Are all human beings persons, or just some (i.e. those who have normal cognitive functioning as opposed to those who suffer from something like severe mental retardation or late stage alzheimer’s disease)?

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Nov 6, 2022


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Part A. Kant argues that the only creatures who are owed moral consideration are rational creatures. Hence, on his view, we only have duties to human beings—not to animals.
Is Kant right about this? Or, do we have duties to non-rational creatures as well? In your response, be sure to explain Kant’s views regarding the treatment of animals vs. the treatment of human beings. For instance, would Kant say it’s wrong to kick a dog for the same reasons as it is wrong to lie to a person? In addition, identify whether Kant would claim that we have duties to all human beings, or just some human beings. Are all human beings persons, or just some (i.e. those who have normal cognitive functioning as opposed to those who suffer from something like severe mental retardation or late stage Alzheimer’s disease)? Finally, assess whether Kant is right regarding his claim that we have duties only to rational creatures. If so, why? If not, what other creatures (animals, people, etc..) do we have duties to?
Part B. Between 1946 and 1948, US medical researchers conducted studies on extremely vulnerable subjects (prisoners, prostitutes, members of the Guatemalan military and the cognitively challenged) in Guatemala without their knowledge or consent. The studies involved repeated attempts at infecting these subjects with disease, often through risky or painful procedures. Medical records reveal that the subjects were unaware that they were being studied and, instead, thought they were going in for routine health check-ups and procedures.
The reason for the research was to develop a prophylaxis (i.e. a preventative measure) for venereal diseases that were very prominent in the US military (remember, WWII had just ended about this time). Military members exhibited high rates of diseases including, syphilis, gonorrhea and cancroid, which caused massive losses in manpower and extensive US military expenditure. Penicillin was very expensive, and the other therapies used at the time were ineffective and uncomfortable to administer. US public health officials rationalized the studies on this basis.
Similar studies could not have legally conducted the studies in the United States at that time. The researchers initially went to Guatemala because prostitution was legal there. The idea was that they could infect prostitutes and then allow them to sleep with other subjects (namely prisoners) to test the effectiveness of possible prophylactic treatments. However, the researchers encountered difficulties ensuring a reliable rate of infection, so they never got to test their treatments to see if they were effective. They needed to ensure a reliable rate of infection first, so that they would know if a preventative treatment worked. In turn, researchers focused their energies on securing a reliable rate of infection through inoculating thousands of subjects with disease in hopes that they would figure out a method which would take. In short, while researchers strove to promote what they thought was the common good—a prophylactic for venereal disease, the studies primarily sought to find the best way to make the subjects sick.
How would Kant assess this case? Does his theory have any advantages or disadvantages when compared with how a utilitarian would assess this case? In your response, be sure to identify and address backward looking considerations (i.e. what it is about an act that makes it wrong and the ultimate standard according to which we determine the moral worth of an act after it has been done) as well as forward looking considerations (i.e. how one is to discern what the right thing to do is in a given circumstance—in short, the method that one must use to determine what she is obligated to do).
If you’re interested in this topic, you can find it in the archives for the President’s Commission on the Study of Bioethical Issues. The commission is no longer operating as of January 15, 2017 with the change of administration.
Please label each answer A or B accordingly.
To receive full credit, you must make a minimum of 4 posts, including (1) substantive opening post and (3) substantive response posts. Each of these posts must make use of relevant content, including ideas and sources and be written in an academic style and tone.


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