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Author Topic: Morality of Embryonic Stem Cell Use  (Read 8425 times) Average Rating: 0
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ialmisry
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« on: March 08, 2009, 09:22:27 AM »

Can any Orthodox defend the morality of conducting embryonic stem cell use research or treatment?
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« Reply #1 on: March 08, 2009, 11:10:35 AM »

I suppose any discussion of morality and this subject would have to have multiple components; to wit:

1. When is the embryo fully human and a person?
2. When does the embryo deserve protection?
3. What about the morality of IVF (from whence many embryos for research are to be found)?
4. What about organ donation in general?

Do these sound like good questions involved in any defense of or opposition to Embryonic Stem Cell Research?  I'm sure there are a few more...
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« Reply #2 on: March 08, 2009, 11:53:42 AM »

I suppose any discussion of morality and this subject would have to have multiple components; to wit:

1. When is the embryo fully human and a person?
2. When does the embryo deserve protection?
3. What about the morality of IVF (from whence many embryos for research are to be found)?
4. What about organ donation in general?

Do these sound like good questions involved in any defense of or opposition to Embryonic Stem Cell Research?  I'm sure there are a few more...

IMHO, #4 does not belong in this listing.
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« Reply #3 on: March 08, 2009, 02:00:51 PM »

IMHO, #4 does not belong in this listing.

It was an afterthought, to be honest; the mental connection was: if you're opposed to organ donation, you can't possibly be ok with Embryonic Stem cell research; if you're a supporter of it (organ donation), then do you see the donation of the embryo for research as an organ donation from the mother, or not?

Considering its weak tie to the subject matter, consider it "dropped."
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« Reply #4 on: March 08, 2009, 02:26:10 PM »

1. When is the embryo fully human and a person?
2. When does the embryo deserve protection?
3. What about the morality of IVF (from whence many embryos for research are to be found)?
If we include only these three, to these I would add the question of the morality of cloning, because embryonic stem cells can also be harvested from cloning other embryonic stem cells through somatic cell nuclear transfer.
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« Reply #5 on: March 08, 2009, 03:44:47 PM »

I suppose any discussion of morality and this subject would have to have multiple components; to wit:

1. When is the embryo fully human and a person?

At conception.  The genes are set.  Any other definition renders our celebration of the Annuciation nonsense.

Quote
2. When does the embryo deserve protection?

Ditto

Quote
3. What about the morality of IVF (from whence many embryos for research are to be found)?

Yes, a related issue.  How moral is IVF is it must involve some embryos not "taking?"

Quote
4. What about organ donation in general?

Added: what about having children for the possibility of donations?

Quote
Do these sound like good questions involved in any defense of or opposition to Embryonic Stem Cell Research?  I'm sure there are a few more...

Yes, and Yes.

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« Reply #6 on: March 08, 2009, 03:45:05 PM »

3. What about the morality of IVF (from whence many embryos for research are to be found)?

To add to that, what of the thousands of extra embryos from IVF that are going to be discarded anyway - would it be ethical to use only those rather than discarding them to no purpose whatsoever, but unethical to create them specifically for research?  I don't know either way, I'm just throwing it out there for discussion.  
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« Reply #7 on: March 08, 2009, 05:49:11 PM »

3. What about the morality of IVF (from whence many embryos for research are to be found)?

To add to that, what of the thousands of extra embryos from IVF that are going to be discarded anyway - would it be ethical to use only those rather than discarding them to no purpose whatsoever, but unethical to create them specifically for research?  I don't know either way, I'm just throwing it out there for discussion.  

On that issue, the question of the thousands of "extra" embryos is either to implant them for birth in volunteers (snow flake babies: someone suggested nuns of child bearing years for adoption) or how to store them until they expire naturally.  I don't see any other moral solution.
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« Reply #8 on: March 08, 2009, 05:58:43 PM »

To add to that, what of the thousands of extra embryos from IVF that are going to be discarded anyway - would it be ethical to use only those rather than discarding them to no purpose whatsoever, but unethical to create them specifically for research?  I don't know either way, I'm just throwing it out there for discussion.  
That's an interesting point, and I think we should add the fifth question of what to do with the embryos that already exist, so our list of moral questions thus far are:

1. When is the embryo fully human and a person?
2. When does the embryo deserve protection?
3. What about the morality of IVF (from whence many embryos for research are to be found)?
4. Is the use of cloned embryonic stem cells OK?
5. What should we do with the frozen embryos which already exist?



Now, in regards to (1) & (2), ialmisry has stated that our understanding of the Incarnation requires us to hold that an embryo is a fully human person at Conception and therefore deserves protection from that instant. I actually don't think we can use the Incarnation as our precedent here; because the Person of the Logos pre-existed the Incarnation, whereas our personhood does not pre-exist our conception. We cannot therefore say that the Incarnation proves that an embryo is a person. We can definitely say that an embryo is human, and has human nature, but we cannot say for certain that it is a human person. Nor is it clear that the Church has actually stated that an embryo (or even a foetus) is a human person. In the original Prayers from the Euchologion for a Woman Who Has Miscarried, the woman is referred to as "αυτη συλληφθεν αποβαλομενην", literally "she who has had an arrested miscarriage". This has been translated in English Service books as "she who has had a miscarriage of the child conceived in her", and "child" implies personhood, but this sense is not present in the original version of the prayers. Nor does the Church have a funeral service for a miscarried embryo, which one might expect if it's full personhood were recognised. So I think that arguments against the use of embryonic stem cells based on the personhood of the embryo are going to run into trouble, because all that we can say for certain right now is that an embryo is (a) human, and (b) the only thing in the universe which has the potential to become a human person.
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« Reply #9 on: March 08, 2009, 06:14:11 PM »

Quote
1. When is the embryo fully human and a person?

