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Chapter 18: Ethical issues in reproductive physiology.


* Define ethics.

* Explore the relationship between science and ethics.

* Discuss approaches to addressing ethical issues in reproductive physiology.


Our desire to satisfy our curiosity about the world may be sufficient justification for studying the reproductive physiology of mammals. Nevertheless, from the perspective of society, such endeavors require more pragmatic reasons. As noted in Chapter 1, the major reason industrialized societies allocate resources to studying reproductive physiology is directly related to a desire to achieve a sustainable balance between human populations and vital resources such as food. Thus far, our emphasis has been on developing a scientific understanding of the physiologic processes controlling reproduction in mammals. However, our appreciation for this knowledge would be incomplete without also considering the social implications of putting this knowledge to use. In this chapter we will explore ideas concerning how we should use this knowledge. In other words, we will consider some ethical perspectives of reproductive physiology.


One way to gain appreciation for what ethics, also known as moral philosophy, is all about is to consider a popular issue such as whether or not we should regulate human birth rates with methods that terminate rather than prevent pregnancy; that is, induced abortion. There is no question that we have the technological means to do this. Our knowledge of human reproduction has given rise to surgical and nonsurgical methods that effectively terminate pregnancy. The question of whether or not we ought to do this is more controversial. Ethics seeks to provide answers to how people ought to behave. So, the question of whether or not we should use abortion as a means of birth control is an ethical question.

The reason such questions are so controversial is that there are usually more than one answer to them and there are typically good reasons to support opposing answers. Who is to say which view is the correct one? Is there only one correct view? Can there ever be agreement on such controversial issues? In this chapter we will explore how ethics might help us understand and possibly address issues such as these.

Normative Ethics

Each of us is confronted with a multitude of ethical decisions each day. Should I attend class? Should I check on my friend who is ill? Should I purchase clothing made by people who work in sweatshops? Should I donate my time or money to a charity? When you choose a course of action for these types of questions you have made an ethical judgment. When you tell a friend that she should return the credit cards she found, you are giving ethical advice. When you tell a teacher that his grading policy is unfair, you are making an ethical evaluation. This type of ethical activity is typically referred to as normative ethics. This involves making and/or evaluating judgments about what ought to be done or giving advice about such ideas based on prescribed norms and standards. It is important to note that each day we make many of these types of judgments almost automatically, without much critical reflection.

Philosophical Ethics

At times we encounter situations where it is difficult to make snap decisions about what should be done. For example, you might have to decide between studying for an exam and having lunch with a good friend. You may be torn between the obligations you have to yourself and the ones you have to your friend. A decision regarding what you should do may require some thought. In other words, you weigh the pros and cons of each course of action and then make a decision as to which obligations are stronger in this case. When you start analyzing and evaluating your options in order to make an ethical judgment, you are engaged in philosophical ethics. Philosophical ethics involves analyzing (taking apart) and critiquing normative judgments along with the reasons that support these judgments. An ethical judgment along with its supporting reasons (premises) is known as an ethical argument. Philosophical ethics deals with the critical analysis of ethical arguments.

Ethical Theory

Philosophers who deal with the theoretical aspects of ethics are said to be ethical theorists. Work in ethical theory involves developing ideas regarding the nature of good and right as well as how we should go about promoting these values. Ethical theories develop from our cultural notions of what is good and right. Ethical theorists attempt to clarify these ideas and transform them into law-like formulations. For example, it was long recognized that people seek happiness and try to avoid suffering and that actions that increased happiness and/or minimized suffering are considered good, whereas actions that reduce happiness and/or increase suffering are considered bad. Some ethical theorists took these ideas and formulated what is known as the utilitarian theory of ethics. Briefly, the theory embraces the notion that we should judge our actions as good or bad based on the extent to which they promote happiness and/or minimize suffering. Another theory that is quite influential in our society is deontological ethics. According to this view, each of us has a duty to respect the individual rights of others. We will discuss these ideas in more detail later in this chapter.

Ethics and Social Issues

We can now return to our original question of how ethics might help us address controversial issues associated with reproductive physiology. At the very least, ethics offers us a means to understand the nature of these issues. Analysis of opposing arguments illuminates the sources of disagreement between two perspectives. Opposing views are often grounded in different ethical theories, or different interpretations of a particular ethical theory. Consider the issue of abortion, for example. One of the major sources of disagreement between pro-abortion and anti-abortion groups deals with the question of whether or not a human conceptus has a right to life. In this case, there is disagreement over how rights-based ethics should apply to this issue.

Can ethics be more than just a tool to understand disagreements over what should be done? In theory, the answer to this question is yes. One of the fundamental assumptions of Western ethics is that humans should choose the most rational course of action because it is in our nature to do so. In other words, we should choose the course of action that is supported by the best reasons. Thus ethical truth (i.e., what is truly the right thing to do) is generally understood to be the best ethical argument. Many people are skeptical about this view. The issues with which we struggle most are extremely difficult to resolve because each of the opposing groups is convinced that they are right and the other groups are wrong. Compromise seems out of the question over issues such as abortion. Ethical analysis can reveal whether or not an argument is valid, but in cases where each of the competing arguments is valid, we may have to accept that there might be more than one right answer (i.e., an ethical pluralism). Nevertheless, societies are confronted with the task of addressing issues, while at the same time dealing with the reality of ethical pluralism. Frequently such issues are settled politically rather than ethically. Because of this problem, some ethicists (pragmatists) focus their attention more on how ethical issues should be addressed politically rather than the analysis and critique of ethical theories and ethical arguments.


Having described the nature of ethics, we can now consider how science and ethics are related. The general goal of science is to explain how the world is. Scientific inquiries are aimed at developing detailed, meticulous, well-documented, and verifiable accounts of the world. In order to eliminate bias, scientific investigators work toward being objective in their descriptions and explanations. In science, objectivity requires that accounts of the world be impartial (not favoring a particular perspective), accurate (without error), and rational (interpretations of data are limited to only what the results support).

Although objectivity is the goal of science, it is not an outcome that occurs automatically from our scientific methods. Science is ultimately a human activity and humans, even scientists, can be biased, make errors, and behave irrationally. In fact, objectivity may be more of an ideal that scientists strive to achieve knowing full well that is never fully achieved. It may be more appropriate to say that a scientist can develop an objective attitude than to say that a scientist can be completely unbiased, accurate, and rational. In this sense, objectivity is a virtue much like honesty or bravery.

Why can't science be truly objective? The main reason is that all scientific theories are value laden to some extent. In other words, scientific theories embody the personal preferences of scientists as well as the values of society. Values, including moral values, influence what scientific questions are posed, how scientific research programs are developed, how scientific experiments are conducted, and how scientific data are interpreted. To put it simply, the scientific answers we obtain depend to a large extent on the questions posed by scientists, and there is no reason to assume that such questions are not biased in some way. This becomes clear when we consider who sets the agendas for scientific research. To a large extent, the questions scientists address are those of interest to the people willing to pay for scientific research; that is, government agencies and private industry. These forces shape not only which issues will be addressed but also how they will be addressed. Consider the issue of starvation in nonindustrialized regions of the world. This problem can be viewed as a question of resource production, resource consumption, or overpopulation. If the issue is viewed as one of production, then research, on production of food makes sense. On the other hand, if the issue is viewed as one of consumption, then it makes sense to support research on the efficiency of resource use. Finally, if the issue is viewed as one of overpopulation, it seems logical to direct research toward human reproduction. There is evidence to support each view, but the perspective one chooses determines how one will address the issue. This illustrates how three different sets of scientific facts can serve three different approaches to research, each of which advocates a different set of perspectives and values. Perpetuating one particular approach (e.g., increasing food production) to scientific research promotes only one concept of what the world should be like (e.g., using particular technologies that increase crop yields); that is, it promotes a particular concept of ethics.

