, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 95-98
Date: 23 Nov 2012

The determination of personhood

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We recognize ourselves and other individuals as persons by virtue of the fact that we are human. This has provoked both scientists and philosophers to explore what makes us human. Such inquiry would necessarily move away from immeasurable/religiously defined precepts, to instead provide an objective measure of ‘personhood’. However, as an increasingly technical society, we are finding ourselves progressively at odds with the concept of personhood, that is, as a measurable entity. Our capacity to observe and act at the molecular, and even nanomolecular, level has moved such a determination toward increasingly extreme and obscure biological endpoints, with the potential for declaring individual cells as possessing personhood. Operational definitions—including the capacity for reason, perception, self-reflection, and morality—are similarly compromised by the temporary and permanent losses of such faculties, as well as increasing awareness of the biological substrate required for such behaviors, with the potential to define a class of persons who lack personhood. Ultimately, we must acknowledge that the objective pursuit for the determination of personhood will remain incomplete without accounting for the intrinsic value of persons, and accordingly determine how best to integrate this subjective religious and cultural element back into our definition.