012). Unfit for the Future: The Need for Moral Enhancement. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199653645.
  33. ^ "Governance". International Neuroethics Society. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
  34. ^ Veit, Walter; Anomaly, Jonathan; Agar, Nicholas; Singer, Peter; Fleischman, Diana; Minerva, Francesca (2021). "Can 'eugenics' be defended?". Monash Bioethics Review. 39 (1): 60–67. doi:10.1007/s40592-021-00129-1. PMC 8321981. PMID 34033008.
  35. ^ Knoepffler, Nikolaus; Savulescu, Julian, eds. (2009). Der neue Mensch? Enhancement und Genetik. Alber. ISBN 978-3495483077.
  36. ^ Savulescu, Julian; Bostrom, Nick, eds. (2011). Human Enhancement. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199594962.
  37. ^ Savulescu, Julian; ter Meulen, Ruud; Kahane, Guy, eds. (2011). Enhancing Human Capacities. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1405195812.
  38. ^ 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.
  39. ^ Fetters, Ashley (16 January 2020). "Your Chemical Romance". The Atlantic. Retrieved 25 October 2020.
  40. ^ Anekwe, Lilian (12 February 2020). "Drugs may be able to fix our romantic lives when things go wrong". New Scientist. Archived from the original on 13 February 2020. Retrieved 29 October 2020.

External links[edit]

Media related to Julian Savulescu at Wikimedia Commons