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Questioning the significance of the non-identity problem in applied ethics
  1. Rob Lawlor
  1. Correspondence to Dr Rob Lawlor, Inter-Disciplinary Ethics Applied Centre, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK; r.s.lawlor{at}leeds.ac.uk

Abstract

Authors such as Tony Hope and Julian Savulescu appeal to Derek Parfit's non-identity problem in relation to particular questions in applied ethics, and particularly in reproductive ethics. They argue that the non-identity problem shows that an individual cannot be harmed by being brought into existence, and therefore, we cannot say that the individual is harmed if, for example, we select an embryo in order to have a deaf child. Thus, they argue that an appeal to the non-identity problem blocks (or significantly reduces the force of) objections in a number of cases. I argue that these discussions often give the impression that this is a clear conclusion, shared by most philosophers, and largely beyond dispute. This is particularly significant because these discussions are often in journals or books with an interdisciplinary readership. My concern is that they give the impression of stating: ‘philosophers have studied this issue, and this is the conclusion they have reached. Now I will emphasise the implications for medical ethics’. I argue that, far from being the consensus view, the view presented by Hope and Savulescu is rejected by many, including Parfit himself.

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