In his book on Contraception, John T. Noonan said that there were Church Fathers who held that the fetus was not fully human (or was it ensouled?) for a period after conception. I don't recall him elaborating on which Fathers might have said that, however. If true, it'd be an interesting avenue of exploration, though I'm hardly in a position to pursue it.
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« Reply #10 on: March 08, 2009, 09:03:51 PM »

Quote
1. When is the embryo fully human and a person?

In his book on Contraception, John T. Noonan said that there were Church Fathers who held that the fetus was not fully human (or was it ensouled?) for a period after conception. I don't recall him elaborating on which Fathers might have said that, however. If true, it'd be an interesting avenue of exploration, though I'm hardly in a position to pursue it.

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« Reply #11 on: March 08, 2009, 10:38:57 PM »

I like the revised list of questions... We can move forward on this list, then?  Any others that we are forgetting?
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« Reply #12 on: March 08, 2009, 10:52:30 PM »

Quote
Is that your favorite book?

I guess not, since I sold it years ago Smiley That's all I really had to contribute to the thread, though.
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« Reply #13 on: March 08, 2009, 10:58:32 PM »

Quote
1. When is the embryo fully human and a person?

In his book on Contraception, John T. Noonan said that there were Church Fathers who held that the fetus was not fully human (or was it ensouled?) for a period after conception. I don't recall him elaborating on which Fathers might have said that, however. If true, it'd be an interesting avenue of exploration, though I'm hardly in a position to pursue it.

Thomas Aquinas is famous for this.

"The theological debate was reflected in the writings of St. Augustine, who made a distinction between embryo inanimatus, not yet endowed with a soul, and embryo animatus. He may have drawn upon Exodus 21:22. At one point, however, he expressed the view that human powers cannot determine the point during fetal development at which the critical change occurs. See Augustine, De Origine Animae 4.4....J. Noonan, Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists 18-29 (1965)."

St. Augustine evidently never came down for Creationism (where this issue would come up) or Transducianism (souls are generated with the body.  Tertullian so taught, and St. Jerome remarks that that was the prevailing view in the West).
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« Reply #14 on: March 08, 2009, 11:08:36 PM »

To add to that, what of the thousands of extra embryos from IVF that are going to be discarded anyway - would it be ethical to use only those rather than discarding them to no purpose whatsoever, but unethical to create them specifically for research?  I don't know either way, I'm just throwing it out there for discussion.  
That's an interesting point, and I think we should add the fifth question of what to do with the embryos that already exist, so our list of moral questions thus far are:

1. When is the embryo fully human and a person?
2. When does the embryo deserve protection?
3. What about the morality of IVF (from whence many embryos for research are to be found)?
4. Is the use of cloned embryonic stem cells OK?
5. What should we do with the frozen embryos which already exist?



Now, in regards to (1) & (2), ialmisry has stated that our understanding of the Incarnation requires us to hold that an embryo is a fully human person at Conception and therefore deserves protection from that instant. I actually don't think we can use the Incarnation as our precedent here; because the Person of the Logos pre-existed the Incarnation, whereas our personhood does not pre-exist our conception. We cannot therefore say that the Incarnation proves that an embryo is a person.

Actually, we can: the conception of the Theotokos and St. John the Forerunner, based on the Feat of the Annuciation, the Church also celebrates.  These feasts are distinct from the feasts of their births.

Now, you may argue the issue of the Personhood of Christ's humanity (we have a rather lengthy thread somewhere here on that), but for the Theotokos and St. John, there is no such question.

Quote
We can definitely say that an embryo is human, and has human nature, but we cannot say for certain that it is a human person.

Can we also waffle on the status of the personhood of the senile, mentally retarded, those in minority, etc.


Quote
Nor is it clear that the Church has actually stated that an embryo (or even a foetus) is a human person. In the original Prayers from the Euchologion for a Woman Who Has Miscarried, the woman is referred to as "αυτη συλληφθεν αποβαλομενην", literally "she who has had an arrested miscarriage". This has been translated in English Service books as "she who has had a miscarriage of the child conceived in her", and "child" implies personhood, but this sense is not present in the original version of the prayers. Nor does the Church have a funeral service for a miscarried embryo, which one might expect if it's full personhood were recognised.

If the child was born, grew up, begot and then died, without ever being baptized, neither would the Church have a funeral service for him.

 
Quote
So I think that arguments against the use of embryonic stem cells based on the personhood of the embryo are going to run into trouble, because all that we can say for certain right now is that an embryo is (a) human, and (b) the only thing in the universe which has the potential to become a human person.

At the Visitation, it seems St. John realized his full potential.
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« Reply #15 on: March 08, 2009, 11:27:06 PM »

Now, you may argue the issue of the Personhood of Christ's humanity (we have a rather lengthy thread somewhere here on that), but for the Theotokos and St. John, there is no such question.
The Feasts of the Conceptions of the Theotokos and the Forerunner still do not tell us whether they were persons at their respective conceptions.

Quote
We can definitely say that an embryo is human, and has human nature, but we cannot say for certain that it is a human person.
Can we also waffle on the status of the personhood of the senile, mentally retarded, those in minority, etc.
Actually, no we can't. The senile and the mentally retarded most definitely have personhood. The Church has never equated  personhood with cognitive ability (which is why we can Baptise and Commune infants as full Members of the Church). 


Quote
Nor is it clear that the Church has actually stated that an embryo (or even a foetus) is a human person. In the original Prayers from the Euchologion for a Woman Who Has Miscarried, the woman is referred to as "αυτη συλληφθεν αποβαλομενην", literally "she who has had an arrested miscarriage". This has been translated in English Service books as "she who has had a miscarriage of the child conceived in her", and "child" implies personhood, but this sense is not present in the original version of the prayers. Nor does the Church have a funeral service for a miscarried embryo, which one might expect if it's full personhood were recognised.
If the child was born, grew up, begot and then died, without ever being baptized, neither would the Church have a funeral service for him.
If an infant of Orthodox Parents dies before Baptism, they are given an Orthodox funeral, just as a Catechumen who dies before they are Baptised is given an Orthodox funeral. Why is an unbaptised infant of Orthodox parents given a funeral and not a miscarried foetus?