Reasoning from Facts to Values

Our faith in the objectivity of science often compels us to conclude that an ethical judgment can be derived from scientific facts. As noted earlier, the opposite is more likely true: that is, an ethical perspective leads to construction of scientific facts. Arguments that draw ethical conclusions strictly from empirical observations are irrational. The following example illustrates this. Suppose the prevailing view is that starvation is the result of overpopulation and this prompts international agencies to provide huge sums of money for scientists to engage in research on developing and distributing new birth control methods to nations with high birth rates. Population data clearly show that the populations of some nations either do or will surpass the ability of these countries to feed all of their people. Clearly, a reduction in birth rates will help alleviate this problem. This might lead you to conclude that measures to reduce birth rate are good and therefore should be imposed (an ethical conclusion). The argument to support this conclusion can be written as follows:

* Conclusion: Birth control policies should be imposed in nations with large populations and limited resources in order to reduce birth rates and ultimately create a sustainable balance between population and food.

* Premise 1: The populations of these countries will soon be too large to support with available resources.

* Premise 2: Reducing birth rates will bring populations down to sizes that can be sustained with available resources.

* Premise 3: Policies that promote birth control reduce birth rates.

At first glance the argument may appear to be both valid (logical) and sound (based on true premises). However, closer examination reveals that the argument is not at all valid. In fact it is an example of jumping to conclusions.

Notice that the conclusion is an ethical conclusion; that is, it prescribes what ought to be done about the issue of starvation. Also notice that each of the premises is an empirical claim. Descriptions of how the world is do not necessarily lead us to conclusions regarding how the world ought to be. There seems to be a missing premise; that is, one that makes some general ethical claim. Consider the following modification of the previous argument in support of birth control:

* Conclusion: Birth control measures should be imposed in nations with large populations and limited resources in order to reduce birth rates and ultimately create a sustainable balance between population and food.

* Premise 1: The populations of these countries will soon be too large to support with available resources.

* Premise 2: Reducing birth rates will bring populations down to sizes that can be sustained with available resources.

* Premise 3: Policies that promote birth control reduce birth rates.

* Premise 4: A society should take whatever actions are necessary to create a sustainable balance between population and food.

By including premise 4, the argument becomes valid. In other words, the conclusion is now a direct consequence of the premises. Unlike premises 1 through 3, premise 4 cannot be proven to be true or false simply by making empirical observations. This premise is an example of a general moral premise; that is, a widely accepted, law-like claim regarding what is right. The truth value of this type of premise is based on our judgment of what is appropriate based on existing norms and standards as well as our experiences. Often these premises are left out of arguments concerning public policy. Nevertheless, when arguing in favor of a particular course of action, it is just as important to be clear about the general moral premise as it is to be accurate in using factual premises. As noted earlier, society embraces different values and there is often disagreement regarding which value is appropriate for a particular issue. Some people may argue that societies should not use any measures to develop a sustainable society if such measures infringe upon the rights of individuals.

Integrating Science and Ethics

The main point to be gleaned from the previous discussion is that scientific accounts of the world are often biased and that such bias is not necessarily detected and/or eliminated by conventional scientific methods as is frequently assumed. Science alone cannot discern, let alone evaluate, the ethical perspectives it embraces. Scientific research aimed at developing methods for reducing birth rate cannot address the question of whether or not birth rate ought to be reduced. This is an appropriate role for ethical analysis. Thus, if society expects to have a science that is responsible in the sense that it perpetuates a desired ethical perspective, then it has to find a way to integrate science and ethics. This can be accomplished if we reject the belief that science is valuefree and insist that scientific research be evaluated from both ethical and scientific perspectives. In other words, each of us, scientist and nonscientist alike, should ask not only if it can be done, but also whether or not it should it be done.

Based on the previous chapters it is clear that our knowledge of the reproductive physiology of mammals is extensive. This knowledge has been used to manipulate the reproductive activity of many mammalian species, including humans. What sorts of ethical issues are associated with this understanding? In general we can divide these issues into two categories: 1) issues arising from how reproductive physiology research is conducted and 2) issues arising from the way our knowledge of reproductive physiology is put to use. The former area includes consideration of research ethics; that is, how research should be done. This would include important questions concerning if humans and nonhuman animals should be used in research and, if so, how they should be treated when serving as research subjects.

The second type of ethical issue deals with reproduction technologies. A general question is whether or not we should attempt to manipulate the reproductive activity of humans and nonhumans. More specific questions deal with whether or not particular technologies should be developed and used. As mentioned earlier, the dominant ethical concerns of society involve humans. With respect to the use of reproduction technologies, an important issue is whether or not human embryos and fetuses should be destroyed as a means to prevent birth, or to provide stem cells for research and medical treatments. This is not to say that there are no ethical issues concerning the use of these technologies in nonhuman animals. If these animals are to be included in the so-called moral community, then it is appropriate to consider whether or not such technologies affect their well-being as well. This of course raises a more general question; should animals be raised and killed for human use?

It is not feasible to provide comprehensive ethical analyses for all of the ethical issues related to reproductive physiology. The purpose of this chapter is to describe how ethics can be used to better understand controversial issues associated with the field of reproductive physiology, with the hope of finding reasonable and fair solutions to these issues. The following sections will provide ethical analyses of two important issues: 1) Should abortion be allowed? and 2) Should nonhuman animals be used for research and food? The controversial question underlying both of these issues is, who or what should be considered part of the moral community? Disagreement about the nature of the moral community provides the basis for other ethical issues in reproductive physiology; for example, whether or not human embryos should be cloned in order to provide stem cells (see Box 18-1).


Abortions were permitted in the United States until the beginning of the twentieth century. The motivation for making abortion illegal stemmed from a desire to discourage illicit sexual activity, a belief that abortion was not a safe medical procedure and the concern among some groups that it was morally wrong to kill a fetus. However, in January 1973, the Supreme Court ruled on the now famous case of Roe v. Wade thereby legalizing the practice of abortion in this country. The rationale for striking down laws that prohibited abortion was that they violated a woman's constitutionally-protected right to privacy. It is noteworthy that the Court did not make a judgment concerning whether or not a fetus should be considered a person in the ordinary sense of the word. It did, however, conclude that a fetus is not a person in the legal sense. The majority opinion of the court includes the following statement:
   ... [N]o case could be cited that holds that a fetus is a person
   within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment ... the word
   "person," as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the
   unborn ...

