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Ancestor embryos: embryonic gametes and genetic parenthood
  1. Helen Watt
  1. Correspondence to Dr Helen Watt, Anscombe Bioethics Centre, 17 Beaumont Street, Oxford OX1 2NA, UK; h.watt{at}


The proposal for reproducing human generations in vitro raises the question to what extent parenthood is possible in embryos and to what extent human rights and interests are dependent on conscious awareness. This paper argues that the interest in not being made a parent non-consensually for the benefit of others persists throughout the lifespan of the individual human organism. We do not become genetic parents by learning that we are parents; rather, we discover (or fail to discover) an existing genetic relationship between our offspring and ourselves. The claim to genetic parenthood of an embryo used for reproduction in vitro is, if anything, clearer than the claim of the adult for whom gametes are derived via ips cells, in that an embryo's cells, unlike an adult's somatic cells, are already functionally geared to producing gametes (among other types of cell). An embryo used to make gametes that are used in reproduction is immediately and non-consensually made a genetic parent and to that extent is wronged whether or not the parent embryo survives—as some could survive—the harvesting of cells. All human individuals carry objective interests in benefits appropriate to the kind of being they are; these include the stake in not being made a parent without one's consent, whether posthumously or otherwise.

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Informed Consent
  • Embryonic Stem Cells
  • In Vitro Fertilization and Embryo Transfer
  • Embryos and Fetuses

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