It is often assumed that human moral status is an all-or-nothing affair. Philosophical debate about the moral status of foetuses and the severely cognitively impaired is typically between those who argue that full moral status is possessed and those who argue that moral status is altogether lacking. The difficulty of knowing how to regard the moral status of a range of beings that we have recently created, or may soon be able to create, and which seem to blur the boundary between human and non-human, pushes us to reconsider widespread assumptions that we have made about human moral status. What is the moral status of a chimera, a cyborg or a brain organoid? What moral status should we attribute to post-humans, human minds that have been uploaded into a computer, or artificial intelligence that is designed to be similar to human intelligence? How are we to respond to this challenge? Should we rethink our assumptions about what it is to be human? Should we abandon the widespread assumption that there can be no humans with partial moral status? Should we accept that there will be many instances in which we will be unable to determine whether or not moral status is present? Or should we reconsider the very idea of moral status? If we are to revise our thinking about moral status, in response to these emerging challenges, then how should we now think about the moral status of foetuses, severely cognitively impaired humans, and also non-human animals?
In this two-day workshop, leading philosophers and bioethicists from a range of different backgrounds came together to attend to the task of rethinking moral status. The conference was supported by the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities and the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, at the University of Oxford.