 
Quote
So I think that arguments against the use of embryonic stem cells based on the personhood of the embryo are going to run into trouble, because all that we can say for certain right now is that an embryo is (a) human, and (b) the only thing in the universe which has the potential to become a human person.

At the Visitation, it seems St. John realized his full potential.
St. John was not an embryo at that point. An embryo becomes a foetus at 8 weeks. The Theotokos visited St. Elizabeth when she had been pregnant 6 months (Luke 1:26)
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« Reply #16 on: March 09, 2009, 12:09:23 AM »

Now, you may argue the issue of the Personhood of Christ's humanity (we have a rather lengthy thread somewhere here on that), but for the Theotokos and St. John, there is no such question.
The Feasts of the Conceptions of the Theotokos and the Forerunner still do not tell us whether they were persons at their respective conceptions.

They were hypostasis.  We know that now, more than the Fathers did, with the discovery of the unique DNA code established at conception.  I'll have to look further at the hymns, etc. to go into it.  But in the meantime, what hypostasis did the Theotokos have 80 days after birth for her presentation, or St. John 8 days later for his circumcision, that they did not have at their conception?

We can definitely say that an embryo is human, and has human nature, but we cannot say for certain that it is a human person.
Can we also waffle on the status of the personhood of the senile, mentally retarded, those in minority, etc.
Actually, no we can't. The senile and the mentally retarded most definitely have personhood. The Church has never equated  personhood with cognitive ability (which is why we can Baptise and Commune infants as full Members of the Church).
Yes, the cognitive criteria was an invention of the West.  But that only underlines, what does an embryo (or fetus, or any child not yet out of the womb full term) lack that calls his person into question?

Nor is it clear that the Church has actually stated that an embryo (or even a foetus) is a human person. In the original Prayers from the Euchologion for a Woman Who Has Miscarried, the woman is referred to as "αυτη συλληφθεν αποβαλομενην", literally "she who has had an arrested miscarriage". This has been translated in English Service books as "she who has had a miscarriage of the child conceived in her", and "child" implies personhood, but this sense is not present in the original version of the prayers. Nor does the Church have a funeral service for a miscarried embryo, which one might expect if it's full personhood were recognised.
If the child was born, grew up, begot and then died, without ever being baptized, neither would the Church have a funeral service for him.
If an infant of Orthodox Parents dies before Baptism, they are given an Orthodox funeral, just as a Catechumen who dies before they are Baptised is given an Orthodox funeral. Why is an unbaptised infant of Orthodox parents given a funeral and not a miscarried foetus?
I don't know that it is: I'd have to see some proof of that, as the only distinction I have seen for children is between those who have not made their first confession.  I have never heard of an unbaptized baby having an Orthodox funeral (my old priest's grandson didn't get one: it was before my time but made an impression on the parisioners).  I've have had the misfortune of being to a couple children's funerals, and memorials for some unbaptized ones (but not funerals).

So I think that arguments against the use of embryonic stem cells based on the personhood of the embryo are going to run into trouble, because all that we can say for certain right now is that an embryo is (a) human, and (b) the only thing in the universe which has the potential to become a human person.

At the Visitation, it seems St. John realized his full potential.
St. John was not an embryo at that point. An embryo becomes a foetus at 8 weeks. The Theotokos visited St. Elizabeth when she had been pregnant 6 months (Luke 1:26)

And a child become an adolescent around 12.  The point?
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« Reply #17 on: March 09, 2009, 12:18:38 AM »

St. John was not an embryo at that point. An embryo becomes a foetus at 8 weeks. The Theotokos visited St. Elizabeth when she had been pregnant 6 months (Luke 1:26)

That's precisely why precision in terms and questions is required before moving forward fully with this discussion.
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« Reply #18 on: March 09, 2009, 12:20:51 AM »

And a child become an adolescent around 12.  The point?

The point is that the debate/discussion is specifically centered around Embryos and questions regarding them; evidence that a Fetus is a person /= evidence that an Embryo is a person.  I'm not trying to argue the contrary, just wanting the result of the discussion (hopefully a moral disagreement with embryonic stem cell research) to be able to hold up against dissent, argument, and skepticism.
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« Reply #19 on: March 09, 2009, 12:37:47 AM »

Quote
We can definitely say that an embryo is human, and has human nature, but we cannot say for certain that it is a human person.
Can we also waffle on the status of the personhood of ...
This isn't necessarily waffling.  As cleveland states, the point is to ensure that the conclusions from the discussion "hold up against dissent, argument, and skepticism."  Which makes being able to fully answer #1 both vital and challenging.  And complicating the issue are naturally occurring events, not just human actions.

Consider chimerism, for example.  It's a rare but documented phenomenon where two embryos conjoin to form one person.  If we are to answer the question "When is the embryo fully human and a person?" we must address such matters, lest our arguments fail to "hold up against dissent, argument, and skepticism."

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« Reply #20 on: March 09, 2009, 12:42:51 AM »

I'm not trying to argue the contrary, just wanting the result of the discussion (hopefully a moral disagreement with embryonic stem cell research) to be able to hold up against dissent, argument, and skepticism.
Exactly! Which is really what this is about- formulating cogent moral arguments to defend our position.

They were hypostasis.  We know that now, more than the Fathers did, with the discovery of the unique DNA code established at conception. 
Ialmisry. if personhood and hypostasis is dependent on possession of DNA, then it could be argued that

1) Each cell in your body has personhood and hypostasis,

or, if this argument depends on the cells having a unique DNA then:

2) Identical Twins are one hypostasis and not two.
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« Reply #21 on: March 09, 2009, 12:44:12 AM »

And a child become an adolescent around 12.  The point?

