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The Moral Considerability of Invasive Transgenic Animals



The term moral considerability refers to the question of whether a being or set of beings is worthy of moral consideration. Moral considerability is most readily afforded to those beings that demonstrate the clearest relationship to rational humans, though many have also argued for and against the moral considerability of species, ecosystems, and “lesser” animals. Among these arguments there are at least two positions: “environmentalist” positions that tend to emphasize the systemic relations between species, and “liberationist” positions that tend to emphasize the attributes or welfare of a particular individual organism. Already, this classic conflict provides for some challenging theoretical clashes between environmentalists and animal liberationists. The question of moral considerability is complicated, however, by recent developments in genetic engineering. Some animals, like pigs and fish, have been genetically modified by humans to grow organs that can then be transplanted into humans. If environmental arguments for the moral consideration of species are correct, then we are released from our obligations to morally consider those animals that we have genetically modified, since they are by their nature always an “invader species.” If, instead, the welfare of the animal is of penultimate importance, then there is a case for strengthening the moral considerability of GM animals over “naturally-occurring” animals, since they bear a closer relationship to humans. This would appear to be an intractable problem, a “bad marriage,” as Mark Sagoff once proposed. This paper argues that the case of invasive transgenic animals exposes weaknesses in this classic conflict, and particularly, in the framing of this conflict. To remedy this framing problem, this paper argues for a reconceptualization of the term “moral considerability,” instead urging a strong distinction between moral considerability, moral relevance, and moral significance.



Journal of Agricultural and Environmental EthicsSpringer Journals

Published: Aug 1, 2006

DOI: 10.1007/s10806-005-5490-6

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