Each Tuesday, we will be cross-posting Gerard Nadal’s discussion of Embryo: A Defense of Human Life. Today is the first installment of eight.
Today we begin our 8-week reading of Embryo: A Defense of Human Life by George and Tollefsen. Every Tuesday, a new chapter. Author Christopher Tollefsen will be monitoring the comments and answering questions.
In Chapter One, the authors lay out the blueprint for their argument. After appealing to Embryology’s definition of the human zygote as a new human organism, after arriving at that position through a series of questions philosophically asking the kind of thing the human embryo is, the following central questions are asked:
“But does this mean that the human embryo is a human person worthy of full moral respect? Must the early embryo never be used as mere means for the benefit of others simply because it is a human being? The answer that this book proposes and defends with philosophical arguments through the course of the next several chapters is ‘Yes.’”
The authors distinguish between and define the following:
Embryo Science: Tells us two important things. 1. What they are. 2. When they begin. Human embryos are human beings at a very early developmental stage and come into being at conception.
Embryo Technology: The ability of researchers to do things with or to embryos. The ability to make embryos though IVF or cloning. The ability to experiment on them or preserve them indefinitely in cryopreservation.
Embryo Ethics: Both of the above are incapable of providing moral guidance in how we ought to treat human embryos. Are the manipulations of technology morally right? That is the function of embryo ethics.
A discussion of the fundamentals of IVF and its related technologies, including history ensues and leads seamlessly into a discussion of cloning.
The authors raise two points ofeten overlooked in the Embryonic Stem Cell (ESC) debate:
1. The promises of embryo-destructive research are speculative, exaggerated and unrealistic, with the perils being swept under the rug.
2. Alternatives such as Adult Stem Cells (ASC’s) are now being pursued. ASC’s have a proven track record of success. ASC’s do not carry the baggage of ESC’s.
Religion and Reason.
Those who approach the embryo from a scientific and philosophical perspective and conclude that embryo-destructive research is wrong are often accused of irrational religious motive, when nothing further from the truth is at work.
The authors reject the issue of “soul” or appeal to religious authority in their work:
“But our position in this book is that claims based in religious traditions or revelation are simply not necessary (and probably are not even sufficient) to arrive at correct understandings of embryo science, technology, and ethics.
“That is to say that we can know from science what the embryo is, just as we know from embryo technology what can be done to and with it. But we can know from philosophically informed reasoning what it is morally permissible to do to human embryos, and how it is morally permissible to treat them. Human embryo ethics is, in this regard, no different from the ethics of our treatment of minorities or dependents. Human beings are capable [of understanding] through reason, that it is morally wrong and unjust to discriminate against someone because he is of a different race or has a different ethnic heritage. And we are capable of understanding that it is wrong and unjust to discriminate against someone because of his or her age, size, stage of development, location, or condition of dependency.”
The Course of the Argument
Embryonic human beings deserve full moral respect. To deny this is to deny one of a few claims:
1. Denial that the early human embryo is a human being. More on this in chapter 2.
2. Denial that persons are to be identified with the biological entities that are human beings.
3. Denial that all human beings deserve full moral respect. Must attain some features beyond merely being human.