The important implication of this conclusion is that a human fetus has no rights that are protected by the constitution of the United States. But does this make abortion right? What is legal is not necessarily ethical. Recall that it was once illegal for women to own property or to vote. Laws that granted these rights to women were enacted only after there was growing consensus that it was unethical to deny a woman such rights. Whether or not abortion is a practice we ought to allow is an ethical issue as long as there is disagreement over whether or not it should be allowed. Although resolution of this issue seems elusive, the following discussion of ethical arguments concerning the moral status of abortion is offered in the spirit of achieving a deeper understanding of this important issue.

Is a Human Fetus a Person?

Before delving into a detailed discussion of this issue, it is important to clarify some of the language used in the ethical and legal literature concerning abortion. As described in an earlier chapter, development of the conceptus is typically divided into embryonic and fetal phases. In the discourse concerning abortion, the term embryo and fetus are used interchangeably. For convenience and consistency, the term fetus will be used in this chapter as a general term to refer to the conceptus.

Much of the debate concerning the morality of abortion hinges on whether or not the human fetus should be considered to be a person in the moral sense. This aspect of the debate reflects the traditional assumption that only persons have moral standing. One of the earliest and most influential ethical arguments against abortion was developed by John Noonan, a law professor. According to Noonan a human being is created at the time of conception. Therefore a human fetus has moral standing that confers on it the right to be protected from harm. Noonan concludes that abortion is rarely justified.

Noonan's argument rests on the premise that a human fetus is a person. In order to verify this premise, he first discusses how the fetus can be classified as a human being, and then focuses on refuting various arguments that make a distinction between a fetus and a person. Noonan refers to the Christian theological concept of "ensoulment" to demonstrate that a human conceptus is a person and insists that this idea does not require a theological basis and can be understood in secular terms. What theologians call a human soul can be translated to the term "rational soul" or, in more scientific terms, the human genome. Basically Noonan asserts that "a being with a human genetic code is a [hu]man," or to put it more simply, a human is anyone conceived by human parents. From this line of reasoning, Noonan concludes that a human being forms at the time of conception.

After arguing that personhood is established at conception, Noonan turns his attention to refuting claims that a human fetus can be distinguished from a person in morally significant ways. He notes that several major distinctions have received attention in the debate over abortion. These include viability (whether the fetus can survive on its own), experience (whether the fetus can have experiences), sentiments (how parents and other persons feel about the fetus), sensation (whether the parents can feel the fetus), and social visibility (whether the fetus is socially perceived as human). Noonan challenges these ideas by providing counterexamples that suggest these distinctions are unclear at best. For example, he argues that the ability to survive independently (i.e., viability) fails to provide a clear distinction between a fetus and a person because children between 3 and 5 years of age are absolutely dependent on another person's care. The problem with using such distinctions to establish a particular point in development is that development is a continuum without demarcations. For Noonan the clearest distinction between the human and nonhuman occurs at syngamy.

Mary Anne Warren offers one of the strongest challenges to Noonan's argument against abortion. A clearer understanding of the disagreement between Noonan and Warren can be gained by outlining the general structure of Noonan's argument.

* Conclusion: It is wrong to abort a human fetus.

* Premise 1 (General Moral Premise): It is wrong to kill innocent human beings.

* Premise 2: A human being is any living thing possessing a full complement of the human genome.

* Premise 3: Human fetuses possess the human genome.

* Premise 4: Human fetuses are innocent.

* Premise 5: Abortion kills human fetuses.

Warren's critique of Noonan's argument focuses on Premise 2. Her major criticism is that he fails to distinguish between two commonsense definitions of the term human; that is, one that has ethical significance (the moral sense) and one that does not (the genetic sense). Warren notes that Noonan defines the fetus as human in the genetic sense, but does not provide justification for assuming that this makes it human in the moral sense. Based on this criticism, she sets out to establish the boundaries of the moral community and argues that human fetuses fall outside of these boundaries.

"Genetic humanity," according to Warren, is not a sufficient condition for moral humanity. In other words, possessing the genes that give rise to human traits does not necessarily make something a person. What characteristics are required for personhood? Warren provides a "rough and approximate list of the most basic criteria": 1) consciousness, 2) the ability to reason, 3) expression of self-motivated activity, 4) the ability to communicate, and 5) self awareness. She asserts that these traits are consistent with commonsense notions of what it means to be a person and notes that human fetuses fail to meet any of these criteria. In other words, human fetuses are human beings who are not people. Warren goes on to argue that only persons have full moral rights, a position that is consistent with Western traditions of ethical theory. According to this tradition human fetuses do not have full moral rights because they do not meet any of the well-accepted criteria for personhood.

An obvious question might be, at what stage of development do human life forms become people? Noonan points out that after conception there is a high probability (80 percent) that a zygote will develop into a person. How does Warren address this challenge? She argues that at no time during pregnancy does a fetus meet the criteria necessary for it to have a right to life. As far as the fetus' potential to become a person is concerned, Warren acknowledges that there "may well be something immoral ... about wantonly destroying potential people when doing so isn't necessary to protect anyone's rights," but asserts that any right to life a potential person might have "could not possibly outweigh the right of a woman to obtain an abortion, since the rights of any actual person invariably outweigh those of any potential person." It is important to note that this portion of Warren's argument deals with the issue of moral significance. Warren's main disagreement with Noonan involves the issue of moral considerability; that is, what criteria define what counts when making moral judgments (is the fetus a person?). This is a different question than asking which members of the moral community have the greatest value (whose rights carry the most weight?).

Moral Significance and a Fetus' Right to Life

Philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson focuses on the issue of moral significance to develop a moral defense of abortion. To begin, Thomson takes issue with Noonan's assertion that a fetus becomes a person at the moment of conception as well as Warren's view that a fetus is not a person at any time during pregnancy. The problem with both views is that fetal development is a continuum of events. Thomson compares this phenomenon to the development of an acorn into an oak tree. It is unreasonable to conclude that an acorn is an oak tree simply because acorns develop into oak trees. Likewise, it is unreasonable to view the human zygote, embryo, or fetus as a person simply because these things develop into people. Both are examples of a slippery slope argument, which is a logical fallacy. In other words, it is not impossible to make reasonable distinctions.

Thomson is inclined to accept the assertion that a fetus becomes a person "well before birth" and is willing to accept, for the sake of argument, Noonan's view that this occurs at the time of conception. This means that Thomson also accepts the premise that the human fetus has a right to life. However she deviates from Noonan's view by arguing that a person's right to life does not outweigh a mother's "right to decide what shall happen in and to her body." Thomson relies on a clever analogy to make her point.

Imagine that you awaken one morning and find yourself in a hospital bed with an unconscious, renowned violinist who has a fatal kidney disease and requires continuous blood transfusions from a donor with a compatible blood type. The Society of Music Lovers searched medical records and found that you are an ideal donor. They arranged for you to be kidnapped and taken to a hospital where your circulatory system is surgically connected to the musician's. When you awaken the director of the hospital explains that he doesn't approve of what the Society of Music Lovers did to you. Nevertheless a disconnection at this point would kill the violinist. Therefore, he cannot unplug you because this would violate the musician's right to life. The director tries to console you by telling you that this won't be a permanent situation because the treatment has to last for only 9 months. Thomson asks if you have a moral obligation to accept this relationship with the violinist.

