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Human-Animal Chimeras: The Moral Insignificance of Uniquely Human Capacities

Abstract: Human-animal chimeras—creatures composed of a mix of animal and human cells—have come to play an important role in biomedical research, and they raise ethical questions. This article focuses on one particularly difficult set of questions—those related to the moral status of human-animal chimeras with brains that are partly or wholly composed of human cells. Given the uncertain effects of human-animal chimera research on chimeric animals’ cognition, it would be prudent to ensure we do not overlook or underestimate their moral status. However, to assess moral status, we first need to determine what kinds of capacities are morally relevant. The standard view holds that it matters, morally, if chimeric animals develop uniquely human cognitive capacities. I argue that this view is mistaken, highlighting three problems with it: that we can think of examples of uniquely human cognitive capacities that are not morally significant, that we can think of examples of morally significant cognitive capacities that are not uniquely human, and that evidence that some cognitive capacity is shared with nonhuman animals does not undermine claims that this capacity is morally significant. We need a better framework for thinking about the moral status of part-human beings.

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