Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics
Forrester (Mary)
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Cover Blurb

  1. Forrester discusses animal rights1, obligations concerning future generations, abortion2, limiting medical treatment, and euthanasia. Persons are defined as individuals who ought to be treated in accordance with all sound moral principles. The author develops an account of what moral principles are sound, how we can apply them to complex situations, and what makes it reasonable to treat individuals in accordance with particular moral principles. This discussion puts the book's practical conclusions on a sounder basis than much other work on practical ethics. Most such authors state some general principles, but say little about why these principles should be accepted. Moreover, they rarely show how general principles can generate answers to specific dilemmas. Some even maintain that general principles are irrelevant.
  2. Since Forrester is both a nurse practitioner and a philosopher, she has had direct acquaintance with many agonizing situations in medicine.
  3. Summaries of the theoretical conclusions are included to enable non-professionals to follow the discussion of practical issues. The book will thus interest not only professional philosophers, but also non-philosophers concerned with problems in medical and environmental ethics, abortion3, and animal rights4.


Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 1996

"Forrester (Mary) - Problems and Persons: Preface"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Preface

Preface (Full Text)
  1. This is a book about practical ethics. Much has been written already about the problems discussed here: namely, animal rights1, obligations to future generations, abortion2, when medical treatment should be stopped, and euthanasia. Why is yet another book needed?
  2. I believe that there is something lacking in most of the literature on applied ethics. What is missing is theory: a rationale for choosing the paths to solutions based on a clear philosophical account of what can justify moral judgments. While many books on practical ethics begin with some general principles, little is said about where the principles came from or why these principles should be adopted rather than others. Moreover, it is also not always evident how general principles can generate answers to very specific, very complex dilemmas. It sometimes seems that any moral theory can generate different answers to the same question.
  3. One result of these problems is that philosophy is often considered irrelevant by the people in the trenches. As a nurse practitioner, I receive countless journals and brochures announcing conferences. Many of these conclude something on medical ethics, and those writing the articles or conducting the workshops are never philosophers and often have little or no background in philosophy.
  4. I believe that practical ethics needs a large injection of metaethics and moral theory. It needs answers to the following three questions.
    … (1) How do we justify choosing one moral theory over another?
    … (2) What moral theory or theories are justifiable?
    … (3) How do we apply moral theories to complex practical situations? In Part II of this book I propose answers to these questions. I believe that these answers put my practical conclusions on a sounder basis than they would have without them.
  5. This theoretical work gives some grounding for the development of a concept of personhood, which I undertake in Part III. Personhood is the glue that ties together the practical problems discussed here. How we should treat human fetuses3 and nonhuman animals depends largely upon whether they are persons. And the limits to which we ought to go to preserve life also have much to do with when an individual stops being a person. Once we can say what a person is, we may have answers to a large number of thorny questions.
  6. Theoretical ethics can, however, be tedious reading for someone who has not had much prior experience reading philosophy. I have tried to alleviate the pain for beginners by making the book accessible on three levels:
    • Those who are primarily interested in the practical issues may wish to read the introductory material (Part I), then the summaries of Parts II (Theory and Justification) and III (The Nature of Persons), and finally Part IV (Practical Applications).
    • Those who want to know how I justify my positions should also read all of Parts II and III.
    • Professional philosophers will probably not be satisfied with what appears in the text alone. I discuss many fine points, as well as actual and possible objections, in extensive endnotes. I strongly encourage anyone who finds an argument in the text unconvincing to examine the notes provided.
      This procedure is meant to make the book of use not only to professional philosophers, but also to non-philosophers with an interest in practical ethics. In particular, I hope it will appeal to those who deal with moral problems in medical and environmental areas, and those with concerns about abortion4, euthanasia, and animal rights5. It might also serve as supplementary reading for courses in practical ethics.
  7. I would like to thank three people whose help has been invaluable, and who have made this book much better than it would otherwise have been. David Resnik, of the University of Wyoming, Bernard Rollin, of Colorado State University, and James Forrester, of the University of Wyoming all read and made many helpful comments on the manuscript at different stages of its progress. Besides, Professor Forrester — who is also my husband — spent many days making the manuscript camera ready and dealing with a constant barrage of computer problems. He has also endured my ill-tempered objections to some of his comments. His suggestions, both substantive and stylistic, have been extremely useful, even in the few cases where I have not accepted them. He has been a constant support throughout. There is no way I can express my appreciation fully.
  8. I would like to thank the University of Wyoming for appointing me a Faculty Affiliate, thus giving me expanded library privileges. My children also deserve much thanks: Jim Forrester, for designing the computer on which this book was written, and Sarah Bright, for her constant encouragement and good suggestions.
  9. I am grateful to the outside reviewer for Kluwer Academic Publishers for his useful suggestions and in particular for forcing me to take more account of the libertarian viewpoint and drawing my attention to the work of Julian Simon and the recent publications of Jan Narveson.

COMMENT: Annotated printout (of this and book-summary) filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 06 (F-G)".

"Forrester (Mary) - Problems and Persons: Introduction"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Introduction

