In this paper, we examine the notion put forward by certain groups (largely as a consequence of their opposition to elective abortion) that the immediate post-fertilization cellular entity—the zygote—is a person and should be given full moral status. Because the zygote has none of the inherent characteristics necessary to be regarded as a person in the traditional philosophical sense (e.g., John Locke or Immanuel Kant), some advocates of this position attempt to advance their case with arguments based on the genetic potential of the human zygote to develop into a person. We argue that this position represents a flawed use of human genetics and ignores the extraordinarily inefficient and wasteful nature of human reproduction. We then explore the public policy consequences that would follow from granting the zygote full moral status. We conclude that the logical consequences of granting the zygote full moral status would require a revolutionary restructuring of many basic social institutions, especially the health care system. The social, political, and economic changes that would be required if the zygote is enshrined as a person in law constitute a convincing reductio ad absurdum that demonstrates the danger in taking this position seriously.


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pp. 602-610
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