Assignment of moral status to those concerned is an essential element of every ethical deliberation. Indeed, differences in definition of the moral status of a fertilized human egg cell, of an embryo, of a patient in the terminal phase of an incurable disease or of a laboratory animal are at the roots of ethical disputes. Several criteria for definition of moral status have been proposed, including human properties, cognitive properties, moral agency, sentience, and ability to establish relations. Since none of these criteria adequately covers all dimensions of moral status, only a combination of them will lead to a balanced definition. The question of moral status should not be understood as an all-or-nothing phenomenon, but rather as a gradual acquisition of moral status, depending both on the degree of reflection of the individual and on her/his future potential.
KeywordsMoral status Human properties Cognitive properties Moral agency Sentience
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