By constructing this scenario and asking if you have a moral duty to remain connected to the musician, Thomson sets the stage for exploring what it means to exercise respect for another person's right to life. Does this mean that we have a duty to provide everything someone requires to stay alive under any circumstances? How much of a moral burden must we take on in order to fulfill our duties to other people? In other words, how much does our own right to life matter in terms of our duties to another person's right to life? To address these types of questions, Thomson develops a detailed account of what it means to have a right to life.

To illustrate the nature of a person's right to life, Thomson develops a second thought experiment involving a popular celebrity. Suppose you are suffering from a life-threatening disease and the touch of the celebrity's hand will save your life. Although it would be nice if your friends traveled to Hollywood and convinced the celebrity to return with them and heal you, Thomson asserts that you have no right that demands that your friends do this. Thus as in the case of the violinist, "having a right to life does not guarantee having either a right to be given the use of or a right to be allowed continued use of another person's body--even if one needs it for life itself." Thus the notion that it is wrong to abort a fetus does not follow from the assumption that the fetus has a right to life.

Finally Thomson addresses the issue of whether or not there might be any circumstances during which it is unjust to kill a fetus. The assumption underlying this view is that there are conditions under which a woman ought to allow a fetus to use her body. According to Thomson, this may be the case, but this doesn't mean the fetus has a right to the mother's body. Consider the situation where an uncle gives a box of chocolates to two boys. If one of the boys decides not to share, we would consider his actions unjust and therefore wrong. However, his decision not to share would be ethically acceptable if the chocolates were given only to him; that is, if he were the owner of the chocolates. It would be nice if the boy shared the candy, but he is not obligated to do so. Likewise, it might be generous for a woman to allow an unwanted pregnancy to continue to term, but in no way is the mother obligated to let the fetus use her body in this way. The reasonableness of this position is illustrated by the fact that no country in the world legally requires a person to be a so-called Good Samaritan; that is, requiring a person to make large sacrifices in order to sustain the life of another who has no right to demand them. Thus, although we may be disturbed when people witness a murder without attempting to deter the murderer, there are no laws for bringing charges against such witnesses. It should be noted that some nations have enacted so-called Good Samaritan laws. The intent of these laws is to protect from blame those people who offer aid to others who are injured or ill. In some cases, such laws require people to come to the aid of people in distress, but only when doing so does not place the aid-giver in harms way. The main point is that our general sense of moral obligation to others is not consistent with the idea that helping others does not mean that we have to suffer undue distress.

It may be unclear why the right to life of human beings warrants a moral responsibility to them following birth, but not before. Birth marks the time when the person is no longer occupying or using the mother's body. Thomson argues that we have no "special responsibility for a person unless we have assumed it." When parents decide to let a pregnancy continue to term and take the infant home with them instead of offering it for adoption, they have assumed responsibility for it thereby conferring rights upon it. Thus Thomson makes a distinction between the act of a removing fetus from a mother's body and the act of a mother securing the death of her child. She has the right to do the former, but not the latter. Thomson is quick to point out that her pro-abortion argument should not be construed to mean she is arguing in favor of a woman's right to secure the death of her "unborn child," and concedes that at some point in pregnancy the fetus has the ability to survive outside the mother's womb. At this point there might very well be a moral obligation to the fetus. Returning to the case of the violinist, if by some miracle he survives after unplugging yourself from him, it would be wrong to kill him. Likewise, it would be wrong to kill a fetus if it survived after detachment from the womb. Thomson seems to be advocating some constraints on abortion (restricting the practice to stages where the fetus cannot survive on its own) rather than advocating abortion on demand under any circumstances.

Why is it Wrong to Kill a Person?

The previous discussions of abortion clearly illustrate that debate on this issue hinges upon the concept of moral considerability and moral significance. Don Marquis finds these questions almost unsolvable and favors a more theoretical account of why abortion is immoral. He notes that although we accept that it is wrong to kill an existing human being, it is unclear why this is so. If we can articulate why it is wrong to kill an actual person, then we might be able to understand why it is wrong to kill a potential person. Marquis' answer is that it is wrong to kill someone because it deprives him or her from a future life. In other words, the wrong is done to the victim not to the murderer or the friends and relatives of the one who is murdered. Marquis views the loss of the victim's life as a loss of "all those activities, projects, experiences, and enjoyments which would otherwise have constituted [the] future personal life [of the victim]." Such a loss applies to all people whether they have been born or have yet to be born. According to Marquis, a future life has moral value and any act which deprives someone of a future life should be considered immoral.

A major concern with Marquis' argument deals with moral significance. Are all future lives likely to have the same value? First, it seems that one could argue that the future life of the mother has greater moral value than the life of her fetus. Second, it also seems reasonable to assume that some future lives are likely to be so miserable (e.g., due to an extremely painful and(or) debilitating illness) that termination before birth is justifiable.


Our analysis of the abortion issue reveals that one of the major points of contention between pro-abortionists and anti-abortionists is disagreement over the nature of the moral community; that is, what things should count when making moral judgments. The same type of disagreement arises when considering how we should treat nonhuman animals. Extending moral status to nonhuman animals is no less controversial than extending this status to human fetuses.

Historical Perspective

Throughout the history of Western civilization humans have relied heavily on the use of nonhuman animals for a variety of purposes including food, fiber, power, entertainment, and more recently, scientific research. Many of these practices require killing and/or inflicting pain on these creatures. Much of the treatment we impose on nonhuman animals would be considered unethical if applied to humans. The reason we humans seem so willing to inflict harm on nonhuman animals can be attributed to the idea that we have no moral obligations to them. Although this has been the dominant view for much of our history, there has always been disagreement regarding the moral status of nonhuman animals. During the past 30 years, a growing number of people reject the notion that humans have no moral obligations to nonhuman animals.

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE) argued that nonhuman animals have value only insofar as they serve the needs of humans; that is, that they have only instrumental moral value. The concept of instrumental value is illustrated by our use of nonhuman animals for food. According to this perspective, the reason to refrain from harming a cow is that it might make it less useful (e.g., produce less milk for human use), not because it causes the cow to suffer or is a violation of its moral rights. This theme is prevalent in the ideas of some of the most influential philosophers in Western culture. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), relying on biblical scriptures, professes that nature, including nonhuman animals, exists only for human benefit. Rene Descartes (1596-1650), viewed by many as "the father of modern philosophy," seems to take this idea to an extreme, asserting that nonhuman animals are merely machines, like clocks, and lack souls, free will, or consciousness. Thus it is not immoral to kill them, eat them, or harm them in any way because they aren't aware of what happens to them. Francis Bacon (1561-1626), often referred to as the "father of modern science," accepted the view that nonhuman animals have no moral value and like Descartes advocated the dissection of live animals (vivisection) to advance our scientific understanding of the world. Finally, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), a German philosopher whose ethical theory on moral duty has shaped much of current views on morality, argued that humans have no direct duties to nonhuman animals because they lack rationality.

