PHIL 226, Week 11: Reproductive Technologies

Zombie Ethics (not on exam!)

Blog on zombie ethics.

  1. Do Zombies have rights? 
  2. Do voodoo Zombies have different rights than virus Zombies?
  3. Are Zombies persons?
  4. Do Zombies have needs?
  5. Should ethical decision making consider consequences for Zombies?
  6. Should we care about Zombies?
  7. Should we care about future generations of Zombies?
  8. Should Zombies be covered by universal health plans?
  9. Do Zombies have a right to informed consent?
  10. Is killing Zombies euthanasia?
  11. How do Zombies affect international justice?

Issues: Right or Wrong?

  1. Birth control
  2. Genetic screening for birth defects
  3. In vitro fertilization (IVF)
  4. Sperm and egg donors (voluntary, paid)
  5. Stem cell research
  6. Surrogate motherhood
  7. Genetic enhancement
  8. Cloning
  9. Parthenogenesis
  10. Chimeras/hybrids
  11. Gene patenting

The Catholic View

God created human life.

Human life is sacred.

Persons begin at conception.

Procreation requires marriage and the conjugal act.

So, in vitro fertilization is wrong.

In Vitro Fertilization

Homologous (married couple) vs heterologous (1 or 2 donors)

Arguments for:

Arguments against:

Overall's Criteria for In Vitro Fertilization

  1. Informed choice: risks and alternatives.
  2. Eliminate irrelevant barriers, such as marital status.
  3. Track long term effects. Donors not vendors.
  4. Provide support for participants in IVF programs.

Conceiving a Child to Save a Child

Case study: Marissa Ayala born 1990, to provide bone marrow transplant for sister with leukemia.

Arguments that the parents acted wrongly.

1. Marissa is being used as a means to an end, treated as an object.

2. Marissa would be harmed by learning why she was conceived.

3. Personal relationships are endangered.

Arguments that the parents acted rightly.

1. The parents planned to love Marissa fully, so she is not just a means.

2. Marissa would already have a good relationship by the time she was told.

3. Families have a right to privacy.

4. Good consequences for Marissa's sister and parents.

Genetic Enhancement

Initial Distinctions

Therapy: treat a disease.

Enhancement: improve human functioning. E.g. athletic, mental, cosmetic.

Somatic gene therapy: modify genes that affect only the current patient.

Germline gene therapy: modify genes that will be passed on to offspring.

Claim: Gene therapy is moral, but genetic enhancement is not.

The Concept of Disease

Biological approach: Diseases are defects in functional abilities.

Value-laden approach: Disease concepts depend on social values.

- Makes it much harder to defend therapy/enhancement distinction.

Arguments Against Genetic Enhancement

Inequality: some people would get an unfair advantage.

Bad consequences: different tiers of society would arise.

Slippery slope: Nazi type eugenics would follow.

Enhancement changes the human form.

Germline enhancement violates the rights of the unborn.

Genetic enhancement could have negative side effects. Compare steroids.

Arguments For Genetic Enhancement

Autonomy: People have a right to alter their bodies.

Consequence: People would be happier and more successful.

Consequence: Humanity would be improved.

Resnik's Conclusions

Genetic enhancement is not inherently immoral, nor is genetic therapy inherently moral.


"Reproductive cloning is a technology used to generate an animal that has the same nuclear DNA as another currently or previously existing animal. Dolly [the cloned sheep] was created by reproductive cloning technology. In a process called "somatic cell nuclear transfer" (SCNT), scientists transfer genetic material from the nucleus of a donor adult cell to an egg whose nucleus, and thus its genetic material, has been removed. The reconstructed egg containing the DNA from a donor cell must be treated with chemicals or electric current in order to stimulate cell division. Once the cloned embryo reaches a suitable stage, it is transferred to the uterus of a female host where it continues to develop until birth."

Arguments Against Reproductive Cloning of Humans

Cloning humans is unnatural.

Cloning humans is playing God.

Cloning humans is contrary to human dignity.

Cloned people would be used as means, not ends, e.g. as replicas.

Arguments For Reproductive Cloning of Humans

Technology should not be limited.

Cloning would increase happiness of parents of cloned children.

Species enhancement: Cloning could be used to improve the quality of humanity, e.g. altruism, competition with machines.

Misapplications of cloning could be prevented.

Embryonic Stem Cell Research

"Stem cells are primal, undifferentiated cells which have the unique potential to produce any kind of cell in the body. Medical researchers believe stem cells have the potential to change the face of human disease by being used to repair specific tissues or to grow organs."

Blastocyst: 5-day old embryo with about 100 cells.

Arguments Against Research Using Embryonic Stem Cells

Human embryos, no matter how small, are human beings with full rights.

In vitro fertilization and stem cell research lead to production of embryos that should not be killed.

Stem cells can be obtained from umbilical cords and other sources.

Embryos would be used for non-medical research, e.g. toxicology.

Arguments For Research Using Embryonic Stem Cells

This research can lead to better understanding and treatment of diseases, e.g. diabetes, increasing human happiness.

Appropriate uses of embryos and stem cells can be regulated. Perform research only when good reasons exist for it.


Review Questions for Week 11

1. What is stem cell research and why is it scientifically attractive but ethically problematic?

2. Why is the Catholic Church opposed to in vitro fertilization?

3. Why does Overall think that artificial reproduction is neither a right nor a privilege?

4. Short essay question: Is in vitro fertilization morally right or wrong? For each option, discuss: consequences pro, con, and overall; rights pro, con, and overall; your overall conclusion concerning the options based on consequences and rights.

5. Why does Jecker think that it is not always immoral to conceive a child to save a child?

6. What does Resnik think is wrong with the distinction between therapy and enhancement?

7. Short essay question: Is genetic enhancement moral? Discuss the pros and cons.

8. What does Baylis think are the three mistakes that people make in discussing the ethics of reproductive cloning?

9. Why does Robertson think that embryonic stem cell research is sometimes justified?

10. Short essay question: Should human reproductive cloning be permitted? For each option, discuss: consequences pro, con, and overall; rights pro, con, and overall; your overall conclusion concerning the options based on consequences and rights.


Phil 226

Computational Epistemology Laboratory.

Paul Thagard

This page updated Nov. 19, 2012