Full Text

1. A True Story
  1. Not long ago a young woman whom I'll call Michelle' came to our family planning clinic. She told me she was pregnant1 and wanted an abortion2. "Do you know for sure that you are pregnant3?" I asked her. "Yes," she said, "I did a test. Besides, my last period was in February."
  2. I took a closer look at Michelle: a small, slender Chinese- American girl wearing a very loose-fitting top. February was a long time ago, and if she had really been pregnant4 since then (as a brief examination suggested was the case), this meant that Michelle was well into her second trimester, almost into the third. Very few physicians would do an abortion5 at that late stage, and those who did would charge much more than they would for a first trimester abortion6. The necessary procedure would be far more complicated, and the risk to the mother — although small - significantly higher. Fetuses7 delivered at that stage could occasionally survive with major technological support, and many people who do not think abortion8 in general wrong, have moral qualms about abortions9 done so late.
  3. When I told Michelle an abortion10 now would cost about $2500, which would have to be paid up front, she looked utterly shocked and began to cry. When at last I could explain to her why the procedure would be so expensive, I asked her if she had considered keeping the baby or giving it up for adoption. "No," she replied, "I could never tell my parents that I got pregnant11. They would never forgive me. Besides, I want a career —not children." She was currently in high school and living at home.
  4. I asked Michelle why, given that she had never intended to carry the pregnancy12 to term, she had not gotten an abortion13 sooner. "I couldn't earn much money until school was out. I've saved $500, and I thought that would be enough." She had done a home pregnancy14 test; had she had her pregnancy15 test with us or with another health care provider, she would have been counseled about the problems that could arise from putting off an abortion16. But Michelle, like many other adolescents, had known none of this and had waited too long.
  5. I discussed many possibilities with Michelle. Could she perhaps go out of town to have the baby and give it up for adoption? "No, my parents wouldn't understand why I was leaving home; I'd have to tell them I was pregnant17. And besides, I'll have school in the fall." Could she get some help from her boyfriend? "No, he doesn't have any money either." Did she have anything she could sell, or was there anyone from whom she could borrow money? There was nothing and no one, she replied. "What exactly do you think your parents would do if you told them you were pregnant18?" I asked her. All she could tell me was that they would feel disgraced; they had always had high expectations of their children. She was unwilling even to discuss the possibility of telling them.
  6. After a while, I had nothing more to suggest, and Michelle left. Needless to say, when Michelle had gone, I was distressed and could imagine many different outcomes. Few of them were happy. What could this young woman do, and what might she do? She could only have an abortion19 if she managed to raise $2000 within a week — not likely, since she had only been able to accumulate $500 in several months. Might she or the baby's father resort to theft? Might Michelle attempt to abort20 herself? Or find someone who would try to do it for less money? Even though abortions21 are legal in the United States, there are still obstacles, not the least of which is financial. Might she even commit suicide?
    How desperate was she not to let her pregnancy22 be known to her parents? What would they really do if they found out: beat her, kill her, or disown her? Or would they simply be angry for a while, but eventually accept the situation and their coming grandchild?
  7. I was concerned, too, about the welfare of Michelle's unborn child. Michelle had had no prenatal care and did not look well-nourished. Besides, she had made it clear that she did not want, not only this baby, but any children ever. If she kept it, how would she cope, financially, as well as emotionally? Would she drop out of school and go on welfare? I very much hoped she would give the child up for adoption, since she seemed so poorly equipped and motivated to raise one. But what if there was something wrong with the baby? Would it be adoptable?
  8. On the other hand, maybe everything would be all right. Maybe the baby would be fine and would find a good adoptive home. Or maybe Michelle's parents would accept her and the baby and help them through the rough spots. Maybe her boyfriend would marry her and they would both come to love the baby. Or maybe some kind friend would suddenly give Michelle the rest of the money she would need for a safe, legal abortion23 by one of the few providers who would perform them at that stage.
2. What Went Wrong?
  1. So far, I have been talking only about what could happen to Michelle and her unborn fetus24. What, however, should she do? What should she have done, or not done, to have avoided the predicament in which she now found herself? What should others — her parents, her boyfriend, society — do, or have done, to prevent or alleviate this tragic situation?
  2. One might hear many different answers to the question of what should have been done:
    • Michelle should not have been having sex when unmarried and unwilling to have children.
    • Her boyfriend should not have been having sex until he was willing and able to support a family.
    • Given that they did have sex, they should have used contraception.
    • Michelle's parents should have done a better job of raising her: either — depending upon whom you hear — they should have taught her more thoroughly that premarital intercourse was wrong, or they should have talked more openly about these matters early on, or they should have given her greater self esteem.
    • Michelle should have had better sex education in school — or no sex education, since this could have given her 'ideas.'
    • Michelle should have sought help sooner, so that she could either have had a timely abortion25, or received prenatal care in the critical early months. As for what should be done now, one could hear many different opinions.
    • Abortions26 should not be done at all, so that no one will be tempted to think that this is a way out.
    • Abortions27 should be not only legal, but accessible to and affordable by all.
    • Abortions28 are all right in the first trimester, but not later.
    • If the money became available, Michelle should go ahead with the abortion29.
    • Perhaps the doctor should offer to do it for nothing, or at least accept a payment plan, rather than insisting, as most do, on cash up front.
    • We should have universal health care in this country, which includes
      paying for abortions30.
    • Michelle should never consider abortion31 at all, and go right away for prenatal care, starting as soon as possible to take care of herself and her unborn child. Of those who would say this, some think abortions32 are always wrong, while others think they are wrong at this stage of development and still others that, while there is no moral wrong in having abortions33 this late, Michelle would be exposing herself to an unacceptable risk.
    • I can't think that anyone would advise Michelle to attempt to abort34 herself, or seek the assistance of a nonprofessional, given what the outcome of such procedures often were in the past.
  3. Whatever she does, most would probably agree that Michelle ought to try to discuss the pregnancy35 with her parents, and that they ought to be supportive and help her. Some would say they ought only to support some decisions she might make, but not others. And other people might point out that many parents would not be supportive of any decisions under these circumstances, and would be abusive regardless.
  4. Most would probably agree that, assuming Michelle does continue the pregnancy36, she would do better to give the child up for adoption. And it ought to be that someone adopt the child, even if it is handicapped or of mixed race. As for Michelle's boyfriend, he ought to marry her — at least if she decides to keep the baby. Maybe he should quit school for a while and get a job, so that he can help her with the pregnancy37 and to care for the child, if Michelle decides to keep it. There should be, most agree, money available — and there is — to help Michelle support herself while she is pregnant38. She will probably also be eligible for welfare after it is born, should she keep the baby. Of course, if she works, even for the low pay she is likely to get, she may be ineligible for payments and therefore will have little incentive to try to support herself. And some in high places maintain that if a baby like Michelle's cannot find an adoptive home right away, it should be put in an orphanage, so that Michelle will not become a public expense.
  5. Clearly no one would agree to all these suggestions, since many are diametrically opposed to some of the others. It is also clear that wrong things were done, and that there are things wrong with our society, which allowed such a situation to arise, and that whatever Michelle does, further wrongs are likely to occur. Not only have there been wrong actions, but wrongs to individuals. Michelle has no doubt been wronged by her boyfriend and perhaps by her parents and society, as well as having made serious mistakes, and perhaps done wrong, herself.
  6. There is another individual, who some would say has been wronged, and could be wronged still further, and this is Michelle's unborn child. Others deny that a fetus39 can be wronged, although the child that fetus40 might become could be wronged.'
3. The Issues
  1. . Is it possible to wrong a fetus41? Does a fetus42 have rights? What are the limits upon what it is morally permissible to do to a fetus43? When the interests of a fetus44 conflict with those of its mother or other members of society, how should we resolve the conflict? In other words, the main question is whether the fetus45 is a person in its own right, or whether it is merely an appendage of its mother's body, or whether it is something in between.
  2. To deal with this question properly, it is necessary to consider not simply the question of abortion46, but the broad issue of personhood. What is it about an individual that makes it a person? Why is being a person relevant to the manner in which some individual ought to be treated? What is the moral status of nonpersons: is their treatment a matter of indifference, or do we have some duties towards them? Are there humans who are not persons, or nonhumans who are persons?
  3. These questions take us beyond the issue of the human fetus47. Satisfactory answers to them will also shed light upon some other contemporary debates, such as animal rights48 and the treatment of human beings in a vegetative state. Do we, for example, have a right to experiment on rabbits and mice in order to find cures for our diseases? For their diseases? To develop better cosmetics? Is it wrong to raise chickens in crowded pens so that we may have cheaper drumsticks? Is it wrong to hunt? To eat meat at all?
  4. When does a person cease to live? When should medical treatment be stopped? Who should decide what treatments will be performed? What are our obligations to those who are no longer capable of communicating their desires? May we experiment on the insane, the senile, or the retarded? When may we harvest organs from individuals with no hope of a conscious life: organs which will prolong and improve the lives of others?
  5. Do we have any obligations to future generations? If so, how much of our comfort and convenience should we sacrifice in order to insure a decent life for them?
  6. In discussing these questions we are looking not only for answers, but also for a rationale which generates answers. Such a rationale would enable us also to consider prospectively problems that we have so far had to face only in science fiction fantasy: for example, how we ought to treat extra-terrestrials or computers and robots with certain human characteristics. A large part of this book will be devoted to developing the rationale.
  7. Some discussions of these issues begin with a descriptive account of what a person is like and use this to argue for what sort of treatment these characteristics entitle persons. I shall argue in a different way. I begin (in Chapter 1) with the assumption that what makes an individual a person is that other persons ought to treat him or her (or it) with full moral consideration: i.e., in accordance with all sound moral principles. Then to find out what sorts of individuals are persons requires two steps: the first to determine what moral principles are sound, and the second to find out what characteristics of individuals make it right to treat them according to those principles. The first step I shall carry out in Part II. Then in Part III I will consider what characteristics of individuals entitle them to treatment in accordance with these principles. Individuals with characteristics which so entitle them are persons.
  8. An illustration of what I shall be doing is the following. One basic moral principle is that of beneficence: that it is generally right to promote and wrong to frustrate the purposes of individuals. If this is so, then individuals who have purposes have a claim to moral consideration, and have one characteristic of personhood. In other words, how we treat individuals with purposes is not morally indifferent, whether or not they are persons in the full sense. One implication of this is that animals and fetuses49, if they have purposes — even one so simple as avoidance of pain —, ought to have those purposes respected to some extent.
  9. In Part IV I will discuss some practical issues. Those I consider are animal rights50, obligations to future generations, the status of the human fetus51, and what we owe to humans who are no longer rational or even conscious. My hope is that the discussion of who counts as persons and how they should be treated will shed significant light on these major practical problems and provide guidance in resolving related problems, including some which we may not yet have encountered.