The point is that the debate/discussion is specifically centered around Embryos and questions regarding them; evidence that a Fetus is a person /= evidence that an Embryo is a person.  I'm not trying to argue the contrary, just wanting the result of the discussion (hopefully a moral disagreement with embryonic stem cell research) to be able to hold up against dissent, argument, and skepticism.

The only difference I see between an embryo and a fetus is the increas[ing] viability in the latter.  There is basically nothing but growth left to be done:once the embryo reaches that point, it becomes a fetus.  But that is like a distinction between a child a half hour to be delievered and a half hour out of the womb.  Besides born baby doing what the preborn state made it able to do, there is not much, or any, difference.

Basically what I am saying is on the point about embryonic stem cells, there is no difference in morality between embryon and fetus (fully aware of the difference that is of utmost importance for the scientists engaged in this "research": fetus have adult stem cells, which is what makes him a fetus).
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« Reply #22 on: March 09, 2009, 12:51:19 AM »

Quote
We can definitely say that an embryo is human, and has human nature, but we cannot say for certain that it is a human person.
Can we also waffle on the status of the personhood of ...
This isn't necessarily waffling.  As cleveland states, the point is to ensure that the conclusions from the discussion "hold up against dissent, argument, and skepticism."  Which makes being able to fully answer #1 both vital and challenging.  And complicating the issue are naturally occurring events, not just human actions.

Consider chimerism, for example.  It's a rare but documented phenomenon where two embryos conjoin to form one person.  If we are to answer the question "When is the embryo fully human and a person?" we must address such matters, lest our arguments fail to "hold up against dissent, argument, and skepticism."

Ah, yes. chimerism.  This was the favorite example of my roommate (bio major, son of a doctor, amateur "historian of religion" with what that entails in modern Div. schools) immediately after graduating from college.  My analogy was the case of siamese twins, when one twin becomes the appendage only of the other.  Such a case, I contend, would be of two persons, one dying before birth, and the animate flesh becoming a natural organ transplant.  Just like organ transplants don't make you into two (or in my best friend's case, three) persons, neither does chimerism.

so, to answer 1 it seems, we must answer what is the criteria of the human essence and hypostasis.

I'm not trying to argue the contrary, just wanting the result of the discussion (hopefully a moral disagreement with embryonic stem cell research) to be able to hold up against dissent, argument, and skepticism.
Exactly! Which is really what this is about- formulating cogent moral arguments to defend our position.

The problem I can see we will straddling is issue of the criteria of human essence and personhood.  On the one hand we must formulate some criteria that

They were hypostasis.  We know that now, more than the Fathers did, with the discovery of the unique DNA code established at conception.
Ialmisry. if personhood and hypostasis is dependent on possession of DNA, then it could be argued that

1) Each cell in your body has personhood and hypostasis,

I guess it could be argued (I have to admit, I have visions of the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart flashing in mind at the though of it).  Would it stand up?  No.  Each of the cells, although have the DNA code that both establishes you as a member of the essence homo sapiens and also individually as a hypostasis, need to express themselves in an integrated whole: if everyone was an eye, arm, head, etc. (as St. Paul points out) it would not be a human body, and therefore not of human essence.

I could say that a unique human sole defines hypostasis, but that would leave naturalists out of the conversation, an give them an easy out out of the Church's conclusions.

Quote
or, if this argument depends on the cells having a unique DNA then:

2) Identical Twins are one hypostasis and not two.


Identical Twins are never identical, it seems, at the genetic level.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23276953/

But besides that, all hypostasis are equal expressions of the essence, so you are not closer to your brother to humanity than you are to your cousin.  As I said above, even Siamese twins would be two hypostasis.
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« Reply #23 on: March 09, 2009, 12:56:05 AM »

And a child become an adolescent around 12.  The point?

The point is that the debate/discussion is specifically centered around Embryos and questions regarding them; evidence that a Fetus is a person /= evidence that an Embryo is a person.  I'm not trying to argue the contrary, just wanting the result of the discussion (hopefully a moral disagreement with embryonic stem cell research) to be able to hold up against dissent, argument, and skepticism.

The only difference I see between an embryo and a fetus is the increas[ing] viability in the latter.  There is basically nothing but growth left to be done:once the embryo reaches that point, it becomes a fetus.  But that is like a distinction between a child a half hour to be delievered and a half hour out of the womb.  Besides born baby doing what the preborn state made it able to do, there is not much, or any, difference.

Basically what I am saying is on the point about embryonic stem cells, there is no difference in morality between embryon and fetus (fully aware of the difference that is of utmost importance for the scientists engaged in this "research": fetus have adult stem cells, which is what makes him a fetus).

While from our Orthodox moral POV viz a viz research, destruction, and other manipulation, there may not be much of a difference, if any, between an embryo and a fetus (to wit: abortion), in order for us to form a coherent moral position/argument, and then use it to evangelize and clarify our position, I suppose we must be as precise in our argument as possible.
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« Reply #24 on: March 09, 2009, 01:10:28 AM »

And a child become an adolescent around 12.  The point?

The point is that the debate/discussion is specifically centered around Embryos and questions regarding them; evidence that a Fetus is a person /= evidence that an Embryo is a person.  I'm not trying to argue the contrary, just wanting the result of the discussion (hopefully a moral disagreement with embryonic stem cell research) to be able to hold up against dissent, argument, and skepticism.

The only difference I see between an embryo and a fetus is the increas[ing] viability in the latter.  There is basically nothing but growth left to be done:once the embryo reaches that point, it becomes a fetus.  But that is like a distinction between a child a half hour to be delievered and a half hour out of the womb.  Besides born baby doing what the preborn state made it able to do, there is not much, or any, difference.

