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as Immanuel Kant and John Locke—who were greatly influential in the development of American
legal bioethics276—believed that a psychological basis for personhood was appropriate,277 thus
making a psychological theory of personhood consistent with existing law and policy. In addition,
as noted in greater detail below, a definition derived from this theory would level the legal field
for genetically modified and standard humans278 and would not exacerbate issues of inequality and
Unregulated genetic engineering which allows scientists to tinker with the human brain
could open the door to the creation of a genetically modified “human” who may not identify her
or himself internally as human due to an altered psychology which does not correspond to that of
Homo sapiens. For example, there is a theory in psychology that a need to maintain an essential
network of relationships with others is innate to the human psyche and is therefore, common to all
human beings.280 This same theory holds that deprivation from social interaction leads to mental
illness and “maladjustment.”281 Genetically modifying a child for example, to have a reduced need
to spend time with friends—with the goal that the child will be more inclined to spend his or her
time dedicated to his or her studies—would recklessly eliminate something which is an essential
foundation of a functional human society.
Therefore, a legal definition of human person must encompass at its core the following
primary proposition: a human person is a biological creature containing the genetic material of
Homo sapiens which codes for the complete psychological makeup unique to Homo sapiens. The
definition should be accompanied by secondary propositions, such as a statement that all human
persons are entitled to the totality of rights and liberties provided by law. This definition should
also be accompanied by a prohibition of germline genetic engineering which would produce a
creature that would run afoul of the definition. The definition would, therefore, (1) automatically
provide all legal rights and protections to genetically modified children born of genetic engineering
procedures, (2) make researchers legally-required to abide by the definition, (3) restrict some risky
applications of the technology and (4) preserve the current socio-legal status quo by preventing
creatures so psychologically dissimilar to humans that they would be unable to coexist with
An argument against this definition is that it is unhelpful on its own, as it requires a
companion precise, scientific definition of the unique psychology of Homo sapiens. The response
to this concern is that the definition could not be enacted until there is scientific certainty about
the way in which the human genome controls highly specialized aspects of brain development, and
276 See generally W. Noel Keyes, Our Continued Need for Coordination of the United States Constitution of the
Eighteenth Century’s ‘Age of Enlightenment’ With the Twenty-First Century’s Ages of ‘Modern Science and
Bioethics’, 27 WHITTIER L. REV. 951 (2006); John B. Mitchell, My Father, John Locke, and Assisted Suicide: The
Real Constitutional Right, 3 IND. HEALTH L. REV 45 (2006).
277 Hughes, supra note 87, at 634.
278 Id. Hughes believes that a general psychological theory of personhood would likely lead to Transhumans having
a higher “moral status” and therefore more extensive rights. Nevertheless, Hughes refers to an imprecise definition
of psychology which is apparently, not tied to biology and somehow related to consciousness. Id. This imprecise
definition runs afoul of the underlying bio-psychological theory upon which this Article’s proposed definition is
279 See supra notes 199, 200, 201.
280 Roy F. Baumeister & Mark R. Leary, The Need to Belong: Desire for Interpersonal Attachments as Fundamental
Human Motivation, 117 PSYCHOL. BULL. 497, 499 (1995).
281 Id. at 500.
282 See Andrews, Annas & Isasi, supra note 13, at 162.