COMMENT: Part I: Problems and Persons

"Forrester (Mary) - Theory and Justification: Summary"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Sumary of Part II

Full Text
  1. In Chapter 2 I argue that we can have moral knowledge. The criteria for determining whether a particular moral judgment is true or false are discovered by seeing how we argue in moral debate. These criteria are the reasons we give for our positions: the considerations on which we ultimately fall back to justify our conclusions. These criteria constitute the most fundamental moral principles. Moreover, they are truth conditions of moral judgments and determine their meaning. I maintain that meaning is similarly determined in all areas of discourse, not just in ethics.
  2. The meanings of moral terms and what counts as a fundamental, meaning-determining principle could change, just as meanings and basic beliefs may change in other fields. But in ethics there are limits to what changes are likely to occur. These limits are set by the underlying purpose for which we have ethical systems. Ethical systems develop out of the desire all people have to realize their own goals and get what they want. Since people's wants and goals often conflict, they look for ways of protecting their interests against the encroachments of others. Thus moral rules are made which set limits on what people are allowed to do to others.
  3. Some moral rules, however, may not be acceptable to everyone. No one likes to have his purposes thwarted, but most people are willing to give up a few things they might want if they can
    … (1) see that everyone's following the rules will bring significant benefits and
    … (2) know that the rules apply to everyone alike.
    In other words, the rules are acceptable if they are beneficial and fair. These criteria of beneficence and fairness are used to judge rules as well as actions. If rules fail to satisfy these criteria, they are often criticized, at least when people have the freedom to say what they think. As a result of such criticism rules may be abandoned or changed. Often people accept a rule uncritically until they come in contact with other societies which do not follow that rule, yet appear to get along at least as well as they do. Thus new information about how others live can result in changing moral standards. Of course, rules may be abandoned just because people don't want to be bothered with them; however, they, or replacements for them, are likely to be (re)adopted if they are missed: if people then see that they are better off having such a rule.
  4. A rule which people keep for long periods of time, versions of which are found in many and various societies, and which survives criticism in places where open debate is encouraged, is what I call well-established. An adequate moral theory is one which will enable us to explain well-established beliefs and rules. A theory that is in conflict with, or leaves out, some well-established moral tenets is suspect. Utilitarianism, for example, has often been criticized because it seems to require us to do things that most of us think are unfair: e.g., to hurt one person terribly if this will bring great benefits to many people. Whether this criticism is just or not, ignoring the well-established view that people should not benefit at the expense of others would be a reason to reject any moral theory.
  5. In Chapter 3 I argue that there are two basic moral principles which together can account for all well-established moral beliefs and rules. That is, these beliefs and rules can be seen as applications of the two principles. One of these principles is that of beneficence: we should do things to bring happiness to people and avoid causing unhappiness. The other is that of fairness: we ought not to increase the happiness of some when this makes it difficult or impossible for others to achieve a like degree of happiness. Happiness at a given time may be approximately characterized as wanting things to continue as they are. Happiness over an extended period is the relative proportion of time that a person is content with her situation. People can be made more or less happy by what would make them content for a larger or smaller proportion of the time. In practice people are happy when they are active: enjoying what they are doing and deeply involved in it, or pursuing goals which are important to them and which they have reasonable prospects of reaching. They are unhappy when they don't want to be doing what they are doing, yet can't avoid it or see it as leading to something they do want. They are also unhappy if they spend a lot of time wishing things were different, but are unwilling or unable to change their situation.
  6. The two principles of beneficence and fairness are in turn applications of a single principle which I call the central purpose of morality. This purpose is to promote the happiness of everyone to the greatest extent that is compatible with a like degree of happiness for all. This purpose is not necessarily something people have in mind when they are deciding what is right or wrong to do. Like many purposes, it is often only recognized in the breach: when we see that doing something would lead to a situation we believe to be wrong. For example, people quite rightly think it good to earn money for the security of their families. Yet some ways of earning money may make it impossible for others to make a decent living at all. So if Peter owns a sweat shop and is able to get very rich by paying his employees Paul and Paula starvation wages, Peter is increasing the happiness of himself and his family at the expense of Paul and Paula. In other words, Peter's benefiting himself and his family to a very high degree results in his employees' being unable to come even close to achieving such a level of happiness. He is following the principle of beneficence in a way which violates fairness unacceptably. The central purpose of morality enables us to see here where beneficence should be limited by fairness.
  7. To take another example, suppose Paul and Paula, enraged over the injustices of people like Peter, join a revolution which overthrows the government and destroys Peter's factory, his mansion, and everything else he owns. Now they are no better off, and Peter is just as miserable as they are. Is this a better situation? According to the central purpose of morality, it isn't. Morality is concerned with making people happy and can't be furthered by making others unhappy. If Peter can be rich without causing others to be poor, that is all right. Everyone doesn't have to be equally well off in a morally acceptable world; this would be an impossible goal. Destroying what someone has just to bring him down to the level of others when the destruction does nothing to help those others, is merely spiteful.
    Although the central purpose of morality provides us with an overall moral guideline, we are not required to spend our lives pursuing it. There are three categories of moral judgments:
    … Those saying what is best to do.
    … Those saying what we ought to do.
    ... Those saying what we are obligated to do.
    What is best for someone to do is what will most contribute to promoting the central purpose. What she ought to do is what is necessary for her to do to avoid hindering the central purpose. What she is obligated to do is what she not only ought to do, but for which there is and ought to be a sanction against her failing to do. For example, the best thing Alice might do is to go to some third world country and spend her life serving the poor. Yet if she doesn't do this, she won't be responsible for any poor person's going hungry, and she won't be doing anything wrong by choosing a different career. We might say, though, that she ought to give some of her time or money to help people who are worse off than she is, because unless people in general do this, much misery will go unrelieved. Furthermore, it would be unfair for people with means not to take on a share of the burdens of helping the less fortunate. Yet the extent to which people ought to contribute to charity is not clearly defined and there certainly is much freedom to choose which charities to support. The situation changes, however, if Alice makes a commitment to do or give something specific for a given cause. She then becomes obligated, and if she fails to do what she promised, she will be deserving of criticism, and surely will be criticized.
  8. This three-fold distinction among different types of moral judgments enables us to see how a person may be good and decent without being a saint. It allows us to distinguish situations in which a person is worthy of blame for her failings from those in which she simply misses opportunities to do good. These distinctions will be useful when we come to discuss practical questions. Furthermore, they provide us with a means of classifying rights: rights may be either background rights or institutional rights. An individual has a background right to something if others ought not to interfere with his having it and there ought to be sanctions (i.e., blame or punishment) against those who do. He has an institutional right if there not only ought to be sanctions, but there are sanctions.
  9. In Chapters 4 and 5 I try to show how this theory can be applied to solving a complex moral problem: whether or not to perform surgery on a severely retarded baby. In order to deal with such problems we need to assess the effects of different courses of action on the happiness of a given person, and we also need to balance the happiness of different people so that the interests of one will not be promoted at the expense of another To do this is not easy, partly because it is hard to tell just how happy a person is. We need to observe someone very closely indeed to have even a rough idea of how content he is. Even if he tells us about his feelings, these reports may not be accurate. Moreover, we cannot always know how much some event in the future will contribute to his contentment.
  10. People can react very differently to the same sorts of happenings — e.g., one person loses a job and is thrown into despair; another loses a job and turns this setback into a golden opportunity. These reactions depend not only on the person's own makeup but on countless accompanying events, many of which we may know nothing about.
  11. While we must admit that it is often very difficult and even impossible to know how our actions will affect the happiness of individuals, and thus difficult or impossible to know whether a given course of action is right or wrong, all is not lost. We cannot directly affect the happiness of others very often, but we can do much to provide people with, or take from them, the means of happiness. There are many things that contribute in different degrees to the happiness of anyone. Some things are necessary if happiness is to be possible at all: e.g., being alive and having the things that keep one alive, such as food, protection from the elements and life-preserving medical care. I call these Level 1 goods. Others goods people might be happy without, but their chances of happiness are markedly hindered by their absence. These goods include health, education, the love and esteem of other people, opportunities for achievement, and freedom of action. These I have called Level 2 goods. Still other goods enhance happiness, but are usually not major contributors to it. Typically, the extent to which they add to happiness differ widely with the individual. A person who loves the outdoors will find much more happiness in a backpacking trip to the mountains than someone who values physical comfort very highly. Goods of this sort I call Level 3. Sometimes what are usually Level 3 goods can become Level 2 goods. For example, automobiles would usually count as a Level 3 good; however, for a community economically dependent upon the automobile industry, or for people whose work depends on being able to travel long distances frequently, they could be a Level 2 good.
  12. Goods at all three levels are frequently measurable in objective terms, even though their effects on happiness for a given individual may not be. We can also assess what level a given good is for a given person and thus see what might be more important for his wellbeing. And in situations where the interests of different people conflict, we may at least see that it is wrong to sacrifice the Level 1 goods of some to bring Level 2 goods to others, or force some to give up Level 2 goods so that someone else may have Level 3 goods. There are many ethical problems that cannot be resolved by assessing goods in this way, but that sometimes answers are not available is a sad fact with which we must live.

