The metaphysical foundations of reproductive ethics

Journal of Applied Philosophy 26 (2):190-204 (2009)
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Abstract

Many bioethicists working in reproductive ethics tacitly assume some theory of diachronic personal identity. For example, Peter Singer argues that there is no identity relation between a foetus and a future individual because the former shares no robust mental connections with the latter. Consequently, abortion prevents the existence of an individual; it does not destroy an already existing individual. Singer's argument implicitly appeals to the psychological account of personal identity, which, although endorsed by many philosophers such as Derek Parfit, is contentious. Singer does not attempt to defend the psychological account before applying it to the moral permissibility of abortion. Indeed, with some notable exceptions, very few bioethicists attempt antecedently to defend their chosen theory of personal identity before applying it to their ethical arguments. In this paper, I look at the issues of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and human reproductive cloning in order to illustrate how many of the arguments made by bioethicists on these topics are, at least partly, based upon veiled metaphysical assumptions. My objective is to illustrate that progress can be made on these topics by attending to their fundamental metaphysical claims.

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