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Project Summary - THE ETHICAL CREATION OF NEW KINDS OF PERSONS

Coordinating Partner: Scottish Council on Human Bioethics (SCHB), 15 North Bank Street, Edinburgh EH1 2LS, SCOTLAND  -  www.schb.org.uk

Executive Summary

Bringing into existence new persons is a concept that has always fascinated humanity since its very origins being reflected in all the major worldviews including religious faiths. This is because the manner in which human beings have come into existence, and how they bring new beings into the world, goes to the very heart of their identity.

Until now, the new persons brought into existence have always been entirely human with a human nature and inherent human dignity. But with the development of modern science and technology the bringing into existence of new kinds of persons (which can be defined as beings who would not arise in nature but can be considered as having full inherent dignity) through novel procedures is already happening or being considered. These include, for example, the creation of:

Transhumans (Beings who have a body which is recognisably human)

    (1) Human-nonhuman interspecies combinations

    (2) Human-computer Cyborgs

    (3) Synthetic Biological Transhumans

Posthumans (Beings who no longer have a body which is recognisably human)

    (4) Virtual persons existing/living in cyber-space

    (5) Synthetic Biological Posthumans

Very little has, so far, been undertaken to examine how society will respond to the creation of such new kinds of persons in the light of ethical, philosophical, anthropological and theological perspectives. Hence, the project will study the creation of these persons by considering (1) who the creators really are in the context of new technologies, (2) how these creators interact with each other (where relevant) when considering the creation of new kinds of persons, (3) the relationships these creators may have with their creatures, (4) how the new creatures, themselves, may consider their existence and the manner in which they were created, and (5) whether there is an ethical manner to bring new kinds of persons into existence?

The preparation of a 2018 workshop, 2019 conference and the writing of an edited book on creation ethics will be an exciting development in the field. Moreover, the publication of this volume drawing together the results and conclusions of the project, will be a useful tool in promoting policy guidelines and a societal discussion relating to the concept of ethically creating new kinds of persons.

Project Activities

The project will involve members of the SCHB, with the assistance of experts from the Centre for Bioethics and Emerging Technologies (CBET) at St Mary’s University in London together with especially invited academics.

First Part of the Project

First part of the project

January 2018 – January 2019

The first part of the project will encourage research partners to seek to understand and reflect on what the terms 'creator' and ‘person’ actually represent from a historical, societal, anthropological, theological and philosophical perspective in the context of creating a person.

Understanding and evaluating the concept of creating new kinds of persons from such perspectives is both urgent practically (as new technologies develop) and of great theoretical importance because it engages several fundamental issues, including those of moral status, equality and human identity.

Creation and the Classical Account

By beginning with the creation descriptions in classical antiquity and religious naratives as well as scientific theory on the origins of persons, the project will examine how such creation accounts have been represented in different cultures throughout history. This will include the creation perspectives of different faiths and wide ranging texts such as the Old Testament, the Upanishads and the Gilgamesh epic.

Creation, Christian Theology and other Worldviews

The need to position Christianity in relation to other world religions notably Judaism and Islam, has also brought about renewed interest in the theme of creation. Environmentalists, biologists, feminists and process theologians have all registered concerns from their particular standpoints, about the way the traditional doctrine of creation characterises the relationship between the cosmos and its creator.

Creation in anthropology and human reproduction

An anthropological perspective of the bringing into existence of purely human children may then be used to examine whether this can be of assistance in understanding how human society may understand the creation of new kinds of persons. This will be informed by the manner in which purely human reproduction is currently taking place in addition to ways in which it is being considered for the future.

The study will also build on the broad array of issues connected with completely human reproduction and genetics, including genetic enhancement, through the lens of moral philosophy.