COMMENT: Part II: Theory and Justification

"Forrester (Mary) - What Makes an Individual a Person: Summary"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Summary of Part III

Full Text
  1. In Chapter 1 I made a case for defining persons as individuals which ought to be treated with full moral consideration: i.e., be treated in accordance with all sound moral principles. In Part III concluded that all sound moral principles are instances of beneficence, which is acting to increase the happiness of individuals, or of fairness, which is having one's interests considered equally with those of others. Being considered equally means that one's interests cannot be sacrificed to promote the equal or lesser good of other persons. In order to determine whether something should count as a person we need to know whether it has characteristics which would make it right to apply the principles of beneficence and fairness to it. Any individual which possesses these characteristics is what I call a natural person.
  2. Obviously, we could not be beneficent to individuals which are not capable of happiness or unhappiness. Consequently, we cannot be beneficent toward something we are reasonably sure is not conscious. Nor can we enhance the happiness of individuals that might be conscious but with whom we cannot communicate or have any idea of what might make them happy. Therefore, inanimate objects, plants, lower animals, and even intelligent machines or extra-terrestrials with whom we cannot establish communication, would not count as persons.
  3. This leaves, however, many individuals who are not yet ruled out as natural persons. These include human beings from some time in fetal life until death or permanent unconsciousness occurs, the higher animals (with whom we can communicate in non-verbal ways and about whose interests we can have knowledge), and machines and extra-terrestrials which have interests that we might be able to fathom. I argue, however, that not all of these are natural persons. A further requirement for being a natural person is possession of a very specific sort of rationality. We could be fair to non-rational, but sentient, or conscious, beings by treating their interests as equal to ours, but if we tried to do this for all such creatures, we would be unable to give fair attention to our own interests. The reason is that a person can be treated fairly only when others share the burdens he takes on for maintaining institutions and practices which are beneficial for all members of a group. Otherwise, those who benefit do so at his expense. Individuals who are unwilling or unable to share in the upkeep of such institutions and practices benefit at the expense of those who do share.
  4. Non-rational creatures are unable to assume these costs because they cannot understand the reasons behind acting fairly. To fully comprehend what fairness involves, an individual needs to be able universalize: to think of what would happen if everyone in like circumstances did the same kind of thing he or she is contemplating. It is this capacity for universalizing which enables a person to understand the unfairness of lying, for example, even if no one is hurt by the falsehood. Grasping the concepts of `everyone,' and of what makes circumstances relevantly similar, is necessary to be a moral agent and for assuming fully the burdens of maintaining beneficial institutions. If creatures which cannot grasp these notions and act accordingly are allowed to benefit from all our institutions, they would benefit at the expense of rational beings. I use as an example of what might happen a fanciful attempt on the part of humans to set up a treaty of non-aggression with mosquitos. Treaties between warring nations certainly fail all too often, but mosquitos do not have even the rudimentary characteristics needed to understand or honor a treaty. Since we couldn't make a treaty with the insects, they would continue to bite us and give us diseases, even if we refused to swat and spray them, and gave their lives the same consideration we give those of humans. We would obviously be the losers.
  5. Thus if we were to attempt to give the interests of all non-rational beings equal consideration with those of rational beings, rational beings would suffer with respect to the non-rational unless they received some sort of compensation. I argue that by giving equal consideration to some non-rational beings we do gain compensation, but that we could not have compensation if we attempted to treat all non-rational beings as persons. Those beings to whom we could extend full moral consideration without losing more than we gain include small children and mentally disabled adults. In Part IV I will consider whether the same is true of animals, fetuses1, and humans who are permanently unconscious.
  6. Non-rational individuals that it would be advantageous for us to treat as persons I call extended persons. It is good for us to treat children not only with beneficence, but with fairness, because children so treated will be more apt to grow up fair-minded. Since we all look with horror on the possibility that we will, when old and senile, be sent to a nursing home where we will be ridiculed and physically neglected, we have a strong interest in insuring that the senile are given equal consideration. The same remarks apply to all forms of mental disability, for no one knows what may happen to his own mind in time to come. Because we want to have our interests considered equally with those of others throughout our lives, we also have a strong interest in insuring that personhood once granted to a group of individuals is never taken away.

