Essays in Legal Philosophy
Introduction: Modern Challenges to the Concept of a Person in Law
At first sight it may seem that the legal language offers few concepts that are clearer and simpler than a person in law. It is used on a daily basis in statutes, rulings, treatises and textbooks in numerous fields of law and usually does not stir controversies. It suggests that at least its core meaning has to remain the subject of a widespread consensus within respective legal communities. There are some well-known problems but they concern rather borderline cases, such as the status of a human fetus, anencephalic newborns or – more recently – pre-implanted embryos created in the process of in-vitro fertilization. In reality, however, there are few concepts in the present legal vocabulary that are more vulnerable to revolutionary changes brought by the ethical debates following the advancements of science and technology. Many strands of the contemporary developments in biological, medical or computer sciences may present a challenge to our idea of personhood as an important part of conceptual and ethical assumptions underlying legal systems. Its potential consequences may profoundly affect the way in which the whole legal system is conceived, including practically all fields of legal regulation.
In contemporary legal thought we are used to regard a person in law as either a human being (whichever moments are specified as the beginning and the end of her legally recognized status) or organizational entities designated by the law as separate rights-holders – corporations, states, municipalities, churches and the like. On the other hand, everything that is not...
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