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Double-effect reasoning and the conception of human embryos


Some commentators argue that conception signals the onset of human personhood and that moral responsibilities toward zygotic or embryonic persons begin at this point, not the least of which is to protect them from exposure to death. Critics of the conception threshold of personhood ask how it can be morally consistent to object to the embryo loss that occurs in fertility medicine and research but not object to the significant embryo loss that occurs through conception in vivo. Using that apparent inconsistency as a starting point, they argue that if that embryo loss is tolerable as a way of conceiving children, it should be tolerable in fertility medicine and human embryonic research. Double-effect reasoning shows, by contrast, that conception in vivo is justified even if it involves the death of persons because the motives for wanting children are not inherently objectionable, because the embryo loss that occurs in unassisted conception is not the means by which successful conception occurs, and because the effect of having children is proportionate to the loss involved. A similar outcome holds true for in vitro fertilisation in fertility medicine but not for in vitro fertilisation for research involving human embryos.

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Research Ethics
  • Embryos and Fetuses

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