J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-100835
  • Commentary

The harms of status enhancement could be compensated or outweighed: a response to Agar

  1. Thomas Douglas
  1. Correspondence to Dr Thomas Douglas, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford, Littlegate House, St Ebbes Street, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 1PT, UK; thomas.douglas{at}
  • Received 1 August 2012
  • Accepted 5 September 2012
  • Published Online First 9 October 2012

Nicholas Agar argues, (1) that enhancement technologies could be used to create post-persons—beings of higher moral status than ordinary persons—and (2) that it would be wrong to create such beings.1 I am sympathetic to the first claim. However, I wish to take issue with the second.

Agar's second claim is grounded on the prediction that the creation of post-persons would, with at least moderate probability, harm those who remain mere persons. The harm that Agar has in mind here is a kind of meta-harm: the harm of being made more susceptible to being permissibly harmed—more liable to harm. Agar suggests that, if post-persons existed, mere persons could frequently be permissibly sacrificed in order to provide benefits to the post-persons. For instance, perhaps they could be permissibly used in lethal medical experiments designed to develop medical treatments for post-persons. By contrast, he suggests that mere persons typically cannot be permissibly sacrificed to provide benefits to other mere persons. He thus claims that mere persons would be more liable to sacrifice if post-persons existed than they are in the absence of post-persons. The creation of post-persons would make them worse off in at least this one respect.

Agar then argues that, since this meta-harm imposed on mere persons would not be compensated, it would be wrong to create post-persons. It is here that I believe his argument begins to go awry. According to the concept of compensation that Agar deploys (pp. 19 and 20), a harm imposed on X is compensated just …

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