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J Med Ethics 38:145-147 doi:10.1136/medethics-2011-100388
  • Commentary

Genetic Enhancement, Post-persons, and Moral Status: Author reply to commentaries

  1. David DeGrazia
  1. Correspondence to Dr. David DeGrazia, Department of Philosophy, George Washington University, 801 22nd Street, N.W. Room 525, Washington, DC 20052, USA; ddd{at}gwu.edu
  • Accepted 17 November 2011
  • Published Online First 17 December 2011

I am grateful to the journal for commissioning commentaries by Allen Buchanan,1 Nicholas Agar,2 James Wilson and Thomas Douglas,3 4 and to those authors for their thoughtful remarks. In this brief reply, I respond to them in turn.

Buchanan remains doubtful that there could be post-persons in the sense of beings who might plausibly be regarded as having higher moral status than (mere) persons. According to Buchanan, moral status is a threshold concept, and the property one needs in order to reach the threshold is accountability for reasons. He makes a decent case for his claim that dogs are not accountable for reasons at all and that persons are. Although I am sceptical that the most immature persons are significantly accountable for reasons and that there is a meaningful break between them and the most cognitively complex non-persons, here I set these doubts aside. Importantly, Buchanan claims that accountability for reasons is the only property that matters for the possession of moral status. (Note that on his view—and in his terminology, which differs from mine—dogs have moral standing in virtue of being sentient, but only persons have full and equal moral status in virtue of being accountable.) This claim strikes me as somewhat arbitrary and perhaps ad hoc as well. Consider alternative criteria that philosophers have suggested as the basis for full and equal moral status: temporal self-awareness, agency, the capacity for symbolic thought, and moral agency in a broader sense than simply accountability for reasons. These criteria seem no less plausible than Buchanan's for undergirding our moral status—assuming, for the moment, that the latter is closely connected with personhood and that sentience is insufficient—yet a wealth of empirical data suggest that the relevant characteristics come in various forms and different degrees, and that many animals have …

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