Volume 4, Issue 1
May 2009

Pros & Cons of Corporate Personhood for Transbemans

Martine Rothblatt, Ph.D.

This article was adapted from a lecture given by Martine Rothblatt, Ph.D. during the 3rd Annual Colloquium on the Law of Transbeman Persons, December 10, 2007, at the Florida Space Coast Office of Terasem Movement, Inc.

Dr. Rothblatt imposes the legal notions of corporate personhood upon transbemans or futuristic persons, specifically those who transition from flesh-ware to software, and may lack the traditional DNA based biological substrate.

The concept of corporate personhood for transbemans came up because Alan Dershowitz [1] and a few other advanced legal scholars have been promoting this concept of legal personhood for entities that we might not consider to be traditional human persons.

imageI want to start with an alternative definition of transbemans. We can look at transbemans as people who self-identify as bio-electronic humans in transition. Biological life is organized, exchanges matter and energy with the environment, reproduces, develops and adapts all pursuant to chemical codes. Electronic life does all of the same things as biological life except pursuant to a numeric code rather than a DNA or RNA code. There is no necessary reason to think that something is not alive just because it is electronic.


The real question for us is whether or not there is any ethical difference between biological life, all of whose life's functions occur pursuant to a particular chemical code or what might be called vitological life, all of whose functions occur pursuant to an electronic code. Some of our questioners like Sebastian Sethe [2] and Max More [3] questioned whether there were.

Another key part of the transbeman definition is the word "transition," as in transitioning between biology and electronics. It is important to point out that in our current society, it is very hard to find any being that is actually purely biological because we all depend so much on the electronic infrastructure of society for our food and for our water. Without electronics, there is almost no doubt that billions of people would quickly disappear from the face of the Earth.

I would say that everybody is a bio-electronic human right now. You can watch the film Into the Wild [4] to see how short life can be if one denies their transbemanhood.

On the other hand (this part I think is not as well appreciated), I doubt if there is any electronic life which is completely nonbiological because all of the code that runs electronic life has been written and programmed by humans and therefore has human reasoning and, to some extent, human values embedded in their code. Transbemans really adopt the mindset that substrate per se, is irrelevant to humanness, that we are one continuous species from the biological to the electronic, whether our substrate be vaginally- birthed flesh, virtuality, some type of nano-bio substrate or if we are born outside of the womb (an ectogen), a sleeve or body that is the consequence of stem-cell based cellular regeneration and a mind that is downloaded from a decaying body or cyber- conscious software. In other words, transbemans want but may not be entitled to human rights.


Having defined what I mean by transbemans, let's talk a little bit about what is meant by "corporate personhood." As I delved into the research on this subject I found it is an extremely slippery concept, although it is batted about in the law review journals today. I've put the continuum of corporate personhood on a pain rating scale because it reflects the pain that people have with different incarnations of corporate personhood. For example, if you start to say that corporate personhood includes the idea that corporations have some constitutional and human rights, like the right of free speech, a lot of people begin to get very pained about that and very angry and upset. There is some very good scholarship on that subject.

On the other hand, if you say that corporate personhood merely means that a nonhuman entity can have a commercial, and a criminal, legal personality so that it can be sued or sue or own property, almost nobody has any problem with that. Most people in fact think that's a good thing.

One of the hallmarks, if you get down to what the core DNA is of corporate personhood, it's really a separation of the creators of the corporations from the corporate entity itself. Some of the first corporations in this country were, in fact, colleges and universities. People wanted to form a university, but didn't want to be personally responsible for everything. They wanted the university to take responsibility for entering into the contracts and buying land and having a life that transcended the lives of the creators of the university.

Corporate personhood for nonhuman transbemans limits the creators’ liability and that's something that would be very interesting for some backers who wanted to create one but they didn't want to be liable for all of the consequences.

image 10

The question of liability though can cut many, many ways. Is Victor Frankenstein responsible for his monster? Well, if the monster has corporate personhood, if Victor Frankenstein had first created a corporation and it was not Victor Frankenstein the individual but Victor Frankenstein the employee of FrankenCorp who created the monster, then, no. Victor Frankenstein would in general, and in law there always are many exceptions and odd permutations, but in general, Victor Frankenstein would not have personal responsibility for the monster, it would be FrankenCorp that had responsibility for the monster. Similarly, it is very difficult to sue the individuals who formed the companies that created asbestos that caused cancer, but it is the companies that can be sued.

Next Page



1. Alan Morton Dershowitz - an American lawyer, jurist, and political commentator. He is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and is known for his extensive published works, career as an attorney in several high-profile law cases, and commentary on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Dershowitz  October 8, 2008 10:24AM EST

2. Sebastian Sethe, Ph.D. - among his other commitments, Dr. Sethe is a legal and regulatory officer at the North East England Stem Cell Institute (NESCI) at Durham and Newcastle Universities in the UK. He holds a PhD in Innovation Management and a Master in Biotechnological Law and Ethics from the University of Sheffield, UK. His undergraduate legal studies were conducted at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany. His research interests include a wide spectrum of topics in the law, management and philosophy of innovation, with a particular focus in life extension technologies.
http://terasemjournals.org/pc0303/ss3.html  October 8, 2008 10:34AM EST

3. Max More, Ph.D. - an internationally acclaimed strategic futurist who writes, speaks, and organizes events about the fundamental challenges of emerging technologies. Max is concerned that our rapidly developing technological capabilities are racing far ahead of our standard ways of thinking about future possibilities. His work aims to improve our ability to anticipate, adapt to, and shape the future for the better.
http://www.maxmore.com/bio.html   October 8, 2008 10:37AM EST

4. Into the Wild – a September 2007 movie release based on a true story. After graduating from Emory University in 1992, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandoned his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters who shape his life. Written by Lisa Kelley.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0758758/plotsummary   October 8, 2008 10:40AM EST


1 2 3 4 next page>