Involvement of research partners:

July – August 2018: Each participants will be expected to read 2-3 book of their choice from the following list or any other books proposed by them while making sure (by email) that all books are addressed by the group:

  • Philip Freund, Myths of Creation, Peter Owen Publishers; Third Edition, 2003;
  • Marie-Louise Von Franz, Creation Myths, Shambhala Publications Inc; Revised Edition, 2001;
  • Michelle McLaughlin, Creation Myths and Tales of Origin, Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, 2013;
  • David Fergusson, Cosmos and the Creator - An Introduction to the Theology of Creation, SPCK, Reprint Edition, 1998.
  • Mary Helley, David H. Guston et al. (Eds.) Frankenstein: Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds, Cambridge MA: The MIT Press, 2017.
    See also The Frankenstein Bicentennial Project organised by Arizona State University http://frankenstein.asu.edu/ 
  • David DeGrazia, Creation Ethics: Reproduction, Genetics, and Quality of Life, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • Scott A. Midson, Cyborg Theology: Humans, Technology and God, I.B. Yauris & Co., 2017.
  • Jurgen Moltmann, Creating a Just Future: The Politics of Peace and Ethics of Creation in a Threatened World, SCM Press, 2012.
  • Whitney Bauman, Theology, Creation, and Environmental Ethics: From Creatio Ex Nihilo to Terra Nullius, Routledge, 2014.

All books will be purchased by the SCHB and sent directly to research participants.

Creation of New Persons

The next phase will seek to determine whether there are any patterns or similarities between all the various accounts of the creation of entirely human persons outlined in history, religious accounts and in present human procreation which could be used to examine future possibilities in the ethical creation of new kinds of persons.

The study will then be followed by an examination of who the creators of new kinds of beings really are in looking at modern examples such as:

Transhumans (Beings who have a body which is recognisably human)

    (1) Human-nonhuman interspecies combinations

    (2) Human-computer Cyborgs

    (3) Synthetic Biological Transhumans

Posthumans (Beings who no longer have a body which is recognisably human)

    (4) Virtual persons existing/living in cyber-space

    (5) Synthetic Biological Posthumans

The project will also examine concerns relating to the disruption of the natural order in which human persons have, so far, come into existence. These objections encompass both religious and secular unease.

From a religious perspective, some procedures may be seen as being tantamount to ‘playing God’, something which many people with a religious faith may find inappropriate.[1]

The secular form of this concern has a similar emphasis but without invoking a deity.[2] It recognises that humanity may be affected by a sense of hubris, i.e. a certain amount of pride, arrogance and false-belief in its own capacities while insisting on its right to use these creative abilities without properly understanding their possible consequences.

The argument suggesting that one should not play God accepts that human beings have, until now, not sought to inherently modify the bodies of their children but have, instead, humbly accepted the result of nature. By this argument, resisting the desire to interfere with the natural way of bringing into existence new persons, would reflect a surrendering of any control over the prospective creature and would encourage human persons to accept their procreated children unconditionally. Further, this reasoning supposes that the balanced equilibriums of nature should be respected, not least because any deviation may have unforeseen and potentially irreversible consequences.

Involvement of research partners:

September 2018: All project participants will suggest and exchange (by email) some of the main themes needing to be developed by the group.

January 2019: One day workshop for research partners and invited experts in Edinburgh. At this event:

  • Each participant would be expected to present a summary of one or two of the books which he or she has read.
  • Some volunteers may begin to prepare short papers for this workshop.
  • Finally the next stages of the project will also be discussed.

All expenses for participants involved in the project will be covered by the SCHB.


[1] E. Dahl et al., 2004. ‘Attitudes towards Preconception Sex Selection: A Representative Survey from Germany’, Reproductive BioMedicine 9, 600-603.

[2] J. Savulescu, 1999. ‘Sex Selection:  The Case For’, The Medical Journal of Australia 171, 373-375.

Second Part of the Project

Second part of the project

January – December 2019

The same previous project participants, together with some possible additional individuals, will then prepare the second part of the project which will examine:

(1) How these creators may interact when considering the creation of new kinds of persons?

