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Are those who subscribe to the view that early embryos are persons irrational and inconsistent? A reply to Brock
  1. Jan Deckers
  1. Correspondence to:
 J Deckers
 Institute of Health and Society, The Medical School, Leech Building, University of Newcastle, Newcastle-upon-Tyne NE2 4HH, UK;jan.deckers{at}


Dan Brock has asserted that those who claim that the early embryo has full moral status are not consistent, and that the rationality of such a position is dubious when it is adopted from a religious perspective. I argue that both claims are flawed. Starting with the second claim, which is grounded in Brock’s moral abstolutist position, I argue that Brock has provided no argument on why the religious position should be less rational than the secular position. With regard to the first claim, I argue that those who hold the view that the early embryo has full moral status can be consistent even if they do not oppose sexual reproduction, even if they do not grieve as much over the loss of embryos as over the loss of other humans, even if they prefer to save one child instead of 100 embryos in the event of fire, and even if they do not accept racism and sexism.

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  • i Pyrrhonian scepticism is named after the Greek Pyrrho (4th century BC). The most comprehensive remaining account of ancient Pyrrhonian scepticism was written by Sextus Empiricus (2nd–3rd century AD). In recent bioethical debate, Pyrrhonian moral scepticism is adopted implicitly by Häyry M.3

  • ii An anonymous referee of an earlier version of this paper pointed out that we might view things differently if “three out of four born children died just as a result of deliberate action of the parents”. I take it that this refers not to situations where parents kill their children, but to situations where they can foresee a high chance of early death for any child that might be conceived. I grant that it may be irresponsible to procreate in situations where death in early childhood is a significant risk. However, in an imaginary world wherein a seventy-five percentage rate of early childhood death were unavoidable, it would not be irresponsible to procreate. As this imaginary situation is sufficiently similar to the present rate of embryonic death, my objection to Brock’s argument stands.

  • iii The correct reference is Sandel.4

  • iv Sandel, however, refers to Annas.5

  • v Reference is made to McMahan.7

  • Competing interests: None.

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