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Unformatted text preview: POTENTIALITY AND HUMAN EMBRYOS JOHN P. LIZZA Keywords potentiality, potential, embryo, possibility, possible, abortion, stem cell research ABSTRACT Consideration of the potentiality of human embryos to develop char- acteristics of personhood, such as intellect and will, has figured prominently in arguments against abortion and the use of human embryos for research. In particular, such consideration was the basis for the call of the US President’s Council on Bioethics for a morato- rium on stem cell research on human embryos. In this paper, I critique the concept of potentiality invoked by the Council and offer an alternative account. In contrast to the Council’s view that an embryo’s potentiality is determined by definition and is not affected by external conditions that may prevent certain possibilities from ever being realized, I propose an empirically grounded account of potentiality that involves an assessment of the physical and deci- sional conditions that may restrict an embryo’s possibilities. In my view, some human embryos lack the potentiality to become a person that other human embryos have. Assuming for the sake of argument that the potential to become a person gives a being special moral status, it follows that some human embryos lack this status. This argument is then used to support Gene Outka’s suggestion that it is morally permissible to experiment on ‘spare’ frozen embryos that are destined to be destroyed. In calling for a four-year moratorium on research on human embryos, the US President’s Council on Bioethics called for greater public debate on the critical issue of the moral status of the embryo. The majority of the members of the Council held that the developing embryo was a being worthy of ‘special respect’ and claimed that those who deny the potentiality of the embryo to become a person lack an understanding of the meaning of potential- ity. The majority stated that to treat the developing human embryo as nothing more than ‘mere cells’: misunderstands the meaning of potentiality – and, specifically, the difference between a ‘being-on-the-way’ (such as a developing human embryo) and a ‘pile of raw materials,’ which has no definite potential and which might be- come anything at all. The suggestion that extra- corporeal embryos are not yet individual human organisms-on-the-way, but rather special human cells that acquire only through implantation the potential to become individual human organisms- on-the-way, rests on a misunderstanding of the Address for correspondence: John P. Lizza, Department of Philosophy, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, Kutztown, PA 19530, USA. [email protected] Bioethics ISSN 0269-9702 (print); 1467-8519 (online) doi:10.1111/j.1467-8519.2007.00572.x Volume 21 Number 7 2007 pp 379–385 © 2007 The Author. Journal compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA. meaning and significance of potentiality. Anmeaning and significance of potentiality....
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- Spring '08
- Modal logic, Embryo, human embryos, Logical possibility, potentiality