Not everyone shared the aforementioned views regarding the moral status of nonhuman animals. In ancient Greece, followers of Pythagoras (c. 550-c. 500 BCE) advocated vegetarianism on the grounds that they believed nonhuman animals should be treated with respect. Perhaps the most well-known advocate of animal well being is Jeremy Bentham, an English philosopher, who formalized the utilitarian theory of ethics. Bentham argued that it is not reason, but the capacity to suffer, that makes nonhuman animals morally considerable. These ideas were developed further in the late twentieth century in response to a change in society's views regarding the relationships between humans and nonhuman components of nature.

During the 1960s the so-called environmental movement was ignited by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, a critique of agricultural insecticide use, and the Sierra Club's national campaign against damming the Colorado River inside the Grand Canyon National Park. These developments encouraged a critical questioning of traditional ethical theory. Western ethical theory was developed to clarify how humans should interact with each other. As noted earlier, these theories assume that we have direct ethical obligations to only human beings. Our duties to nonhuman elements of nature are viewed as indirect; that is, our actions toward these things matter only insofar as they impact other human beings. For example, it would be wrong to kill a person's pet dog because it is considered unethical to destroy the personal property of a human being or because it might perpetuate violence against humans, not because it harms the dog. As the environmental movement took shape, ethical theorists began questioning traditional views regarding the relationship between humans and the natural world and created the discipline of environmental ethics. One of the most significant issues addressed by this line of inquiry is whether or not nonhuman animals have moral standing. The first and perhaps most influential attempts to include nonhuman animals in the moral community came from applied ethicists; that is, ethical theorists who sought to apply traditional ethical standards to nonhumans.


As noted earlier, English philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) is known as the founder of the reform-oriented perspective of utilitarianism. Bentham argued that the ultimate moral principle should be the "Principle of Utility."
   By the Principle of Utility is meant that principle which approves
   or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the
   tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the
   happiness of the party whose interest is in question; or what is
   the same thing in other words, to promote or to oppose happiness.

In other words, the interests of each being likely to be affected by a particular action should be taken into consideration when making a moral judgment; that is, the interests of one individual should not count any more than those of any other individual. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Bentham's theory was the inclusion of nonhuman animals in the moral community. Bentham questioned the conventional view that the ability to reason was the necessary and sufficient condition that confers moral considerability on a being. According Bentham, "[t]he question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), a disciple of Bentham, refined these ideas in a way that utilitarianism is commonly understood today. However, he seems to place less emphasis on the interests of nonhuman animals. He implies that human interests carry more weight than those of nonhuman animals. Mill viewed an ideal state of affairs as one where everyone is as happy and well-off as they can be. His formulation of this theory is based on the "Greatest Happiness Principle:
   According to the Greatest Happiness Principle ... the ultimate end,
   with reference to and for the sake of which all other things are
   desirable (whether we are considering our own good or that of other
   people), is an existence exempt as free as possible from pain, and
   as rich as possible in enjoyments.

According to Mill's view, each of us should act so as to bring about the greatest amount of happiness for all those who will be affected. It is important to emphasize that Mill and Bentham focus on individual happiness. The actions that produce the greatest amount of individual happiness are the right actions.

During the early 1970s, Peter Singer elaborated on earlier versions of utilitarian ethics to advocate an animal liberation movement. Singer argues that the social reform movements to end racism and sexism were based on a "basic principle of equality." In each of these cases, the interests of individuals who are part of a particular group are given less consideration than those who make up another group. In cases when the interests of two races conflict, racists violate the principle of equality by placing greater significance on the interests of members of their own race than on the interests of members of other races. Likewise, when the interests of males and females clash, sexists violate the principle by placing greater emphasis on the interests of members their own sex than on the interests of members of the other sex. Singer believes that such a principle can also be applied to nonhuman animals. Recall that in utilitarian theory the morally relevant trait is having an interest in avoiding pain. This basic interest applies both to human and nonhuman animals. Extending the basic principle of equality to nonhuman animals does not mean that they should be treated in exactly the same way as humans. Recall that Singer's principle entails equal consideration of interests. For example, both humans and horses have interests in avoiding pain, but this does not mean that they require the same conditions or treatments to address these interests. As Singer notes, a slap on the rear of a horse to move it forward may be insignificant, but a slap of the same force applied to an infant would be too harsh a treatment.

Singer portrays the use of nonhuman animals for research and food production as violations of the basic equality principle and refers to the attitude that justifies such practices as "speciesism." According to Singer, to be a speciesist (i.e., giving greater weight to the interests of humans than to those of nonhumans) is just as unethical as being a racist or sexist. Singer's view does not necessarily exclude the possibility of using animals for research or raising them and killing them for food or research. According to utilitarian theory, harm can be inflicted as long such harm doesn't diminish overall happiness and if there are no alternatives to inflicting the harm. This idea underlies current animal care guidelines that advocate use of pain relieving measures in animal research. However, Singer condemns most animal experimentation and livestock production because he believes that such actions do not enhance happiness and are unnecessary. With respect to the use of animals for research, Singer argues that the vast majority of medical research involving animals does not contribute to the overall well being of humans or animals. With respect to using animals for food, Singer argues that modern livestock production systems are cruel and that eating meat is unnecessary from a nutritional standpoint. Eating animals just because they taste good is not justified when other nonhuman foods can replace animal flesh.

Animal Rights Theory

American philosopher Tom Regan began writing about the moral status of nonhuman animals shortly after Singer's work appeared. Although Regan agrees with Singer's assertion that nonhuman animals have moral standing, he believes that Singer's approach was inadequate to prevent many of the harms suffered by animals.

Regan views the utilitarian principle advocated by Singer as a consequential (emphasizing results) ethic aimed at "bringing about the greatest possible balance of good over evil ... the greatest possible balance of satisfaction over dissatisfaction, taking the interests of everyone affected into account and counting interests equally." Regan's concern with the utilitarian approach is that it permits too much harm to nonhuman animals. According to Regan, Singer assumes, but does not demonstrate, that a failure to follow the equality of interests principle will result in worse consequences than following it. In fact, Regan asserts, giving the interests of animals less weight than those of humans can actually enhance overall satisfaction. This is precisely the argument animal researchers and animal agriculturalists use to justify the use of animals for experimentation and food; that is, such pain is outweighed by the good it generates. Regan argues that, in theory, Singer's principle could be used to justify more radical or egregious forms of differential treatment of animals (and humans for that matter). Is there a way to ensure that animals are protected from harm regardless of the consequences of our actions?

Regan's approach to including nonhuman animals in the moral community is grounded in the ideas of Kant, who is noted for his ethical theory based on the concept of moral duties. Kant embraced the idea that humans are self-conscious individuals capable of making rational decisions. From this concept of human nature Kant argued that morality should be about doing what is rational. His notion of moral duty is based on the idea of a categorical imperative. The following example illustrates this concept. Suppose you want to become an accomplished guitarist. If you want to become an accomplished guitarist, you must practice. This is a "hypothetical imperative." In other words, what you should or ought to do is based your desire, in this case your desire to become an accomplished guitarist. Another way of looking at this is to say that if you want a particular outcome A, you ought to do B. In such cases, you can escape the imperative simply by denying the desired outcome. If you don't want to be an accomplished guitarist, you don't have to practice playing the guitar. Kant's view of morality deals with a categorical imperative, obligations that do not depend on outcomes. According to Kant, a categorical imperative is a rational prescription of what one should do in all circumstances. Humans are bound to it because they are rational beings. A failure to act morally is a failure to act rationally. Perhaps the most familiar formulation of Kant's categorical imperative is:
   Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time
   will that it should become a universal law.

