Is Viability or Birth Important

On most views, both those claiming that a fetus has moral status and those claiming that it does not have moral status, there is no direct change in this status just because the fetus is viable outside its mother's womb or just because it has actually been born. The fetus is the same, it is just its possible or actual relationship to its mother which has changed.

This means that a view not according moral status to the fetus would necessarily entail that there is nothing intrinsically wrong in killing viable fetuses or neonates and infants. There may be social reasons not to allow such killing, but it is not wrong in itself. It has been claimed that this consequence of the main theories depriving the fetus of moral status amounts to a reductio ad absurdum of these theories.

The fact that the viable fetus is potentially independent of its mother, and that the neonate is independent of her, does, however, entail a difference in decision making. The strength of any reasons to allow the mother to control her own body, and have the embryo or fetus killed in the process, diminishes considerably in a situation where the question is no longer only a question about bodily integrity, but also a question about decision making for incompetent individuals. The mother may have a right not to have the embryo implanted into her body or a right to have the fetus dispelled from her body, but these rights do not necessarily entail that she has a right to have the embryo or fetus destroyed.

E. Are There Specific Problems in Creating Embryos for Research?

Embryos can be used in research for a number of purposes ranging from basic embryological research to improvements of IVF techniques. It is often claimed that embryo research is necessary for the further development of IVF techniques, and that the information produced about the earliest development of the human being may prove useful in the understanding of aging and of cancer. The embryos used in embryo research can either be so-called "spare" embryos that are surplus to requirements in the context of IVF treatments (e.g., because the treatment is a success and there are stored embryos which the parents do not need anymore), or they can be created specifically for research. There has been some debate about whether it is ethically acceptable to create embryos specifically for research.

The arguments produced to show that it is not acceptable to create embryos, but acceptable to use spare embryos, usually refer to Kant's categorical imperative and its prohibition against using someone merely as a means and not at the same time as an end. It is claimed that embryos created specifically for research are used merely as means to further the researchers project, and that this is wrong. The problem with this argument is that it does not really distinguish between spare and specifically created embryos. All embryos are created as means to somebody else's project (the "progenitors" or the "researchers"), and even if we want to deny this, it seems incontrovertible that even if a spare embryo was created as an end in itself it is transformed into a mere means as soon as it is donated to research. The Kantian argument may, however, be more applicable in the context of custody or inheritance disputes about frozen embryos. In many of these cases it is obvious that the embryos in question are even further reified than they were as part of the IVF procedure.

There is also the further empirical problem that the number of spare embryos is not a natural given. Any number of spare embryos can be produced by manipulating the number of eggs retrieved and the number of eggs fertilized. Since there is usually no clearcut distinction between the people performing IVF treatment and the people performing embryo research, the researcher may, in his guise as physician, ensure that a sufficient number of spare embryos are produced.


Chadwick, R. (Ed.) (1987). ''Ethics, Reproduction and Genetic Control.'' Croom Helm, London. Evans, D. (Ed.) (1996). ''Conceiving the Embryo—Ethics, Law and

Practice in Human Embryology." Nijhoff, The Hague. Harris, J. (1993). ''Wonderwoman and Superman.'' Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford.

Hursthouse, R. (1987). ''Beginning Lives.'' Basil Blackwell, Oxford. Kamm, F. M. (1992). ''Creation and Abortion: A Study in Moral and

Legal Philosophy." Oxford Univ. Press, New York. Sadler, T. W. (1995). ''Longman's Medical Embryology," 7th ed.

Williams & Wilkins, New York. Steinbock, B. (1992). ''Life before Birth: The Moral and Legal Status of Embryos and Fetuses.'' Oxford Univ. Press, New York.

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Pregnancy Guide

Pregnancy Guide

A Beginner's Guide to Healthy Pregnancy. If you suspect, or know, that you are pregnant, we ho pe you have already visited your doctor. Presuming that you have confirmed your suspicions and that this is your first child, or that you wish to take better care of yourself d uring pregnancy than you did during your other pregnancies; you have come to the right place.

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