COMMENT: Part III: What Makes an Individual a Person

"Forrester (Mary) - The Central Feature of Personhood"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Chapter 1

Full Text
  1. Issues like abortion1 and animal rights2 are commonly held to depend upon whether the individuals in question are persons. If the human fetus3 is a person, then abortion4 is certainly wrong — perhaps even murder. If some animals are persons, then we have no right to eat them or perform experiments on them. The presumption is that persons are entitled to being treated in certain ways, that they have rights which ought to be protected, and that they have a higher moral standing than other things which are not persons.
  2. The task before us sounds simple enough. First find out what characteristics make something a person. Then find out whether animals, fetuses5, etc. have those characteristics. If they do, then they have the same rights that other persons have. If they don't, don't worry about them. This is much too simple a picture, however. First of all, the fact that an individual isn't a person doesn't make the way we behave toward it morally indifferent. Most people, for example, don't consider cats and dogs to be persons. On the other hand, they do think it wrong to cause them pain —at least under most circumstances.
  3. I will discuss this point much more fully in Chapter 9, but for now, I want to concentrate on another difficulty with the plan of action outlined above. This is that it ignores a crucial question. Let us suppose that persons have properties A, B, and C. The next step in the plan is to treat anything found to have A, B, and C in certain ways. The question ignored is, 'Why does the fact that X is A, B, and C make it right to treat X in these particular ways?' Why shouldn't things which lack one of these properties be treated the same way, and why would it be wrong not to treat those that have them in those ways? In short, we need to know what difference having A, B, and C makes to how we should treat an individual.
  4. What is needed is to show that A, B, and C are morally relevant characteristics. Many things which are true of individuals make no difference in how they ought to be treated. For example, the color of your hair, or your height, or how musical you are have nothing to do with whether it would be all right to eat you or do experiments on you or deny you the right to vote. Of course, if you are tall, a coach might be justified in choosing you for a basketball team over someone else just as competent otherwise, but short. And if you play a violin well, an orchestra would be justified in hiring you rather than someone who plays badly. So there are a few circumstances in which these characteristics might make a difference in how it would be right to treat you. But their application is very limited. And they apply in these limited circumstances because they are, in those circumstances, special cases of a type of characteristic which is morally relevant: namely, one's capacity to act in certain ways.
  5. Other characteristics which are morally relevant are one's needs and interests, as well as one's past actions. It would be wrong to eat you because (among other things) doing so would make it impossible for you to fulfill the plans you have for your future. If you were a carrot, you wouldn't have any plans and it wouldn't matter to you whether or not you were eaten. It would be wrong to perform experiments on you if they would hurt you, or cripple you, or if they were done without your consent. Pain and crippling are contrary to your interests. It is generally wrong to do things to an individual without her consent because consent indicates the individual's willingness, and if one is willing for something to happen, it is probably not seriously contrary to her interests. If you were some kind of rock, there would be no limit to what experiments would be all right to do upon you, since you would have no interests and nothing that happened would matter to you.
  6. Likewise, it would be wrong in general to deny you the right to vote. But there are situations in which it would be acceptable to do this: for example, if you were not a citizen of the country, if you were a small child, or if you had committed certain crimes. Being a citizen is relevant, because citizens have to live with their elected officials and put up with whatever taxes, wars, or other burdens they might impose; their interests are affected by who is elected. If you were a small child you would presumably not have the capacity to judge the qualifications and behavior of the candidates. And if you were a convicted criminal, your actions against the state, one might argue, make you undeserving of participation in its political processes.
  7. Now suppose that 'person' means having certain characteristics. Some defining characteristics that have been suggested are being human, having a soul, being rational, and having the capacity to speak a language. But these characteristics are not all had by all and only those usually considered persons. Many humans are not rational, and there are reasons to think some animals may be rational. Most religious people think of God as a person; Christians, in fact, think He is three Persons. Many people have thought animals have souls, and many other people don't believe in souls at all. In short, there is some confusion and disagreement as to what characteristics make something a person, and this makes it difficult to solve practical problems.
  8. Furthermore, even if we could agree on what characteristics persons have, this doesn't necessarily tell us why persons are entitled to being treated in certain ways. We would also need to know whether these characteristics were morally relevant. What does being a member of the species homo sapiens have to do with how one should be treated? What does speech have to do with what one is entitled to? Why would the possession of a soul matter as to how one ought to be treated?
  9. Joel Feinberg has, in fact, suggested that there are two different senses of the term 'person6.' First there is the descriptive sense, which refers to individuals having certain characteristics that we normally associate with persons. Characteristics he suggests include consciousness, the ability to plan, having a concept of self, emotions, and the capacity to reason.
  10. The other sense is normative. 'Normative' is a term that refers to rules, values, and what is right or wrong. The normative sense of 'person' refers to what individuals are entitled to certain kinds of treatment, rather than the characteristics those individuals may have. Feinberg thinks these two senses of 'person' are related, and so do I; but they need not be identical. For my purposes, the normative sense of 'person' is the most important, for the following reason.
  11. This book is concerned with practical questions about how certain sorts of individuals such as animals, fetuses7, or comatose humans ought to be treated. What matters is the moral relevance of the characteristics of those individuals: i.e., whether they make it right to treat them in one way rather than another. To find this out we need to specify first of all what the moral treatment is that persons are believed to deserve. Following this, we need to see what characteristics would make it reasonable and right to treat an individual having them in those ways. Individuals which have those characteristics would, then, be persons in the normative sense. They might or might not be persons in the descriptive sense as well. But since the book is concerned with how certain types of individuals should be treated, what matters most for my purposes is the normative sense.
  12. I shall start from the assumption that any individual who is entitled to certain treatment is a person. The reason is that, whatever else people believe about persons, they agree that persons have a privileged moral position. In other words, they accept the normative sense of 'person,' even though they may not agree on the content of the descriptive sense. I will then examine what characteristics would entitle an individual to that privileged sort of treatment. Any individual who has those characteristics I shall suppose to be a person.
  13. This approach has a possible drawback: namely, that the characteristics which would entitle a person to moral treatment might not be those which we normally associate with persons. That is, the normative and descriptive senses may not coincide. I don't consider this a serious drawback, however. This book is concerned with practical questions: in particular, how we ought to treat particular groups of individuals. It is not greatly concerned with whether or not we call these individuals persons. I shall` refer to individuals which are entitled to full moral consideration as persons. If, however, the reader thinks that these individuals do not all fit the concept of personhood, or that the concept applies to other individuals which I do not consider persons, he or she is welcome to substitute another word. I will argue in Chapter 8, however, that the characteristics which entitle an individual to full moral consideration happen to be those which are most commonly thought to be characteristics of persons.
  14. Using the normative sense of 'person' has another advantage. Someone might argue that whether or not a particular group of individuals are persons is irrelevant to what it is morally acceptable to do to them. For example, an anti-abortionist8 might claim that he doesn't care whether a fetus9 is a person or not; it is just wrong to kill one. Or, certain animal rights10 activists could say that experimenting on animals is immoral, whether or not they are considered persons.
  15. This objection works, however, only if one is using 'person' in the descriptive sense. Suppose for the sake of argument that 'person' means (descriptively) 'human being which has been born alive.' Does it follow simply from this definition that it is all right to kill fetuses11 or experiment on animals? Certainly not. It could follow from the definition only if being alive born human was the single morally relevant characteristic of individuals, which sole characteristic entitled them to certain treatment. The same could be said of any other descriptive definition one might propose.
  16. If, however, we use 'person' in the normative sense, this problem does not arise. 'Person' then means 'an individual entitled to full moral consideration.' If it can be shown that an individual is entitled to full moral consideration, then we show both that she is a person and that it is wrong to kill and experiment on her. Indeed, as I suggested above, we could eliminate the term 'person' from the discussion altogether and use instead the expression 'individual entitled to full moral consideration.' I won't do this because 'person' is a lot less cumbersome. At any rate, the fact that an individual is entitled to full moral consideration, whether or not she is called a person, is not irrelevant to how she should be treated.
  17. Recently Ronald Dworkin has argued that the debates over such crucial issues as abortion12 and euthanasia have little to do with our beliefs about what a person is. Rather they are grounded in beliefs about the sacredness of human life. If we hold human life to be sacred, we will consider it at least prima fade wrong to destroy it, regardless of what the best interests of the individual in question may be, or of the effect of his life on others, or on whether he is a person. At the same time, however, holding human life to be sacred also involves wanting the fulfillment of each such life. Thus if a teenager like Michelle is pregnant13, an abortion14 will destroy a life; yet not to abort15 may result in a blighted life both for the girl and her child. For this reason, Dworkin says, there are moral reasons both for and against abortions16 which are independent of the question of whether the fetus17 is a person.
  18. I agree that there are such moral reasons, and will discuss them more fully when considering the abortion18 issue in Chapters 13-15. These questions are not answered exclusively by deciding who counts as persons. If fetuses19, animals, and comatose people, for example, are persons, however, we will know that it is wrong to treat them contrary to the moral laws that govern our treatment of all other persons. Abortion20 and painful experiments would then be known to be wrong. But I don't hold that just because some individual is not a person that it is morally acceptable to treat him, her, or it in whatever way we please. The discussion of these issues, however, will indicate which considerations determine what are morally relevant reasons for deciding how nonpersons should be treated; and these reasons include the value we place on human life.
  19. Treating someone with full moral consideration means treating him in accordance with all the moral rules which are recognized by those with whom he interacts. He is entitled to full moral consideration if he ought to be treated in accordance with all valid moral principles.
  20. Some individuals may be treated in accordance with some moral principles but not others. They are not being treated as persons. For example, in the present day United States of America dogs are not held to be persons. There are some moral rules by which we think humans, who are considered persons, ought to be treated, but which we do not believe we have to apply to dogs. One is the rule against deceit. Most of us think it wrong in nearly all cases to deceive another person, even if no one is harmed by the deception. We do not, however, think it wrong to deceive a dog.
  21. We once had a dog named Oscar. Now and then Oscar would escape from our house or yard and roam about town, knocking over garbage, and chasing cats, postmen, and even the dogcatcher. One day when Oscar got loose, I chased him, waving his leash. As soon as he saw me with the leash, Oscar came running and was quickly captured. To him the leash meant I was going to take him for a walk — something he loved even more than running about on his own. I was in a hurry, however, and had no intention of taking him for a walk. Instead I shut him up in the back yard.
  22. Did I do something morally wrong? I think so, because Oscar was disappointed and sad. He also quickly learned not to fall for that trick again! But the wrongness of my action was not due to the fact of having deceived him. Had I treated my children in a similar fashion, I think most people would agree that I had wronged them, not just because I disappointed them, but also because of the deceit. As evidence of this, I have related this story many times without feeling much shame, and others have found it amusing. If I had so deceived my children, I would have probably been ashamed to tell others, and, if I had, other people wouldn't have laughed.
  23. The point of this example is not to say that it is morally acceptable to deceive dogs, or that dogs are not persons while children are. It is simply to illustrate the fact that when an individual is not considered a person by a group of other individuals, those other individuals do not feel themselves bound to treat him by at least some of the moral principles by which they consider themselves bound to treat those they do hold to be persons.
  24. The plan for the remainder of the book is this. First I shall spell out what I think full moral consideration is. This involves showing what basic moral principles should govern our behavior towards others. The basic principles determine what characteristics of individuals are morally relevant. Thus if one moral principle is that we ought not to cause pain and frustration unnecessarily, one morally relevant characteristic is that an individual be capable of experiencing pain and frustration. If it is a principle that we ought (at least in general) not to lie or break promises, another morally relevant characteristic is that of being able to communicate with other individuals. What individuals are persons is then determined by whether they have these morally relevant characteristics.
  25. This book is divided into four parts. Part I is the introductory material just concluded. Part II is an argument for a basic moral theory, which indicates the major principles which ought to be followed, and which are in fact accepted by the great majority of people. Part III argues that, given what these principles are, individuals which are entitled to be treated in accordance with them have certain characteristics. Individuals with these characteristics are what I will call 'natural persons.' I will argue that there are some individuals which do not have all of these characteristics, but that there are good reasons for considering as persons as well. Part IV applies these conclusions to some difficult moral questions.
  26. Different readers may wish to approach this book in different ways. Those who are concerned primarily with the practical conclusions may wish to read only the summaries at the beginnings of Part II and Part III and then go directly to Part IV. Those who are interested in the overall rationale for the practical conclusions will probably want to read all of Parts II and III. Many technical points, which will be of interest primarily to professional philosophers, are found in the extensive endnotes.

