Why is it possible to enhance moral status and why doing so is wrong?

J Med Ethics. 2013 Feb;39(2):67-74. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2012-100597. Epub 2012 Aug 24.


This paper presents arguments for two claims. First, post-persons, beings with a moral status superior to that of mere persons, are possible. Second, it would be bad to create such beings. Actions that risk bringing them into existence should be avoided. According to Allen Buchanan, it is possible to enhance moral status up to the level of personhood. But attempts to improve status beyond that fail for want of a target - there is no category of moral status superior to that of personhood. Buchanan presents personhood as a threshold. He allows that persons may succeed in enhancing their cognitive and physical powers but insists that they cannot enhance their moral status. I argue that it is an implication of accounts that make a cognitive capacity, or collection of such capacities, constitutive of moral status, that those who do not satisfy the criteria for a given status find these criteria impossible to adequately describe. This obstacle notwithstanding, I offer an inductive argument for the existence of moral statuses superior to personhood, moral statuses that are necessarily beyond human expressive powers. The second part of this paper presents an argument that it is wrong to risk producing beings with moral status higher than persons. We should look upon moral status enhancement as creating especially morally needy beings. We are subject to no obligation to create them in the first place. We avoid creating their needs by avoiding creating them.

MeSH terms

  • Cognition*
  • Genetic Enhancement / ethics*
  • Human Characteristics*
  • Humans
  • Informatics
  • Moral Obligations*
  • Morals
  • Personhood*
  • Value of Life*