Basically what I am saying is on the point about embryonic stem cells, there is no difference in morality between embryon and fetus (fully aware of the difference that is of utmost importance for the scientists engaged in this "research": fetus have adult stem cells, which is what makes him a fetus).

While from our Orthodox moral POV viz a viz research, destruction, and other manipulation, there may not be much of a difference, if any, between an embryo and a fetus (to wit: abortion), in order for us to form a coherent moral position/argument, and then use it to evangelize and clarify our position, I suppose we must be as precise in our argument as possible.

I agree.  That would involve some qualitative difference between embryo and fetus as to humanity.  What is it?
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« Reply #25 on: March 09, 2009, 01:49:52 AM »

I agree.  That would involve some qualitative difference between embryo and fetus as to humanity.  What is it?

One difference is that an embryo can split to become twins.  A fetus can't.
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« Reply #26 on: March 09, 2009, 01:50:58 AM »

I could say that a unique human sole defines hypostasis, but that would leave naturalists out of the conversation, an give them an easy out out of the Church's conclusions.
Two things which are needed beyond the issue of having to convince naturalists that the soul exists are, firstly, we have to be able to show that the soul exists at the moment of conception. And secondly I think that equating hypostasis with the soul creates problems for our own theology. A human person is both a soul and a body. When we depict the hypostases of the Saints in icons, are we depicting their souls? Do their souls wear clothes? Are their souls beheaded, pierced with arrows, nailed to crosses?
Is this an Icon of the Person of Christ or just His Body as something separate to His Person?
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« Reply #27 on: March 09, 2009, 02:44:46 AM »

3. What about the morality of IVF ?

This is a question that came up with octomom and there was an article in the local Catholic newspaper explaining the RC Church's position against IVF. However, there appeared shortly thereafter a letter from the father of children conceived by IVF. He wrote that he and his wife had tried and failed to conceive, and that they had tried all kinds of natural methods such as herbs, and other natural methods and products, and prayer, but were not successful. They wanted very much to have children and so they went to a doctor who offered his assistance. The doctor portrayed it as his employing science to help out a barren family and it was in the end up to God as to whether or not his assistance would be successful. In any event, the doctor's assistance was successful, and the parents were extremely pleased to have two children. They were very grateful to the doctor, as without his assistance they would be without children.
In the end of the letter, the father asked the question as to whether or not it would be necessary for him to go to confession and confess that he wanted children and that he loved the one's that he now had?
As I read the letter, the thought ran through my mind of the reports that I had read of more and more families using artificial contraceptive and abortive methods to prevent children.  Was the father wrong?
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« Reply #28 on: March 09, 2009, 02:56:39 AM »

Ah, yes. chimerism.  This was the favorite example of my roommate (bio major, son of a doctor, amateur "historian of religion" with what that entails in modern Div. schools) immediately after graduating from college.  My analogy was the case of siamese twins, when one twin becomes the appendage only of the other.  Such a case, I contend, would be of two persons, one dying before birth, and the animate flesh becoming a natural organ transplant.  Just like organ transplants don't make you into two (or in my best friend's case, three) persons, neither does chimerism.

I don't think the situation is quite simple enough to dismiss condescendingly like this.  Chimerism doesn't necessarily make a person two persons.  But if the soul exists at the moment of conception, then what happened to one of the souls?  And it's not a matter of one individual dying.  In a chimera, no one has died; both embryos continued to develop.
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« Reply #29 on: March 09, 2009, 03:06:01 AM »

One difference is that an embryo can split to become twins.  A fetus can't.
Actually, only the blastula and embryonic disk can split. If the blastula splits after the 8th day, then the twins share the same chorion and amnion ("yolk sac"), however, if the embryonic disk splits after the 13th day when it has begun to differentiate, the twins will share body parts (conjoined twins).
But this does raise an interesting point. If Personhood is present at conception, what happens if the blastula or embryonic plate splits and you get twins? Has one person become two persons or did both hypostases already exist in the blastula or embryonic disk even before it split?
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« Reply #30 on: March 09, 2009, 07:16:46 AM »

Ah, yes. chimerism.  This was the favorite example of my roommate (bio major, son of a doctor, amateur "historian of religion" with what that entails in modern Div. schools) immediately after graduating from college.  My analogy was the case of siamese twins, when one twin becomes the appendage only of the other.  Such a case, I contend, would be of two persons, one dying before birth, and the animate flesh becoming a natural organ transplant.  Just like organ transplants don't make you into two (or in my best friend's case, three) persons, neither does chimerism.

I don't think the situation is quite simple enough to dismiss condescendingly like this.  Chimerism doesn't necessarily make a person two persons.  But if the soul exists at the moment of conception, then what happened to one of the souls?  And it's not a matter of one individual dying.  In a chimera, no one has died; both embryos continued to develop.
And in a false pregnancy, something grows which was never alive.  You can grow stem cells-after all, isn't this what we were talking about?-but that doesn't make them alive as a person.

You seem to answered in a circle: what is death, but the seperaton of the soul/spirit from the body?
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« Reply #31 on: March 09, 2009, 07:19:28 AM »

One difference is that an embryo can split to become twins.  A fetus can't.
Actually, only the blastula and embryonic disk can split. If the blastula splits after the 8th day, then the twins share the same chorion and amnion ("yolk sac"), however, if the embryonic disk splits after the 13th day when it has begun to differentiate, the twins will share body parts (conjoined twins).
But this does raise an interesting point. If Personhood is present at conception, what happens if the blastula or embryonic plate splits and you get twins? Has one person become two persons or did both hypostases already exist in the blastula or embryonic disk even before it split?

My working hypothesis is that they are two hypostases even before the split, much like the original siamese twins were two persons (had to be, they married seperate women).