This is a familiar moral perspective in our society and has often been compared to the "Golden Rule." Unless you are willing to be treated in a particular way, then you shouldn't treat others in this way. According to this view, you ought not to steal from another person because you wouldn't want to be the victim of theft. To will the universal maxim that everyone should steal from each other would be illogical. In doing so you would advocate actions that would be harmful to yourself.

An important implication of Kant's categorical imperative is that humans should be treated as ends and never as means. This is related to the notion that a categorical imperative is not dependent on outcomes. Thus, the way you treat another person ought not to depend on what you would like to happen. For example, it would be wrong to harm another person based on the justification that doing so will benefit you in some way. According to Kant, such actions are wrong because that person matters morally. A human being is a moral agent and is therefore deserving of respect. Using another person for the benefit of oneself or others is disrespectful.

An important concept in Kant's ethical theory is inherent or intrinsic value. The moral value that we have a duty to respect others is not dependent on whether or not the overall good is served, as in utilitarian theory. This latter type of value is often called instrumental value. Kant is adamant that humans have moral value irrespective of their usefulness. In other words, it is value inherent in us. It is the value each human has in and of itself.

Kant's ideas offer a means for understanding the idea of individual rights. It is useful to think about rights in terms of what purpose they serve. The purpose of rights is to place limits on what one individual should do to another individual. For example, the right to speak freely means that a person should not interfere with another person's speech. Kant's ideas can be understood to mean that each of us has a moral duty to respect the individual rights of others. Rights prevent us from treating each other as means.

Regan argues that the best way to ensure that the interests of animals are protected is to extend to them certain individual rights. According to Regan, individual moral rights "place a justifiable limit on what the group can do to the individual." Clearly this view is related to Kant's advocacy of respect for individual humans. What does Regan mean by a justifiable limit? This means that an individual can suffer harm, but if and only if:

* There is good reason to believe that overriding an individual's right will prevent and is the only realistic way to prevent a vastly greater harm to other innocent individuals.

* There is good reason to believe that allowing the individual harm is a necessary link in a chain of events that collectively will prevent vastly greater harm to innocent individuals and there is good reason to believe this chain of events is the only way to prevent such harm.

* There is good reason to believe that only by overriding an individual's rights will there be reasonable hope of preventing vastly greater harm to other innocent individuals.

Regan's concept of individual rights should seem familiar. After all it is the basis of our social and political system. However, should it apply to nonhuman animals? To answer this question, Regan returns to traditional notions of rights, particularly ideas regarding the basis of such rights. Kant argued that individual humans have inherent value that is worthy of respect (protection). Inherent value is the value of something in and of itself; not because that something is useful (i.e., instrumental value). In other words, humans have value because of some particular trait or set of traits, distinct from their utility or skill. According to Kant this means that humans should be treated as ends and not as means.

Do nonhuman animals have inherent value? We typically regard animals in terms of their instrumental value. Laboratory rats are valuable as research tools. Farm animals are valuable to us as sources of food and fiber. Companion animals are valuable to us because they entertain us, provide company, and so on. Is this the only type of value these creatures have? Are there traits unique to animals that have value irrespective of their use to us? Regan thinks that animals have inherent value. Each individual dog, cat, rat, gopher, cow, and so on has a life independent of its relationship with humans (or independent of the value a human places on them). Moreover, according to Regan, an individual animal and an individual human is a "subject of a life," meaning that what is better or worse for each is not dependent logically on what others do or do not do. If we accept Kant's notion that human nature is worthy of respect and that human rights are a means of ensuring that respect is upheld, it is logical to assume that nonhuman animals have natures that are also worthy of respect and postulate the existence of animal rights to ensure that such respect is upheld.

Against Moral Obligations to Nonhuman Animals

Singer and Regan rely on traditional ethical theories to argue that humans have direct moral duties to nonhuman animals, and that such duties require that we not use them for research and food. Not all contemporary ethicists agree with the view that these traditional theories can or should be applied in this way. Those who disagree with Regan and Singer point out that traditional ethics were developed for use in the world of humans, and that any attempt to apply these theories beyond this realm requires special scrutiny. The analyses of some ethicists lead them to conclude that extensions of traditional ethics to nonhuman animals are misguided, meaning that these animals have no moral standing. We shall explore this perspective in the next section.

Moral Justification for Using Nonhuman Animals for Food and Research

Jan Narveson examines both utilitarian and rights-based approaches to extending moral considerability to nonhuman animals, and reaches a conclusion that it markedly different from those of Singer and Regan. Briefly, Narveson concludes that "[a]lthough it may be unfortunate for animals that we make meals out of them [and perform research on them], we are morally justified in doing so."

Peter Singer concludes that the utility gained by raising and killing animals for food does not outweigh the overall costs and thus advocates vegetarianism. Narveson concludes that it is not at all clear that vegetarianism is the outcome supported by a utilitarian analysis of animal agriculture. His skepticism is based on difficulties in assigning utility to human and nonhuman animals. Assuming, as does Singer, that the interests of one individual count the same as any other individual, Narveson demonstrates that support of vegetarianism is questionable. Such confusion is illustrated by the following analysis. Within the utilitarian framework the fact that several people benefit from eating one chicken or pig seems to support the view that it is right to kill and consume these animals. However, on a global basis, it seems likely that the costs to the millions of chickens and pigs killed and eaten each year far outweigh any utility humans might gain from eating them, and thus vegetarianism would appear to ensure best outcome. But wait a minute! Recall from Chapter 1 that on a global basis more people can be fed on grains than with meat from grain-fattened livestock. Thus it is reasonable to conclude that raising large numbers of animals for food helps keep human populations smaller which certainly boosts the utility for those of us who can survive. Clearly utilitarianism doesn't provide a clear-cut answer to the question of whether or not we should eat nonhuman animals.

The concerns Narveson raises about utilitarian approaches to extending moral status to nonhuman animals are similar to those raised by Regan. However, Narveson finds Regan's approach to be even less helpful. According to Narveson, animals do not have rights. His argument relies on the so-called social contract view of morality.

According to social contract theorists such as Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), John Locke (1632-1704), and most recently John Rawls, humans have unlimited freedoms in the absence of society (i.e., a "state of nature"), but life under such conditions is difficult and inefficient. Social contract theorists hypothesize that in order to make life more bearable, rational beings (humans) come together and form civil society that is intended to improve living conditions. Thus, formation of society is a trade-off concerning individual rights. In order to live peacefully, individuals give up some rights, but the social contract also preserves certain fundamental rights that allow each individual to express his/her nature. According to Locke these rights include life, liberty, and property. Of course there is no tangible social contract. Rather, the contract is a moral attitude that is required to sustain civil society, and is reflected in the norms and laws of society. The motivation for accepting the contract is rational self-interest. In other words, those who enter into the contract give up total freedom, but in return are guaranteed that their basic rights will be protected, thus making them better off.

