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Why two arguments from probability fail and one argument from Thomson’s analogy of the violinist succeeds in justifying embryo destruction in some situations
  1. J Deckers
  1. Correspondence to:
 J Deckers
 Institute of Health and Society, The Medical School, University of Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4HH, UK; jan.deckers{at}


The scope of embryo research in the UK has been expanded by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulations 2001. Two advisory bodies—the Chief Medical Officer’s Expert Group and the House of Lords’ Select Committee—presented various arguments in favour of embryo research. One of these is the view that, just as lottery tickets have relatively little value before the draw because of the low probability of their being the winning ticket, early embryos have relatively little value because of the presumed low probability that they will mature into more developed embryos. This (first) argument from probability is questioned in this paper, as well as the contention that allowing embryo destruction is incompatible with the view that embryos have full moral status. Although I challenge Savulescu’s view that early embryos should be entered into a lottery in which they are subjected to the probability of being destroyed (the second argument from probability), a revised version of Thomson’s analogy of the famous violinist defies the view that the position that the embryo has full moral status is incompatible with qualified support for embryo destruction.

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  • i The term embryo refers to the human embryo and is used to refer to early life from conception until the eighth week. The term early embryo is used to refer to embryos less than 14 days old.

  • ii See also UK Parliament Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. London, HMSO, 1990: 190 where the Act uses similar language in the context of the destruction of spare embryos by stating that after the statutory storage period they ‘shall be allowed to perish’.

  • Competing interests: None.

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