Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics



THE GREAT DEBATES

Sexual Reproduction Is a Survival Lottery


JOHN  HARRIS  a1
a1 John Harris, D.Phil., is Sir David Alliance Professor of Bioethics, Institute of Medicine, Law, and Bioethics, School of Law, University of Manchester, United Kingdom

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I have argued that because human sexual reproduction inevitably involves the creation and destruction of embryos, it is a problematic activity for those who believe that the embryo is “one of us.” Or, if it is not a problematic activity, then neither is the creation and destruction of embryos for a purpose of comparable moral seriousness—the development of lifesaving therapy, for example. I assume that, whereas it is possible for the very first act of unprotected intercourse to result in a live human baby, and hence not in a given case cause any embryo loss, this is a rare event and that, statistically, for every live birth from three to five embryos must be created only to die. For dramatic effect, I assume that five is a reasonable figure, giving each embryo a 20% chance of survival; however, nothing in the argument depends on any specific figures being correct. a



Footnotes

a Søren Holm has been an important source of ideas for this paper. Julian Savulescu has also been very generous in commenting in detail on this paper, and I have taken account of the critique that I have received.



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