- The status of the human embryo continues to be the subject of intense debate, although many discussions concentrate on the status of the embryo per se, ignoring other morally-relevant considerations.
- In the present article, a variety of scenes (destruction in a laboratory, married couples wanting a child, response to the embryo/foetus during pregnancy) is used in order to emphasize the context within which decisions regarding what is to be done with embryos takes place.
- It is argued that the moral value ascribed to the human embryo has to be placed alongside the moral value ascribed to humans involved in decision-making processes affecting both pre- and postnatal parties.
- An attempt to throw light on the status of the embryo leads to consideration of doomed embryo and embryo destruction syndromes, and of embryos as persons, non-persons, and potential persons. Emphasis is placed on embryos as protectable beings, and this perspective is enhanced by reference to biblical guidelines on fetal life.
- What is the status of the human embryo? That relatively simple-appearing question has no relatively straight-forward answer. Inevitably, it seems, the issue resolves into whether the embryo is viewed as a person in precisely the same way as adults are persons, or is regarded as a non-person and so has no moral interests, either actual or potential. It is true that there are intermediate positions, according to which the embryo is thought to acquire greater interests as its biological development proceeds. Nevertheless, there appears no way of resolving the conflict inherent within positions as diverse as these, since the extremes are mutually exclusive. Consequently, we may have to accept that we must learn to live without a satisfactory resolution, accepting this state-of-affairs as part-and-parcel of the moral pluralism of society. This may indeed be the case; there may be no way out of this dilemma.
- However, many discussions of human embryos are confined to their status per se, ignoring other, morally-relevant considerations. For instance, we may ask under what circumstances choices about the fate of human embryos are made? Rarely, if ever, are human embryos produced or discarded without some substantial reason. Should this reason be allowed to influence the final outcome for the embryos? The asking of this question is not meant to prejudge the answer, but to suggest that the context within which human embryos are viewed is a crucial ingredient of the moral debate concerning what we do with embryos. My goal in this article is to explore this framework for such an approach to the human embryo.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2017
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)