Although Foucault adamantly refused to make moral pronouncements or dictate moral principles or political programs to his readers, his work offers a number of tools and concepts that can help us develop our own ethical views and practices. One of these tools is genealogical analysis, and one of these concepts is “biopower.” Specifically, this essay seeks to demonstrate that Foucault’s concept of biopower and his genealogical method are valuable as we consider moral questions raised by genetic enhancement technologies. First, it examines contemporary debate over the development, marketing, and application of such technologies, suggesting that what passes for ethical deliberation is often little more than political maneuvering in a field where stakes are very high and public perceptions will play a crucial role in decisions about which technologies will be funded or disallowed. It goes on to argue that genuine ethical deliberation on these issues requires some serious investigation of their historical context. Accordingly, then, it takes up the oft-heard charge from critics that genetic enhancement technologies are continuous with twentieth-century eugenic projects or will usher in a new age of eugenics. Foucault explicitly links twentieth-century eugenics with the rise of biopower. Through review of some aspects of the twentieth-century eugenics movement alongside some of the rhetoric and claims of enhancement’s modern-day proponents, the essay shows ways in which deployment of genetic enhancement technologies is and is not continuous with earlier deployments of biopower.

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Copyright © 2009, Oxford University Press. This article first appeared in Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 34:4 (2009), 409-437.

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