The popularity of the social contract theory is likely related to the fact that it provides practical accounts of what morality entails, who has it, and who is bound by it. From this perspective, morality is a solution to resolving conflicts that arise when self-interested human beings interact. Narveson emphasizes that according to this theory, morality is restricted to individuals who meet two important criteria: 1) having the ability to derive more benefit from abiding by the contract than from not doing so and 2) being capable of entering into and keeping an agreement. In other words, the social contract recognizes as having rights only those beings who meet these criteria. Nonhuman animals meet neither of these criteria. Therefore, they can not be considered to be part of the moral community and as such have no rights.

Carl Cohen shares Narveson's concerns about extending rights to nonhuman animals, and provides a detailed critique of Regan's argument. The focus of Cohen's critique hinges on Regan's distinction between moral patients and moral agents as well as Regan's claim that nonhuman animals have the same type of inherent value that humans have. Cohen and Regan agree that nonhuman animals are moral patients that lack the ability to formulate and use moral principles, whereas humans are moral agents who can formulate and use moral principles. However, Cohen questions how Regan can hold this view and then conclude that nonhuman animals have an inherent value that requires moral respect. According to Kant it is the ability to reason that constitutes such inherent value. Because nonhuman animals lack the ability to formulate and use moral principles (i.e., reason), how can Regan assign them moral value? Cohen seems willing to concede that humans might have some obligations to nonhuman animals, but that this doesn't mean that they have rights. According to Cohen, rights are only part of the human world. The world of nonhuman animals is amoral.

One of the obvious problems with arguments that seek to deny nonhuman animals moral standing on the grounds that they lack moral abilities is that such criteria also exclude certain types of human beings to whom we typically grant rights; for example, very young infants, comatose people, and so on. If an ability to enter a contract or do right or wrong are prerequisites for moral status, then shouldn't we deny these people moral standing? The fact that we don't suggests that moral standing involves more than being a rational, self-interested being.

It may very well be, as Narveson and Cohen suggest, that traditional ethics cannot be successfully applied to nonhuman animals. However this doesn't necessarily mean that these animals lack moral status. Alternatively, our difficulty in assigning moral status to nonhuman animals might be due to the fact that our moral theories are flawed. Viewed in this light, the arguments of Narveson and Cohen seem more conceptual (advocating certain definitions of terms) than moral. According to some environmental ethicists, our traditional ethical theories are anthropocentric; that is, they emphasize human traits as the basis of morality. In this case, it would be helpful to reject traditional assumptions about ethics and turn to the task of developing a new ethical framework from which new theories can be developed. One such approach is ecological ethics.


One of the major features of traditional ethical theories is that they are human-centered (anthropocentric) and focus on individuals (individualistic). However, individual humans live in a world in which they are related to each other, to other organisms as well as to nonliving portions of the environment. Consider the loner who lives alone in a large city. Even this person exists in a relationship with his immediate surroundings and human neighbors. This person and his neighbors also exist in a larger set of relationships that make up society and the environment. In other words, this person's actions have direct and indirect impacts on other people, nonhuman animals, water, air, and so on, and these other components of the environment affect him/ her in both direct and indirect ways. The critical question is whether or not these are morally significant interactions. The following thought experiment might help us develop an answer. Suppose you are the last person left on Earth. Now suppose that you set out to use all the remaining technology to destroy all the remaining wilderness areas, simply because you find it stimulating. Would your actions be considered unethical? According to traditional ethical theory, there would be nothing ethically wrong with doing this because you would not be violating the interests or rights of anything that has moral status. On the other hand, something seems terribly wrong about this conclusion. Our intuitions might indicate that there is something ethically wrong with destroying nonhuman nature. Now ask yourself, what aspects of these wilderness areas have moral value. Is it only the individual animals, individual animals and plants, entire species of organisms, the entire ecosystem, or all of these things? Some environmental philosophers have worked to develop an ethical theory that is based on the principles of ecology, the branch of biology that considers the interrelationships among organisms and their environment. Charles Taylor, an early proponent of ecological ethics, argues that individualistic ethics is based on a "delusion of self-sufficiency," and therefore fails to account for the value of relationships. Such relationships include social (among humans) as well as ecological (among living and nonliving components of the environment).

Philosophers who find fault with the individualistic and anthropocentric approach to ethics typically turn to the ideas of Aldo Leopold (1887-1949), a forest ecologist and author of A Sand County Almanac. In this book, published in 1949, Leopold describes the natural history of a region of Central Wisconsin near the Wisconsin River and from his experiences in this ecosystem he advocates a new ethic, which he calls "the Land Ethic." Unlike traditional ethical approaches, which value individual interests or rights, Leopold's ethic values the health of the community of life, which he refers to as "the land."
   A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity,
   stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it
   tends otherwise.

Leopold's idea is radical in the sense that it challenges foundational assumptions of traditional ethics. Specifically, it assumes that humans are part of the so-called biotic community and have no more and no less value than any other component. In Leopold's ethic, the unit of moral considerability is the web of relationships among living and nonliving components of the environment, and the primary moral value is well being of wholes such as ecosystems, species, and entire planets. Interestingly, Leopold doesn't view his ideas as replacing traditional ethical theory. Rather he views it as a principle that should be added on to traditional ethical principles. The major implication of an ecological ethic such as Leopold's is that individuals diminish in importance with respect to moral decisions. In this sense, Leopold's ethic is holistic rather than individualistic.


One of the most thorough critiques of traditional ethics comes from feminist theorists. Some feminists argue that an emphasis on individual rights reflects the dominant perspectives of privileged white males in Western societies and ignores other important values that are associated more with the traditional lives of women. In other words, the dominant conceptual framework of Western societies, including its moral values, is patriarchal or dominated by the experiences and values of men.

Ecofeminism is one type of feminism that focuses on intersections between gender and environmental issues. Ecofeminsists point out that the traditional social roles of women (maintaining households and rearing and caring for children), make them more reliant on social and ecological relationships than men and as a result, their experiences contribute to a conceptual framework that differs from the one associated with the traditional social roles of men. This alternative conceptual framework gives rise to different value systems which have been overlooked by traditional liberal theory. Karen Warren describes this in the following way:
   An ecofeminist ethic provides a central place for values typically
   unnoticed, underplayed, or misrepresented in traditional ethics
   (e.g., values of care, love, friendship, and appropriate trust).
   These are values that presuppose that our relationships to others
   are central to an understanding of who we are.

Warren views the dominant conceptual framework of Western societies as oppressive in the sense that it "functions to explain, maintain, and justify relationships of unjustified domination and subordination." She and other ecofeminists argue that this conceptual framework is patriarchal because it justifies the subordination of women by men. They also note that this oppressive conceptual framework also justifies the subordination of the nonhuman others in nature. Thus there is a connection between the subordination of women and nature by men and the two types of subordination are mutually reinforcing.

