Futures of Value and the Destruction of Human Embryos

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 39 (3):pp. 463-88 (2009)
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Abstract
Many people are strongly opposed to the intentional destruction of human embryos, whether it be for purposes scientific, reproductive, or other. 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. An individual who has a future 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. 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).
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