Benjamin Hale
  Associate Professor, Philosophy and Environmental Studies
Center for Science and Technology Policy Research
Campus Box 488
University of Colorado at Boulder
Boulder, Colorado 80309-0488


The Moral Considerability of Invasive Transgenic Animals

Available in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics or upon request



Originally presented at the Society for Philosophy and Geography's Ecoscapes Conference at Towson University in Baltimore, Maryland. May 1, 2004.

Available in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, Volume 19, No. 4, 2006.

The term moral considerability refers to the question of whether a being or set of beings is worthy of moral consideration. Moral considerability is most readily afforded to those beings that demonstrate the clearest relationship to rational humans – like adult humans, potential humans, and sometimes non-human animals – though many have also argued for and against the moral considerability of animal species and the environment. Among these arguments there are at least two positions. On one hand, environmentalists tend to focus on the way in which non-human animals figure into the larger environmental landscape, and suggest that non-human animals are morally considerable only insofar as they are component parts of a larger ecosystem. On the other hand, animal welfarists tend to argue that animals are morally considerable because they are living, breathing, and capable of pain, just like we are; because they share characteristics with humans. Already, this classic conflict provides for some challenging theoretical clashes between environmentalists and animal ethicists.

The question of moral considerability is complicated, however, by recent human modifications and transformations to the earthly ecoscape. Some animals, like pigs and fish, have been genetically modified by humans to grow organs that can then be transplanted into humans. One might assume that there is no new ethical question relating to the moral considerability of these animals, since animals are animals, whether genetically modified or not. But upon closer investigation, the issue is much more complex. If environmental arguments for the moral consideration of species are correct, then we are released from our obligations to morally consider those animals that we have genetically modified. In fact, our obligations to GM animals would be even less critical, since they are by their nature always an "invader species." If instead the welfare of the animal is of penultimate importance, then there is a case for strengthening the moral considerability of GM animals over "naturally-occurring" animals, since they bear a closer relationship to humans. This paper asks the question of whether we are released from special obligations to consider the interests of genetically modified animals when they threaten to eradicate the habitat of naturally occurring species.