How might ecofeminist ideas about ethics apply to evaluating issues associated with reproductive physiology? Let us consider the issue of raising and killing pigs for food. As noted by Chris Cuomo, traditional ethical theories (including those of Regan and Singer) portray ethical issues as conflicts between individuals. In our example this would be a conflict between saving pigs and saving humans. Cuomo argues that this view oversimplifies the issue. What if we view this issue through a different lens, a "wider and more sensitive lens," an ecological lens? In other words, what if we view pigs and humans as "relational beings--richly enmeshed sets of interests, matter, and meaning?" This view reveals ethical issues to be more complex than simple conflicts between individuals. The discomfort inflicted on pigs that are raised and slaughtered for food and the discomfort experienced by humans who are deprived of pork are certainly important factors in making moral judgments about this practice. However, there are other relevant factors to consider. When one considers the social, political, and ecological contexts in which the consumption of pigs takes place, one begins to recognize that both pigs and humans can be victims of this practice. For example, the hardships suffered by the humans working on pig farms, meat packing plants, and related industries as well as the suffering experienced by pigs can all be traced to the thoughts and practices underlying our economic system and all the institutions that support it. Examples such as this support Cuomo's claim that "suffering is social." Suffering is also ecological. Certain practices kill individuals, destroy healthy relationships, and create unhealthy relationships. Viewing pig consumption, or any other practice, in this way extends the view of eating pork beyond the farm or slaughterhouse. What impact do the wastes generated by pig consumption have on the environment? What moral, social, and political attitudes are reinforced and perpetuated by engaging in this type of activity? Are they attitudes that promote the values of love and caring, or ones that promote arrogance and dominance? What are the implications of promoting such attitudes on the quality of human and nonhuman life?
BOX 18-1 Focus on Fertility: Cloning

The possibility of cloning a human being has been
a popular theme in science fiction. Recent advances
in reproductive physiology suggest that the
idea may not be so far fetched. In 1997, Dolly the
sheep became a household name because she was
the first adult mammal to be successfully cloned.
Clones are not as unusual as one might first think.
For example, identical twins are natural clones. Before
Dolly, clones derived from totipotent cells of
early bovine and rodent embryos were used to produce
several genetically identical individuals. The
cloning of Dolly was noteworthy because it was the
first time an identical twin was produced from an
adult (Dolly was 6 years old at the time). The technique
used to produce such a clone is called
somatic cell nuclear transfer (Figure 18-1). This
involves replacing the haploid nucleus of an oocyte
with the diploid nucleus of a somatic cell from the
animal to be cloned, and then transferring it to the
reproductive tract of a recipient for development.
Following the success with Dolly, this technique
has been used to produce clones of sheep, cattle,
pigs, goats, deer, cats, dogs, mules, rats, and mice.
It should be noted that the success rate of this
technique is extremely low. Most clones die during
pregnancy or soon after birth. Even the clones that
survive experience serious health problems, one of
which is accelerated aging.

Two applications of cloning have emerged
from research in this area. The first, known as
reproductive cloning, is to produce offspring.
The second application (therapeutic cloning) is
for the production of embryonic stem cells for
research and possibly medical applications. Compared
to other assisted reproduction technologies
cloning has generated the most concern. Much of
this concern arises from the possibility of human
cloning. It is important to point out that there
has not been a scientifically documented case of
a successful cloning of human embryos, and it
appears that the cloning of primate embryos will
be much more difficult than that of other mammalian
species. Nevertheless there is considerable
debate over the possibility of cloning a human.
These concerns are primarily ethical. With respect
to reproductive cloning, the most common criticism
is based on the idea that cloning is wrong
because it interferes with the natural order of
life. Some view this as "playing God." A more
secular concern deals with the rights of the
human embryo, or the future person developing
from it. Assuming a child can be cloned from an
adult cell, it is likely that certain expectations
will be imposed on the individual and that these
somehow infringe upon the person's right to autonomy,
or to a unique identity.

Ethical concerns regarding therapeutic
cloning are slightly different. Human embryos
have to be destroyed when they are used to generate
stems cells to treat illnesses. Of course this is
unacceptable to those who embrace the notion
that human embryos are entitled to the full compliment
of human rights, including the right to
life. The same arguments used to oppose induced
abortion also apply to the issue of therapeutic
cloning of human embryos. Although human embryos
have not been cloned, the idea of harvesting
stem cells from "unwanted" embryos has been promoted
by some scientists as a means to develop
methods for using stem cells to treat certain diseases.
The main argument opposing a ban on use
of embryonic stem cells is that the loss of these
embryos is justified by the potential benefits derived
from such research (curing lethal diseases).
Nevertheless, opposition to the use of embryonic
stem cells has led to a federal ban on research involving
these types of cells. This prohibition has
prompted some scientists to explore ways of harvesting
and using stem cells from adults.


The issue of human cloning is likely to remain
a contentious issue in society. Whether or not we
will face the reality of human clones depends on a
complicated mixture of scientific, sociologic,
moral, and political variables.


* Ethics is a branch of philosophy that deals with what is considered to be right and wrong.

* Science and ethics are related by the fact that scientific research reflects the moral values of scientists and those who sponsor their research.

* Issues such as abortion and the use of nonhuman animals for food and research can be understood by analyzing the ethical arguments that support opposing views.


1. Construct an ethical argument to support your own view regarding the practice of using human embryos to supply stem cells for research. Be sure to state your conclusion clearly and provide factual principle and a general moral principle that support your conclusion.

2. Discuss what a utilitarian might address the issue of abortion.

3. Ecological ethics is often referred to as a radical approach to ethics. In what way(s) is this approach radical?

4. Discuss what Peter Singer and Aldo Leopold would conclude about the practice of killing deer in order to reduce herd sizes to a manageable size. Would they agree or disagree? Explain.


Cohen, C. 1997. Do Animals Have Righs? Ethics and Behavior 7:103-111.

Cuomo, C. 2005. Ethics and the Eco/Feminist Self. In Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology, Fourth Edition. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, pp. 194-207.

Leopold, A. 1949. A Sand County Almanac. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 201-226.

Marquis, D. 1989. Why Abortion is Immoral. The Journal of Philosophy 86:183-202.

National Human Genome Research Institute. Accessed January 7, 2008, from:

National Institutes of Health: Stem Cell Basics. In Stem Cell Information: Accesed January 7, 2008, from: http://www.nih. gov/info/basics/defaultpage.

Narveson, J. 1977. Animal Rights. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 7:161-178.

Noonan, J. 1968. Deciding Who is Human. Natural Law Forum 13:134-138.

Regan, T. 2005. Animal Rights, Human Wrongs. In Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology, Fourth Edition. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, pp. 39-52.

Rachels, J. 2003. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. Boston: McGraw Hill.

Singer, P. 2005. All animals are equal. In: Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology, Fourth Edition. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, pp. 25-38.

The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. 1995. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thomson, J. J. 1971. A Defense of Abortion. Philosophy and Public Affairs 1:47-66.

Warren, K. J. 2005. The Power and the Promise of Ecofeminism, Revisited. In: Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology, Fourth Edition. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, pp. 252-280.

Warren, M. 1973. On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion. The Monist 57:43-61.
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Author:Schillo, Keith K.
Publication:Reproductive Physiology of Mammals, From Farm to Field and Beyond
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2009
Previous Article:Chapter 17: Seasonal regulation of reproduction.
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