I could say that a unique human sole defines hypostasis, but that would leave naturalists out of the conversation, an give them an easy out out of the Church's conclusions.
Two things which are needed beyond the issue of having to convince naturalists that the soul exists are, firstly, we have to be able to show that the soul exists at the moment of conception. And secondly I think that equating hypostasis with the soul creates problems for our own theology. A human person is both a soul and a body. When we depict the hypostases of the Saints in icons, are we depicting their souls? Do their souls wear clothes? Are their souls beheaded, pierced with arrows, nailed to crosses?
Is this an Icon of the Person of Christ or just His Body as something separate to His Person?


"He who has seen Me has seen the Father."  If the immaterial Father is seen through the Body, that it stands to reason that the icon depicts the material (souls aren't techinically immaterial, just relatively so) soul.  lBtw, that's one reason why photographs of saints aren't icons.  Not to mention the problem of the Anastasis/Resurrection/Harrowing of Hell: in it no body is present.
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« Reply #32 on: March 09, 2009, 05:40:50 PM »

To add to that, what of the thousands of extra embryos from IVF that are going to be discarded anyway - would it be ethical to use only those rather than discarding them to no purpose whatsoever, but unethical to create them specifically for research?  I don't know either way, I'm just throwing it out there for discussion.  
That's an interesting point, and I think we should add the fifth question of what to do with the embryos that already exist, so our list of moral questions thus far are:

1. When is the embryo fully human and a person?
2. When does the embryo deserve protection?
3. What about the morality of IVF (from whence many embryos for research are to be found)?
4. Is the use of cloned embryonic stem cells OK?
5. What should we do with the frozen embryos which already exist?



Now, in regards to (1) & (2), ialmisry has stated that our understanding of the Incarnation requires us to hold that an embryo is a fully human person at Conception and therefore deserves protection from that instant. I actually don't think we can use the Incarnation as our precedent here; because the Person of the Logos pre-existed the Incarnation, whereas our personhood does not pre-exist our conception. We cannot therefore say that the Incarnation proves that an embryo is a person.

Actually, we can: the conception of the Theotokos and St. John the Forerunner, based on the Feat of the Annuciation, the Church also celebrates.  These feasts are distinct from the feasts of their births.

Now, you may argue the issue of the Personhood of Christ's humanity (we have a rather lengthy thread somewhere here on that), but for the Theotokos and St. John, there is no such question.

Quote
We can definitely say that an embryo is human, and has human nature, but we cannot say for certain that it is a human person.

Can we also waffle on the status of the personhood of the senile, mentally retarded, those in minority, etc.


Quote
Nor is it clear that the Church has actually stated that an embryo (or even a foetus) is a human person. In the original Prayers from the Euchologion for a Woman Who Has Miscarried, the woman is referred to as "αυτη συλληφθεν αποβαλομενην", literally "she who has had an arrested miscarriage". This has been translated in English Service books as "she who has had a miscarriage of the child conceived in her", and "child" implies personhood, but this sense is not present in the original version of the prayers. Nor does the Church have a funeral service for a miscarried embryo, which one might expect if it's full personhood were recognised.

If the child was born, grew up, begot and then died, without ever being baptized, neither would the Church have a funeral service for him.

 
Quote
So I think that arguments against the use of embryonic stem cells based on the personhood of the embryo are going to run into trouble, because all that we can say for certain right now is that an embryo is (a) human, and (b) the only thing in the universe which has the potential to become a human person.

At the Visitation, it seems St. John realized his full potential.
The problem I see with your reasoning, Isa, is that the concept of the person is more of an existential category pertinent to the discussion of philosophy.  What does it mean to be a person?  Your idea that personhood is determined when the embryo's genetic code is set is rather simplistic and needs a lot more thorough explanation than just a few one-lined references to our liturgical tradition.
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« Reply #33 on: March 09, 2009, 06:28:14 PM »

3. What about the morality of IVF ?

This is a question that came up with octomom and there was an article in the local Catholic newspaper explaining the RC Church's position against IVF. However, there appeared shortly thereafter a letter from the father of children conceived by IVF. He wrote that he and his wife had tried and failed to conceive, and that they had tried all kinds of natural methods such as herbs, and other natural methods and products, and prayer, but were not successful. They wanted very much to have children and so they went to a doctor who offered his assistance. The doctor portrayed it as his employing science to help out a barren family and it was in the end up to God as to whether or not his assistance would be successful. In any event, the doctor's assistance was successful, and the parents were extremely pleased to have two children. They were very grateful to the doctor, as without his assistance they would be without children.
In the end of the letter, the father asked the question as to whether or not it would be necessary for him to go to confession and confess that he wanted children and that he loved the one's that he now had?
As I read the letter, the thought ran through my mind of the reports that I had read of more and more families using artificial contraceptive and abortive methods to prevent children.  Was the father wrong?
What if the father wanted children so badly that he committed adultery to get them (a la Abraham)?
What comes to mind here is the commandment against adultery. Perhaps a person's intention would carry some weight in this.
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« Reply #34 on: March 09, 2009, 06:42:38 PM »

To add to that, what of the thousands of extra embryos from IVF that are going to be discarded anyway - would it be ethical to use only those rather than discarding them to no purpose whatsoever, but unethical to create them specifically for research?  I don't know either way, I'm just throwing it out there for discussion.  
That's an interesting point, and I think we should add the fifth question of what to do with the embryos that already exist, so our list of moral questions thus far are:

1. When is the embryo fully human and a person?
2. When does the embryo deserve protection?
3. What about the morality of IVF (from whence many embryos for research are to be found)?
4. Is the use of cloned embryonic stem cells OK?
5. What should we do with the frozen embryos which already exist?



Now, in regards to (1) & (2), ialmisry has stated that our understanding of the Incarnation requires us to hold that an embryo is a fully human person at Conception and therefore deserves protection from that instant. I actually don't think we can use the Incarnation as our precedent here; because the Person of the Logos pre-existed the Incarnation, whereas our personhood does not pre-exist our conception. We cannot therefore say that the Incarnation proves that an embryo is a person.

