The Moral status of the (spare) embryo

John Forge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article examines the main objection to embryonic stem cell research. While some believe that adult stem cells may be as effective as embryonic stem cells in treating cellular diseases, it is generally accepted that opportunities for therapy will be maximized if research into both types of stem cell is conducted. The embryos from which these cells are to be harvested would be about five days old, and unwanted in the sense that they are spares from in vitro fertilization programs. Moral subjects are all and only those organisms that can feel pain. Embryos cannot feel pain, and so they are not moral subjects. This characterization links the status of being moral subject in a direct way with an interpretation of what it is to do harm, namely to cause pain. One might object that causing pain is not the only way to do harm, but it might turn out that only organisms that can feel pain can be harmed, even though not all harm involves pain. There are other ways to argue against giving the embryo full moral status--for instance the consequentialist line. But not all many of them are likely to appeal to members of the community who have deep-seated religious beliefs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-43
Number of pages5
JournalSocial alternatives
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2003

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'The Moral status of the (spare) embryo'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this