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Genes, Embryos, and Future People

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Testing embryonic cells for genetic abnormalities gives us the capacity to predict whether and to what extent people will exist with disease and disability. Moreover, the freezing of embryos for long periods of time enables us to alter the length of a normal human lifespan. After highlighting the shortcomings of somatic-cell gene therapy and germ-line genetic alteration, I argue that the testing and selective termination of genetically defective embryos is the only medically and morally defensible way to prevent the existence of people with severe disability, pain and suffering that make their lives not worth living for them on the whole. In addition, I consider the possible harmful effects on children born from frozen embryos after the deaths of their biological parents, or when their parents are at an advanced age. I also explore whether embryos have moral status and whether the prospects for disease-preventing genetic alteration can justify long-term cryopreservation of embryos.

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, University of Calgary

Publication date: July 1, 1998

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