Actually, we can: the conception of the Theotokos and St. John the Forerunner, based on the Feat of the Annuciation, the Church also celebrates.  These feasts are distinct from the feasts of their births.

Now, you may argue the issue of the Personhood of Christ's humanity (we have a rather lengthy thread somewhere here on that), but for the Theotokos and St. John, there is no such question.

Quote
We can definitely say that an embryo is human, and has human nature, but we cannot say for certain that it is a human person.

Can we also waffle on the status of the personhood of the senile, mentally retarded, those in minority, etc.


Quote
Nor is it clear that the Church has actually stated that an embryo (or even a foetus) is a human person. In the original Prayers from the Euchologion for a Woman Who Has Miscarried, the woman is referred to as "αυτη συλληφθεν αποβαλομενην", literally "she who has had an arrested miscarriage". This has been translated in English Service books as "she who has had a miscarriage of the child conceived in her", and "child" implies personhood, but this sense is not present in the original version of the prayers. Nor does the Church have a funeral service for a miscarried embryo, which one might expect if it's full personhood were recognised.

If the child was born, grew up, begot and then died, without ever being baptized, neither would the Church have a funeral service for him.

 
Quote
So I think that arguments against the use of embryonic stem cells based on the personhood of the embryo are going to run into trouble, because all that we can say for certain right now is that an embryo is (a) human, and (b) the only thing in the universe which has the potential to become a human person.

At the Visitation, it seems St. John realized his full potential.
The problem I see with your reasoning, Isa, is that the concept of the person is more of an existential category pertinent to the discussion of philosophy.  What does it mean to be a person?  Your idea that personhood is determined when the embryo's genetic code is set is rather simplistic
No, it is simple: a unique genetic code is enough to biologically mark the person as a unique and seperate organism.  For those who deny the existence of the spiritual (souls, etc.), at the physically level the embryo's genetic code suffices.

Quote
and needs a lot more thorough explanation than just a few one-lined references to our liturgical tradition.
Well, referring to one line liturgical traditions, known as Tropars:

Today is the beginning of our salvation,
And the revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
"Rejoice, O Full of Grace, The Lord is with You!"

Now, it says "Today" i.e. the date of the Conception, is the "beginning" of our Salvation, i.e. the Incarnation.  At the risk of opening a two front war on Christ's person, it is clear that the Person of the Son becomes a man, the Son of the Virgin, on this date, at this event.  So the eternal hypostasis of the Son is incarnated into the person of Christ.  Only if you are Nestorian, can there be a remaining question about His embryo being a person (due to the sepearation of the natures), or if you are Monophysite (in the true sense, i.e. thinking like Eutyches) (the hypostasis of the divine nature obliterating any need for attention to the personhood of the human nature).

Luke 1:43 "And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"  At the time Christ was an embryo, yet He is addressed, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as Lord, and that He had a mother.  In other words, the eternal nature of the divine Person does not obscure the fact that the Person of Christ was Incarnate and a human person, with all the implications.
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« Reply #35 on: March 09, 2009, 06:45:09 PM »

3. What about the morality of IVF ?

This is a question that came up with octomom and there was an article in the local Catholic newspaper explaining the RC Church's position against IVF. However, there appeared shortly thereafter a letter from the father of children conceived by IVF. He wrote that he and his wife had tried and failed to conceive, and that they had tried all kinds of natural methods such as herbs, and other natural methods and products, and prayer, but were not successful. They wanted very much to have children and so they went to a doctor who offered his assistance. The doctor portrayed it as his employing science to help out a barren family and it was in the end up to God as to whether or not his assistance would be successful. In any event, the doctor's assistance was successful, and the parents were extremely pleased to have two children. They were very grateful to the doctor, as without his assistance they would be without children.
In the end of the letter, the father asked the question as to whether or not it would be necessary for him to go to confession and confess that he wanted children and that he loved the one's that he now had?
As I read the letter, the thought ran through my mind of the reports that I had read of more and more families using artificial contraceptive and abortive methods to prevent children.  Was the father wrong?
What if the father wanted children so badly that he committed adultery to get them (a la Abraham)?
What comes to mind here is the commandment against adultery. Perhaps a person's intention would carry some weight in this.
That the end justifies the means.

Saints have been conceived in adultery, fornication and rape.  That doesn't make adultery, fornication or rape morally O.K.
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« Reply #36 on: March 09, 2009, 07:40:16 PM »

No, it is simple: a unique genetic code is enough to biologically mark the person as a unique and seperate organism.  For those who deny the existence of the spiritual (souls, etc.), at the physically level the embryo's genetic code suffices.
Are you absolutely sure about that? Is this an immutable, absolute truth?
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« Reply #37 on: March 09, 2009, 07:45:39 PM »

"Nor does the Church have a funeral service for a miscarried embryo, which one might expect if it's full personhood were recognised."

There is no funeral where there is no body.
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« Reply #38 on: March 09, 2009, 08:02:23 PM »

There is no funeral where there is no body.
Is there a memorial service?
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« Reply #39 on: March 09, 2009, 08:04:02 PM »

There is no funeral where there is no body.
Is there a memorial service?
And if there is no body, how is it a human person?
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« Reply #40 on: March 09, 2009, 08:12:23 PM »

No, it is simple: a unique genetic code is enough to biologically mark the person as a unique and seperate organism.  For those who deny the existence of the spiritual (souls, etc.), at the physically level the embryo's genetic code suffices.
Are you absolutely sure about that? Is this an immutable, absolute truth?

No: immutable, absolute truth is not under the purview of biology.
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« Reply #41 on: March 09, 2009, 08:29:10 PM »

No, it is simple: a unique genetic code is enough to biologically mark the person as a unique and seperate organism.  For those who deny the existence of the spiritual (souls, etc.), at the physically level the embryo's genetic code suffices.
But does human organism necessarily equal human person?  Is a person's soul contained in or identified with his genetic code?

