Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


As the debate on the ethics of ex utero research on spare in vitro ('IVF') human embryos has evolved, the focus has been primarily on the moral status of the developing human and the potential societal consequences of continued embryological research. For this reason, at the outset, I critically review the relevant literature on personhood and humanhood, and also canvass the many consequentialist arguments both for and against embryological research. In the first chapter, I conclude that the controversy surrounding embryological research cannot be resolved a priori on the basis of evaluative and stipulative definitions. In the second chapter, I conclude that although the potential harms of embryological research are significant, they do not outweigh the potential benefits.;Next, existing proposals for limited embryological research are critically examined, with particular attention given to those arguments that attribute moral relevance to a specific developmental feature. In turn, the problems with the various proposals for limiting embryological research to early cleavage, the beginning of implantation, the completion of implantation, the formation of the primitive streak, etc., are systematically exposed.;Then, in the final chapters, the assumption that human embryos are a homogeneous class is explicitly rejected. A distinction is drawn between: (1) 'IVF' human embryos that, by virtue of their specific constitution and given available medical technology have the potential for continued human growth and development (viable 'IVF' human embryos); and (2) 'IVF' human embryos that do not have this potential and whose death is imminent and unavoidable (non-viable 'IVF' human embryos). On this basis, a distinction between morally acceptable and unacceptable embryological research is then argued for according to which non-viable 'IVF' human embryos morally may be targeted for research provided that: (1) the research is aimed at legitimate scientific, medical, or diagnostic objective(s); (2) the scientific validity of the research is assured; (3) the anticipated benefits are proportionate to the anticipated harms; and (4) the gamete donors (and, as necessary, the prospective social parents) voluntarily consent to the specific aims of the proposed research. Finally, the limitations as well as the merits of the proposed alternative approach to embryological research are briefly considered.



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