University of Bristol
Wellcome Trust
Recommended by:
Society of Biology
PEEP for Physics & Ethics at GCSE

Human Reproduction

Some very basic facts of human life are:


  1. people have no control over whether or not they become alive;
  2. once alive they strive to stay alive;
  3. they have a strong and instinctive drive to reproduce;
  4. they all eventually die.

Why are these facts ethically important?

Human beings, as organisms, are subject to these facts of life, but uniquely in the living world, we are also able to rationalise and to moralise. We can readily understand that the basic instinct for life is present in other people too, and appreciate that we have a moral duty to protect that instinct in them. This has been termed the presumption in favour of life.

Reproduction is the single most distinguishing characteristic of life. It is the driving force of evolution, which itself is responsible for the diversity of plant and animal species on Earth.

We humans are living organisms and these forces act on us just as any other species with which we share the Earth. We feel the urge to reproduce at a very powerful biological level at various times in our lives. It is not surprising therefore, that over the course of history, all aspects of human reproduction have been the subjects of intense moral and ethical debate.

Recently, however, technical advances have developed faster than people have had time to discuss the moral implications. Stories about surrogate mothers, designer babies, older parents, embryo mix-ups appear very frequently in the news media, raising new ethical dilemmas.

  • What is the presumption in favour of life?
  • Why is reproduction such an ethically sensitive characteristic of life?


What's your opinion?

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NOT RATED 01-04-10 19:18
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Jeff D. 20-05-16 12:36
This page is a short but well developed summary about humankind and its uniqueness positive impact on a biological level. It is the only one living species who can rationalise and moralise, thus this directly leads to the accelerating technnological progress we live in.
In my opinion, it is naturally not prohibited to manipulate genomes or use genomics to improve our allday life. But as long as we still can't figure out all the power and functions that come from the same brain as the idea to genetically modifiy living beings, I suggest to make the information and database of the Human Genome Project only accessive for a limited number of scientists. At least until they see all the relations between the different genes and until they face every consequence coming with this idea.

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A news reporter speaks to the camera.
News stories on
human reproduction.

  Question: What are the characteristics of life?

Click if these are true of a car.

M ovement

R espiration

S ensitivity

G rowth

R eproduction

E xcretion

N utrition

Question: Which of these characteristics is unique to life?