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Genetic enhancement, post-persons and moral status
In the 21st century, the enhancement of human beings beyond their natural capacities is a growing reality. Enhancement could include enlarging physical capacities such as muscularity, cognitive ability in areas like memory and mental focus, and psychological capacities, including emotional stability. As our ability to change our physical and mental capabilities increases, we will face new and complex ethical challenges. One such challenge is the implications of enhancement for moral status. It has been suggested that enhancement of human cognitive or moral capacities might result in beings with dramatically greater mental capabilities than our own and that these beings might attain a moral status higher than that of unenhanced persons. A development of this kind could undermine the moral equality assumption that all with the characteristics sufficient for personhood enjoy the same moral status.
Allen Buchanan has recently explored this issue, tentatively arguing that the concept of a being with greater moral status than us is dubious, and that consequently the prospect of enhancement does not threaten the moral equality assumption in any serious way.1 In this issue's feature article, David DeGrazia responds to some of Buchanan's ideas in the context of genetic enhancement (see page 135). He begins by posing two fundamental questions. First, ‘could genetic enhancement in principle lead to the existence of beings so superior to contemporary human beings, in ways that matter to us, that we might aptly describe them as post-persons?’ and second, ‘if such post-persons emerged, how should we understand their moral status in relation to ours?’
DeGrazia suggests that we should take the notion of post-persons seriously. He introduces a case, A Future with Post-persons, to explore some of the qualities these genetically-enhanced beings might possess in the year 2145. Among other things, they possess exceptional memories and have far greater …
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