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Creation Ethics and the harms of existence
  1. Leslie Francis
  1. Correspondence to Professor Leslie Francis, Department of Philosophy and Law, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA; francisl{at}

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David DeGrazia's Creation Ethics 1 is a fascinating effort to present a consistent account of creation in many contexts—from reproduction, to self-creation through genetic enhancement, to the creation of entire future generations. For reasons of space, this comment addresses the related discussions of bearing children in wrongful life cases (chapter 5) and bearing children with disadvantages (chapter 6).

DeGrazia's views about moral status ground the volume: (1) our biological identity (ie, our identity as an organism, not our narrative identity) begins at a point reasonably close to fertilisation, when twinning or merger is no longer possible; (2) sentience is sufficient for moral status, but the claim that it is necessary condition is roughly as (in)defensible as that the potential for sentience is sufficient for moral status; and (3) the capacity to care about a lost future is relevant to the harm of death. At the level of political theory, DeGrazia holds that where there is reasonable ethical disagreement, the state should not impose one view on others and thus neither forbid nor use public funds to support disputed practices.

About procreative duties, DeGrazia walks similarly fine liberal lines. DeGrazia's views about biological identity imply that before postconception uniqueness, there is no individual to be harmed or wronged. Thus, any individual-affecting account of the harms or wrongs involved in procreation must rest in postconception circumstances. This point explains the difference between decisions about whether to start a child (where there is no ‘before’ individual on which to base comparisons) and decisions about an entity that has been started and can be harmed. Comparative or counterfactual analyses of harm—that the individual was or would have been better off in the condition of non-existence—thus cannot explain wrong life claims. Instead, an individual-affecting analysis of why a birth is wrongful might be that the …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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