John Locke thought that what it meant to be a person was to be rational and to have a continuous stream of consciousness. In theory, an animal of any type could be a person. In that case, if we induced in a non-human primate enough awareness and human-like behaviour they would be a person. What would be problematic about doing so? One possible answer is that it might not be possible to tell when a primate became a person. However, that doesn’t sound like a compelling reason against a modifying a primate in a way which makes them more like a person. We could decide whether it is worse to treat a person as if they weren’t a person or vice versa, and then err on the side of caution in our treatment of the resulting animals. In that case, it might not matter whether we knew precisely which were people and which were not.
However, perhaps the writers of the report were not worried about the uncertain status of the non-human primates, but about the fact that whether they were in fact people, or just close to being people, it would be wrong to test on them. If that is the case, it’s experimenting on these animals which should be illegal, not producing them.
While no reason has yet been found to think that modifying non-human primates such that they are people is in itself wrong, various bad consequences might ensue. The awareness they gained might allow them to realise that they have been exploited, or increase their suffering in some other way (particularly if they were kept confined in the research facility). On the other hand, we usually think that our lives are greatly enriched by the awareness and understanding we have of the world around us, so perhaps theirs would be too.
August 21, 2011
Michelle Hutchinson: Creating Non-Human People
Great article by Michelle Hutichinson over at Practical Ethics: Creating Non-Human People. Blurb: