The afterlife of embryonic persons: what a strange place heaven must be

Reproductive Biomedicine Online 25:684-688 (2012)
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Some commentators argue that conception constitutes the onset of human personhood in a metaphysical sense. This threshold is usually invoked as the basis both for protecting zygotes and embryos from exposure to risks of death in clinical research and fertility medicine and for objecting to abortion, but it also has consequences for certain religious perspectives, including Catholicism whose doctrines directly engage questions of personhood and its meanings. Since more human zygotes and embryos are lost than survive to birth, conferral of personhood on them would mean – for those believing in personal immortality – that these persons constitute the majority of people living immortally despite having had only the shortest of earthly lives. For those believing in resurrection, zygotes and embryos would also be restored to physical lives. These outcomes do not mean that conception cannot function as a metaphysical threshold of personhood, but this interpretation carries costs that others do not. For example, treating conception as a moral threshold of respect for human life in general, rather than as a metaphysical threshold of personhood, would obviate the prospect of the afterlife being populated in the main by persons who have never lived more than a few hours or days.

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