This will analyse what kind of relationships may exist between the creator(s) of persons and whether, for example, a relationship of love should exist between them where relevant.

(2) What may be the relationships between these creators and the new persons they have created?

(3) How may these new kinds of created persons consider their existence and the manner in which they were created? In other words, it will study the possible implications for the creatures, themselves, of being created in different manners and the way they may consider their creators.

(4) The project will finally study whether it is even possible to ethically create such different kinds of beings and, if so, how this should be undertaken.

Of course, it may not yet be possible to obtain any direct witness from the created beings, themselves, concerning some of the new procedures being considered. But it will be possible to build on the general understanding of what it means to be (a) the creator of a person and (b) a created person while seeking to apply this to certain specific situations which may arise in the future.

Involvement of research partners:

May 2019: All project participants will suggest (by email) some of the final themes needing to be developed by the group in the book.

November 2019: All project participants will be expected to write a paper (either alone or with other research partners) on one of the themes of the project (addressed in either the first or second part of the project).

November – December 2019: This second part of the study will end in a (one-two days) conference (venue to be decided) open to the general public.

Again all expenses of participants involved in the project will be covered by the SCHB.

Third Part of the Project

Third part of the project 2020:

An edited book will finally be prepared which will draw on the results of the workshop and conference while attempting to better understand the concept of the ethical creation of new kinds of persons.

This will be accompanied by a PPT slide deck disseminated online through slideshare and also through social media which will help to disseminate the findings of the project to a wider audience. 

Statement of Significance

At present there is very little understanding of what it really means to be the creator of new kinds of persons from an ethical, societal, anthropological, theological and philosophical perspective. This is despite some of the largest faiths in the world developing the theme of creating entirely human persons including the original theme of bringing into existence human beings.

Creation accounts are arguably the deepest and most important of all representations because they are concerned with the basic patterns of existence and the ultimate meaning of life while also reflecting and revealing deep insights into anthropology.

In this regard, a study of the many contributions already furnished by the world’s great religious traditions, especially concerning the power of love, will be crucial in the context of examining the creation of new kinds of persons.

Even though some of the transhuman and posthuman proposals may seem somewhat futuristic, the topic of creating new kinds of persons is both practically urgent, as new technologies develop, and of great theoretical importance. Indeed, it is necessary for society to be ready in seeking to understand what are the requirements for the ethical creations of new kinds of beings. This is because it engages several (or many) fundamental issues, including those of moral status, the nature of justice and equality.

It is also possible to question the use of novel procedures in the creation of life as well as issues relating to the identity of the new beings and whether they can even be considered as new living entities. Moreover, such developments will inevitably bring into focus the very nature and meaning of being human.

As such, the project will represent an important and novel cross disciplinary study engaging the big questions of the creation of new kinds of persons while enabling new angles to be examined. It will also seek to address a very interesting, difficult, and profound issue that has often been overlooked. 

Outcomes

The proposed edited book will reflect the effectiveness of the project partners to undertake such important work. A lot of interest is already being expressed by fellow academics and colleagues for this study relating to the ethical creation of new kinds of persons in the light of new insights in creator-creature inter-relationships.

The preparation and writing of a book on the creation of new persons from a social, ethical, anthropological, theological and philosophical perspective will be an exciting development in the field since no other book on this topic has yet been written. As such, it promises to be a ground breaking volume which will be considered, in years to come, as an important and influential landmark, reference book, and source of responsible as well as extensive information for future balanced discussions.

The beneficiaries of the project will be students, academics, and the general public who will be able to access an interdisciplinary book which presents the ethical issues associated with creating new kinds of persons.

Society, as a whole, will then be positively influenced to consider the different issues and address the areas that may require further regulation. It may also be used by civil society, including the different faiths, as it begins discussing the relevant problems that a field, such as the creation of new kinds of persons, may initiate.