The "Special Status" of the Human Embryo in the United Kingdom: An Exploration of the Use of Language in Public Policy

Human Reproduction and Genetic Ethics 17 (1):66-83 (2011)
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Abstract

There is an apparent gap between public policy on embryo research in the United Kingdom and its ostensible justification. The rationale is respect for the “special status” of the embryo, but the policy actively promotes research in which embryos are destroyed. Richard Harries argues that this is consistent because, the “special status” of the human embryo is less than the absolute status of persons. However, this intermediate moral status does no evident work in decisions relating to the human embryo. Rather, public policy seems to be based on a different account of “special status”: that developed by Mary Warnock. According to this, the embryo has no inherent status and the language of “special status” serves rather to accommodate the feelings of those who object to embryo research. This “emotivist” account is highly problematic, not so much for its attitude to the embryo as for its subversion of public moral reasoning

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