Human Exceptionalism

Debating Cloning on NPR

I was part of a one hour debate on a program aired on Wisconsin Public Radio last Sunday. (The program is called “Here on Earth.”)

The first half hour was mostly taken up with Dr. Norman Fost giving the usual spin on stem cell research, including some misleading assertions, and my rather heated rejoinder. Nothing really novel there.

But in the second half hour, things got interesting when theologian Anne Foerst and I got into it over personhood theory. According to Foerst, there is nothing special about being human. Indeed, she denies the ability to create an objective way to judge human moral worth. What counts morally, she believes, is attaining the status of a “person.”

We’ve seen this kind of thinking before, of course, in the writings and advocacy of bioethicists such as Peter Singer and James Hughes (Citizen Cyborg). Where Foerst parts company with the usual bioethics approach is that rather than measuring the organism’s individual capacities, such as cognitive abilities, to determine personhood, she contends that “personhood” status depends on whether the organism is relational. In other words, Foerst apparently believes that moral worth depends on whether we are loved, wanted, and/or involved with others. Pretty scary if you are a psychotic homeless person alone in the world. Moreover, such a measuring stick would open the door to creating nascent life strictly for utilitarian purposes, such as organ farming, since these unborn humans would not be loved or wanted, other than for their body parts.

This discussion occurs in the second half of the hour. It’s worth a listen.