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  • Futures of Value and the Destruction of Human Embryos
  • Rob Lovering (bio)

I Introduction

Many people are strongly opposed to the intentional destruction of human embryos, whether it be for purposes scientific, reproductive, or other.1 And it is not uncommon for such people to argue against the destruction of human embryos by invoking the claim that the destruction of human embryos is morally on par with killing the following humans: (A) the standard infant, (B) the suicidal teenager, (C) the temporarily comatose individual, and (D) the standard adult. I argue here that this claim is false and do so as follows. First, I provide an account of the prima facie wrongness of killing individuals (A) – (D). Briefly, I contend that individuals (A) – (D) have a certain property in common, that of having a future of value.2 An individual who has a future [End Page 463] of value has the potential to (i) value goods of consciousness when he will (or would) experience them and (ii) do so as a psychologically continuous individual. And depriving an individual of a future of value is prima facie wrong. Killing an individual deprives him of a future of value. Thus, killing an individual who has a future of value is prima facie wrong. Since individuals (A) – (D) have futures of value, killing them is prima facie wrong.

Second, I argue that, given this account of the prima facie wrongness of killing individuals (A) – (D), the destruction of individual (E), the standard embryo, is not morally on par with killing individuals (A) – (D). For, unlike individuals (A) – (D), the standard embryo does not have a future of value. Specifically, I argue that having a future of value involves having the second-order potential for psychological continuity, a potential that individuals (A) – (D) have but that individual (E) does not.3 For possessing the second-order potential for psychological continuity requires the possession of psychological states, something individuals (A) – (D) have but that individual (E) lacks. Hence, individual (E) does not share with individuals (A) – (D) the property of having a future of value and, in turn, is not deprived of one when it is killed. Thus, given my proposed account of the prima facie wrongness of killing individuals (A) – (D), killing individual (E) is not morally on par with killing individuals (A) – (D).

Before moving on from this introduction, it should be noted that the view I defend here is the product of numerous philosophical influences, notably those of Don Marquis and Jeff McMahan. Indeed, the work of both Marquis and McMahan is heavily leaned upon in what follows. Accordingly, I should make it clear that, though I agree with much of what they have to say on the issue of the moral status of killing, I disagree with them in numerous and significant ways. Regarding Marquis, the ways in which I disagree with him will be made abundantly clear as the paper develops. And regarding McMahan, whereas I accept what he refers to as the 'Harm-Based' account of the prima facie wrongness [End Page 464] of killing, he rejects it.4 This alone constitutes a significant difference between McMahan's position on the moral status of destroying human embryos and the position I defend here.

II Don Marquis's Future of Value Argument Against Killing Individuals (A) – (E)

Given that my account of the prima facie wrongness of killing individuals (A) – (D) relies, to an extent, on Marquis's account of the prima facie wrongness of killing individuals (A) – (E), I will begin with a summary of it.5

Most people agree that it is prima facie wrong to kill the following humans: (A) the standard infant, (B) the suicidal teenager, (C) the temporarily comatose individual, and (D) the standard adult. If we can determine what property or set of properties the possession of which is sufficient to make killing such individuals prima facie wrong, we can then determine whether individual (E), the standard embryo, shares that property or set of properties with them. If it does, then just as it is prima facie wrong to kill individuals (A) – (D), so it is prima facie wrong to destroy individual (E).

According...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-0820
Print ISSN
0045-5091
Pages
pp. 463-488
Launched on MUSE
2009-12-20
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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