COMMENT: Part I: Problems and Persons

In-Page Footnotes ("Forrester (Mary) - The Central Feature of Personhood")

Footnote 6: See "Feinberg (Joel) - Abortion".

"Forrester (Mary) - Moral Knowledge"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Chapter 2

  1. Do Moral Judgments State Facts?
  2. How is Meaning Determined?
  3. The Meaning of Moral Expressions
  4. Some Objections

COMMENT: Part II: Theory and Justification

"Forrester (Mary) - Outline of a Basic Moral Theory"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Chapter 3

  1. The Hierarchy of Oughts
  2. Beneficence and Fairness
  3. The Central Purpose of Morality
  4. Obligations and Rights

COMMENT: Part II: Theory and Justification

"Forrester (Mary) - The Difficulties of Applying Moral Principles"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Chapter 4

  1. Arguments Against the Usefulness of Moral Theory
  2. A Moral Dilemma
  3. Why Solving Moral Problems is so Difficult

COMMENT: Part II: Theory and Justification

"Forrester (Mary) - Solving Moral Problems"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Chapter 5

  1. The Need for Theory
  2. Solving a Moral Problem

COMMENT: Part II: Theory and Justification

"Forrester (Mary) - Who Ought to Get Moral Consideration?"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Chapter 6

  1. Consciousness
  2. Rationality and Reciprocity

COMMENT: Part III: What Makes an Individual a Person

"Forrester (Mary) - Reasons for Granting Personhood"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Chapter 7

