Many people are vaguely disquieted by developments (real or imagined) that could alter minds and bodies in novel ways. Romantics and Greens tend to idealize the natural and demonize technology. Traditionalists and conservatives by temperament distrust radical change. Egalitarians worry about an arms race in enhancement techniques. And anyone is likely to have a "yuck" response when contemplating unprecedented manipulations of our biology. The President's Council has become a forum for the airing of this disquiet, and the concept of "dignity" a rubric for expounding on it.
Sometimes religious-based ethics will instead resort to biological classification as a stand-in for moral status. OF COURSE, an embryo is human in the taxonomic sense that it has a human genetic code and belongs to the species homo sapien. But this is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the conferral of full moral rights. It is not necessary because it is easy to image non-humans possessing moral rights. If we were to discover tomorrow that a species of primate that had been sacrificed regularly in the course of research for the cosmetics industry in fact had cognitive abilities well beyond what we had previously imagined--indeed abilities approaching our own--then the research would surely stop immediately. This would occur without our obtaining any additional information about its genetic classification. It is not sufficient because, despite the fact that activists have worked diligently to stop the use of human embryos in scientific research, they have ignored the fact that fertility clinics routinely destroy thousands of unused embryos. So too, the same activists have generally not lobbied legislatures to make abortion a capital crime punishable by death. If even the defenders of religious ethics do not believe that mere biological classification is sufficient for the conferral of full moral rights, then why should the rest of us?
Kass has a problem not just with longevity and health but with the modern conception of freedom. There is a "mortal danger," he writes, in the notion "that a person has a right over his body, a right that allows him to do whatever he wants to do with it." He is troubled by cosmetic surgery, by gender reassignment, and by women who postpone motherhood or choose to remain single in their twenties.
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