Full Text
  1. Obviously, there are many human beings, as well as virtually all animals, who are either unwilling or unable to follow moral rules. To what extent should we treat them in accordance with moral rules? Should we ever consider their interests as equal to ours — in the sense that we ought not to sacrifice their interests to our own?
  2. First of all, because pain and destruction are bad for any sentient being, it ought, other things being equal, to be avoided. Yet human beings cannot prevent harm to themselves without doing some harm to other creatures. These include not only such animals as tigers and mosquitoes, whose untrammeled reproduction and activities could kill us all, but-also human beings who, whether deliberately or not, threaten the destruction of other people. But we ought to avoid harming any sentient creature unnecessarily. And it is also usually a good thing to increase the happiness of any conscious being.
  3. Yet avoiding harm to an individual — and even providing it with goods and pleasures — does not entail treating its interests as equal to our own. There are some individuals, who are not themselves rational or capable of behaving in accordance with moral rules, for whom there are clearly good reasons to treat equally. The reasons are those mentioned in Chapter 6 (p. 93): that there are benefits to society as a whole if they are so treated, and that these benefits are greater than the loss to the society's interests incurred by sharing.
  4. One group of such individuals is children. Children will eventually reach the age of reason. If they are treated well — in particular, treated fairly and with respect — they will be more likely to behave morally as adults. Although it may cost adults something to give children full moral consideration, the benefits everyone reaps by having them grow up as morally responsible persons must certainly outweigh these costs. Hence we ought to treat children's interests as having equal weight with those of adults: i.e., treat them as persons.
  5. Another group which ought to receive equal consideration is non-rational adults: those who are retarded, brain-damaged, insane, or senile. Many such human beings have less ability to reason than many animals. But some reasons for treating the interests of non-rational humans as equal to our own do not apply to animals. Should a human ever be cured of the disorder that has deprived him of rationality, he would be more likely to re-join the moral community if he had been fairly and respectfully treated.
  6. At the present time, however, most such disorders are not curable. Furthermore, those of us who are rational never know what may befall us. If we were to suffer brain damage in an accident or develop Alzheimer's disease, we would want others to treat us with dignity. We could hardly expect this if we did not have a tradition of caring for the disabled. Such a tradition requires for its development continuous work on a society's part.' Consequently, we have reasons of self-interest, as well as of compassion, for treating non-rational adults as persons.
  7. In the cases of both children and non-rational adults, giving their interests equal consideration does not always mean treating them in the same ways. A small child, a man with acute schizophrenia, and an elderly woman with Alzheimer's disease might all be greatly harmed if allowed to go wherever they pleased. Concern for the interests of such people requires confining them in ways that would be totally contrary to the interests of rational persons.
  8. What of individuals who are rational, but who refuse to behave morally? To do this issue justice would stray from the main topic of this book, but a few remarks are in order. First of all, the rest of society needs to protect itself from those who deliberately inflict grievous harm on others. It does not follow, however, that every means to this end is justifiable. If it is possible to rehabilitate such people, it is surely in society's interest to do so. Rehabilitation is scarcely likely when offenders are given cruel and degrading treatment. Hence there are good reasons for treating even hardened criminals with decency. Punishment, even when very harsh, need not be equivalent to loss of personhood. I recently heard on ABC's 'This Week with David Brinkley' (Sept. 19, 1993) a discussion among a judge, a psychologist, a police officer, and a U. S. Senator about juvenile crime.
  9. All agreed that punishment was essential, but that it should be tempered with concern for the offender's rehabilitation and future life. Treatment should be tough, but designed to fulfill some of the offender's needs which had not been met in the past, such as strong male role models. That this same conclusion was drawn by experts with differing perspectives suggests a consensus that criminal behavior should not bar one from being treated as a person and that punishment is not equivalent to loss of equal consideration.
  10. The processes of protection, including deterrence, and rehabilitation are costly. Fairness demands that those who have profited or attempted to profit at the expense of others should, as far as is possible, bear these costs. Thus we can protect ourselves from murderers, rapists, and robbers by locking them up. Conceivably, we might also do this by paying them huge sums of money, so that they would no longer feel tempted to commit their crimes. Even if the latter course were to work, however, it would not be fair. Punishment of offenders has a justification in the notion of fairness; to this extent retribution is justified. But simply punishing a criminal is no more a denial of his personhood than is depriving a child of his allowance for not doing his chores, or firing an employee whose work is consistently substandard.
  11. It does not follow, however, that any and every kind of punishment is justifiable. What goes beyond the need of society for protection, deterrence, and, if possible, compensation, hurts without bringing any good to anyone. This sort of punishment is a denial of the criminal's personhood. Punishment which is consistent with treating a criminal as a person is measured; it attempts to restore the balance disturbed by the crime and does not go beyond what is necessary and possible to deter, protect society, and compensate the victims.
  12. It should be noted that what is required for protecting society may differ under different conditions. An affluent nation with relatively little crime can afford to build large, secure prisons and keep them clean and disease free. It can protect itself by keeping its criminals shut away. On the other hand, a nation which is unable even to feed its children may also be unable to build a decent jail or one from which prisoners can't easily escape. In the latter society, there might be no way to protect itself from the most dangerous criminals except by executing them, whereas in the former the death penalty appears unjustifiable.
  13. Similar considerations apply to the treatment of non-rational humans. Reasonably affluent societies can afford to care for the retarded, the insane, and the senile, as well as their young children. There have been, however, and still are, parts of the world where this cannot be done, without risking severe deprivation for those who are rational or have the potential to become so. Sometimes the survival of the group requires that only those who are actual or potential contributors share resources. It is in societies such as these where the abandonment of the very old or disabled may be justifiable.
  14. Such practices, like the punishment of criminals, need not be denial of the personhood of the abandoned. If it is recognized by all that it is necessary to sacrifice some, and that these sacrifices are not exacted on the basis of such irrelevant characteristics as sex or race or wealth, but rather on the burden of their care, then they may be a cruel necessity, but not unfair. Everyone knows that if he becomes completely disabled, this will be his fate. Of course, if the abandoned persons are treated with unnecessary harshness and lack of respect, then they are not being treated as persons. This cannot be excused, whatever the circumstances.

COMMENT: Part III: What Makes an Individual a Person

"Forrester (Mary) - Persons by Nature and Persons by Extension"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Chapter 8

  1. Extending Personhood
  2. Descriptive Criteria of Personhood
  3. Summary

COMMENT: Part III: What Makes an Individual a Person

"Forrester (Mary) - How Animals Ought to be Treated"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Chapter 9

Author’s Abstract
  1. In "Forrester (Mary) - The Central Feature of Personhood" (Chapter 1) and "Forrester (Mary) - Who Ought to Get Moral Consideration?" (Chapter 6), I used animals as examples of creatures that are not thought to be persons, but who receive some moral consideration. The view that most contemporary Americans hold is that while we have no obligation to treat animals equally with human beings, we do not have the right to treat them in any way we like.
  2. So far I have used this view to illustrate the difference between what is owing to persons and what to nonpersons because it clearly shows the difference between a society's attitude toward persons and its attitude toward those it grants some moral consideration, but not personhood.
  3. As yet, I have not attempted to justify this position toward animals. I think that it can be justified, although a consistent application of it may suggest changes that ought to be made in how we treat animals.

  1. Three Classes of Animals
  2. Sentient, Non-rational Animals are not Persons
  3. The Moral Limits on our Treatment of Animals
  4. Practical Consequences


"Forrester (Mary) - Animal Rights"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Chapter 10

Author’s Abstract
  1. Clearly, we ought to treat animals in such a way as to minimize their suffering. While we recognize that many things that would cause humans to suffer greatly may very well not be as distressing to animals, there are still many areas in which our treatment of animals could and ought to be improved.
  2. But what are our obligations to animals, and what rights do they have?

  1. Obligations to Animals
  2. What Rights Do Animals Have?


"Forrester (Mary) - What do we Owe to Future Generations?"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Chapter 11

  1. The Scope of Our Concern for Posterity
  2. The Yet-Unborn: Our Obligations and their Rights


"Forrester (Mary) - When Should We Bring New People Into the World?"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Chapter 12

  1. Is Being Born Good for a Person?
  2. Effects of New People on Others
  3. Effects on Nonhumans


"Forrester (Mary) - The Human Fetus: Introduction"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Chapter 13

  1. The Sources of Disagreement
  2. Fetuses1 are not Persons by Nature


"Forrester (Mary) - Should Fetuses be Extended Persons?"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Chapter 14

  1. The Non-sentient Fetus1
  2. Should Personhood Be Extended to Sentient Fetuses2?
  3. When Does Sentience Occur?
  4. Consequences of Extending Personhood to Fetuses3
  5. Limits on What We Should Do to Fetuses4


"Forrester (Mary) - Abortion: Objections and Policies"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Chapter 15

  1. Objections
  2. Practical Implications


"Forrester (Mary) - The End of Personhood and Cessation of Medical Procedures"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Chapter 16

  1. Mental Incompetents Are Still Persons
  2. The Permanently Unconscious: Two Kinds of Death
  3. Limiting Life-Preserving Treatments
  4. Limiting Medical Treatments: The Costs to Society
  5. Conclusion


"Forrester (Mary) - Euthanasia"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Chapter 17

  1. When May Euthanasia be Justified?
  2. Objections to Euthanasia
  3. Making Distinctions


"Forrester (Mary) - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: Summary"

Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Chapter 18

Full Text
  1. In this book I have discussed several practical issues revolving around the concept of personhood. My intention has been to show that, with a clearer understanding of what a person is, we can illuminate — and in some cases even answer — some critical questions of practical ethics. I have also tried to demonstrate not merely the relevance but the vital importance of ethical theory to our efforts to settle morally complex issues.
  2. I began with the assumption that a person is any individual who is entitled to being treated in accordance with all sound moral principles. We may then decide who counts as a person by determining first what basic moral principles are sound, and then what characteristics make it right and reasonable to treat someone in accordance with them. I argued that there are two fundamental principles — beneficence and fairness - which are acknowledged in virtually all moral systems. Together these would, if followed consistently, lead us toward what appears to be the central, overall purpose for having moral rules and practices: namely, bringing about the greatest happiness for everyone which is consistent with a like happiness for all other persons.
  3. Beneficence, which enjoins us to make individuals happy and remove or prevent unhappiness, can apply only to those capable of happiness or unhappiness: i.e., conscious beings. Any individual which is aware of and cares about what happens to it can profit from being treated in accordance with beneficence. So there is a point to applying that principle to any sentient being; moreover, I argue that we not only can but ought to treat all sentient beings beneficently.
  4. Fairness is treating everyone's interests on an equal basis. This amounts to not letting any one individual benefit at another's expense. Person A benefits at B's expense when, through obtaining that benefit, A prevents B from attaining a level of happiness comparable to A's. Only those who have the capacity of acting fairly are, I tried to show, clearly entitled to being treated fairly. If those who can consider the interests of everyone were to treat all non-rational individuals with the same concern
    they give the rational, rational individuals will lose and the non-rational will benefit at the expense of the rational. Not only would the rational get nothing back for their pains, but the costs would be incalculable, given that non-rational creatures vastly outnumber us.
  5. I call those who are both sentient and rational natural persons, for they have characteristics that make it right and reasonable to treat them with both beneficence and fairness. Although we cannot, without being unfair to ourselves, treat all non-rational creatures with fairness, we can treat any that are sentient with beneficence. And we should, to the extent that we can do so without harming or seriously depriving rational individuals. In addition, we ought to extend personhood to some types of non-rational individuals, if doing so will bring benefits to rational people generally. Extending personhood requires protecting the interests of individuals who are, primarily because of failure of rationality, unable to protect their own interests. The practices and institutions which protect the interests of the helpless are valuable for anyone who might become helpless himself. This includes all of us, of course, for we all begin life helpless and never know when we might become helpless again. Probably the most important of all such practices is that anyone who is a person will not cease to be treated as a person so long as how he is treated can matter to him. Losing personal status is serious not only because it can result in loss of tangible goods, but because any loss is worse than never having something in the first place.
  6. With this background I draw a number of conclusions:
    • Non-rational Humans. Infants and small children, as well as those are mentally incompetent as a result of developmental disabilities, in illness, brain damage, or senility, vary greatly in their capacity to understand what is going on around them and appreciate their interests and those of others. Some do not care what is done to them; others care deeply, and many vary with time and circumstances in what they are able to assimilate. For this reason it is not possible to draw lines between rational and non-rational humans. Furthermore, no one knows what may happen to herself or those she loves, so that we all have a strong interest in protecting the rights and interests of all people we care about. We cannot, however, expect others to protect and not exploit us if we do not do the same for others by supporting practices and institutions that foster caring for the helpless. We all have an interest in extending personhood to children and the mentally disabled and seeing to it that their personhood is not revoked when it becomes inconvenient. These individuals ought to be treated not only with beneficence but also with fairness, and no group of such extended persons ought to have personhood taken away from it.
    • Animals. Any animal which demonstrates rational activity, especially one which can universalize, understand the consequences of its actions, and put itself imaginatively in the place of others is a natural person and we should not exploit such animals, if there are any, for our own profit and pleasure. For any animal which we have absolutely no reason to believe can feel pain, it does not matter how we treat it. We should avoid harming sentient but non-rational animals, but we do not have to consider their interests equally with those of humans. We may, when it will benefit humans significantly, and there is no other way to obtain those benefits, sacrifice their interests to our own. If we can change our lives in ways that bring us only minor inconveniences, but which avoid causing suffering to animals, we should.
    • Future People. Those who will live in the future have no interests now that we can or need consider, but when they live, they will have interests. These interests will often be affected significantly by what we do today. These interests, like the interests of people who live far from us in space, should be given equal weight with our own in the sense that we ought not to promote our own interests in ways that we can be reasonably certain will be destructive of theirs. Those who will never exist will never have any interests, and no one will be wronged if we act in ways which would harm individuals if they were to exist, but who never do. In particular, we have no duty to future people to bring them into the world; we ought not, however, to bring people into the world when we believe them to have no reasonable prospects of happiness.
    • The Human Fetus1. Fetuses2 which are non-sentient, like non-sentient animals and humans who will exist only in the future, have no present interests. If they are allowed to develop, they will be sentient and will have interests. If a fetus3 is destroyed before it becomes sentient, no harm or wrong is done to it, and decisions to abort4 or use fetal tissue at this time need consider only the interests of existing persons. No woman should be forced to bear a child against her will, and early abortions5 at least ought to be freely available. On the other hand, if a fetus6 is allowed to develop, its future interests as a person must be given full consideration. Caring for a fetus7 which will become a person is primarily its mother's responsibility, but the burden should be shared by its father and others in society. Fetuses8 which could be sentient also have some interests, and pain should not be inflicted upon them unnecessarily. We could extend personhood to them if we wished, and we ought to do so if those who are already persons will benefit. At the present time I do not believe that present persons stand to benefit from extending personhood to any fetuses9. Too many infants, children, and adults are deprived of basic goods for us to be expending resources on the unborn apart from what is needed to give them a good start in life if they are born. I conclude that we are justified in allowing abortion10 of sentient fetuses11 when this is necessary for protecting significant interests of persons.
    • Death. I agree with those who think that it is reasonable to define death as a state in which the individual neither has nor can have further interests. At the present time, brain death12 is generally recognized as such a state. But there are individuals who are known with virtual certainty to be permanently unconscious, but whose brains have some minimal activity. There would be many advantages to counting such individuals as dead in the personal (as opposed to the biological) sense — i.e., as no longer persons — and no harm could be done to them by ceasing to give them moral consideration. Among these advantages would be allowing their organs to be used in transplants13 and, more important, freeing medical resources for those who have a chance at meaningful life.
    • Cessation of Medical Treatment and Euthanasia. Many individuals who still have interests may have those interests best served by being allowed to die, or even assisted in hastening their deaths. I argue that medical professionals should be permitted to cease life-saving treatments, and even to perform euthanasia, under certain circumstances. With regard to euthanasia, the most important caveat is to prevent possible abuse by those who would profit from the death of another. It seems to me that strict safeguards against abuse are feasible. In considering whether to stop medical treatments, the main consideration should be the patient's best interest. Yet some therapies are so costly that even if they have a chance of doing some minimal good to a patient, providing them may not be justified if this would deprive others of significant medical — or other — goods. In general, all human beings between birth and death are persons and their interests need to be considered equally.
  7. I have concentrated only on those issues that are directly related to the concept of personhood. There are, of course, countless other practical questions which I did not address. For example, I have not touched on the issue of informed consent or the implications of genetic research. I have not discussed beyond some general principles what sort of distribution of resources among nations, with future generations, or even within a given society, would be most just. Nor have I said in great detail how we ought to change the way we treat animals. There is room for much work in discussing these issues, and I think that the general notions implicit in my basic theory would prove helpful in doing so. In addition, scientific research dealing with the mental capacities of fetuses14 and animals and with the environmental effects of population trends and various ways of managing natural resources will contribute immeasurably to finding answers to questions raised here.


Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
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