Quote
and needs a lot more thorough explanation than just a few one-lined references to our liturgical tradition.
Well, referring to one line liturgical traditions, known as Tropars:

Today is the beginning of our salvation,
And the revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
"Rejoice, O Full of Grace, The Lord is with You!"

Now, it says "Today" i.e. the date of the Conception, is the "beginning" of our Salvation, i.e. the Incarnation.  At the risk of opening a two front war on Christ's person, it is clear that the Person of the Son becomes a man, the Son of the Virgin, on this date, at this event.  So the eternal hypostasis of the Son is incarnated into the person of Christ.  Only if you are Nestorian, can there be a remaining question about His embryo being a person (due to the sepearation of the natures), or if you are Monophysite (in the true sense, i.e. thinking like Eutyches) (the hypostasis of the divine nature obliterating any need for attention to the personhood of the human nature).

Luke 1:43 "And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"  At the time Christ was an embryo, yet He is addressed, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as Lord, and that He had a mother.  In other words, the eternal nature of the divine Person does not obscure the fact that the Person of Christ was Incarnate and a human person, with all the implications.
And yet ozgeorge stated above that you cannot necessarily use the Incarnation of the Word of God to prove that a human embryo is indeed a human person.  The hypostasis of the Son of God predates His incarnation in the womb of the Virgin, whereas the hypostasis of Isa Almisry began not before, and possibly some time after he was conceived in the womb of his mother.  The questions are:  What constitutes personhood in the Orthodox Tradition, and when does a human organism become a human person?  Again, you can't draw on the precedent of Christ's incarnation to prove your point.
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« Reply #42 on: March 09, 2009, 08:38:04 PM »

No, it is simple: a unique genetic code is enough to biologically mark the person as a unique and seperate organism.  For those who deny the existence of the spiritual (souls, etc.), at the physically level the embryo's genetic code suffices.
Are you absolutely sure about that? Is this an immutable, absolute truth?

No: immutable, absolute truth is not under the purview of biology.

Good, because that would make conjoined twins one hypostasis and one person.
Really, I'm not trying to be difficult for the sake of being difficult. What I'm trying to do is look at developing moral arguments which will stand up to scrutiny. With this in mind, I'd like to add a sixth question to our list of issues to explore:

1. When is the embryo fully human and a person?
2. When does the embryo deserve protection?
3. What about the morality of IVF (from whence many embryos for research are to be found)?
4. Is the use of cloned embryonic stem cells OK?
5. What should we do with the frozen embryos which already exist?
6. Is the existence of the Personhood of the Embryo the only argument against embryonic stem cell research, or are there others?

I think we tend to get stuck in the belief that the only argument against things like embryonic stem cell research and abortion is that the Personhood of the embryo is the only ethical argument against them. Against this argument will always exist the simple counter-argument: "Prove it", and then we get stuck in endless existential arguments about the nature of Personhood and what defines it.
What I think we need to explore is the fact that an human embryo (in fact, going back even more, an human zygote) is the only cell/tissue/organism in the entire universe which has the potential to become a human being- therefore, should our moral value of the human zygote/embryo/foetus reflect our moral value of an human being? If we cannot use utilitarian moral arguments to justify killing a human being, can we use utilitarian moral arguments to justify killing the only cell/tissue/organism in the universe capable of becoming an human being?
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« Reply #43 on: March 09, 2009, 08:49:53 PM »

I think we tend to get stuck in the belief that the only argument against things like embryonic stem cell research and abortion is that the Personhood of the embryo is the only ethical argument against them. Against this argument will always exist the simple counter-argument: "Prove it", and then we get stuck in endless existential arguments about the nature of Personhood and what defines it.
What I think we need to explore is the fact that an human embryo (in fact, going back even more, an human zygote) is the only cell/tissue/organism in the entire universe which has the potential to become a human being- therefore, should our moral value of the human zygote/embryo/foetus reflect our moral value of an human being? If we cannot use utilitarian moral arguments to justify killing a human being, can we use utilitarian moral arguments to justify killing the only cell/tissue/organism in the universe capable of becoming an human being?

Great point.  Not only do we limit ourselves in our discussion with those whose valuing of the "personhood" of a potential human being is near zero, but we limit ourselves and our Orthodox Faith to think that the only argument against killing a potential, possibly actual human being is related to its personhood.
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« Reply #44 on: March 10, 2009, 11:16:14 AM »

Good, because that would make conjoined twins one hypostasis and one person.
Really, I'm not trying to be difficult for the sake of being difficult. What I'm trying to do is look at developing moral arguments which will stand up to scrutiny. With this in mind, I'd like to add a sixth question to our list of issues to explore:

1. When is the embryo fully human and a person?
2. When does the embryo deserve protection?
3. What about the morality of IVF (from whence many embryos for research are to be found)?
4. Is the use of cloned embryonic stem cells OK?
5. What should we do with the frozen embryos which already exist?
6. Is the existence of the Personhood of the Embryo the only argument against embryonic stem cell research, or are there others?

I think we tend to get stuck in the belief that the only argument against things like embryonic stem cell research and abortion is that the Personhood of the embryo is the only ethical argument against them. Against this argument will always exist the simple counter-argument: "Prove it", and then we get stuck in endless existential arguments about the nature of Personhood and what defines it.
What I think we need to explore is the fact that an human embryo (in fact, going back even more, an human zygote) is the only cell/tissue/organism in the entire universe which has the potential to become a human being- therefore, should our moral value of the human zygote/embryo/foetus reflect our moral value of an human being? If we cannot use utilitarian moral arguments to justify killing a human being, can we use utilitarian moral arguments to justify killing the only cell/tissue/organism in the universe capable of becoming an human being?

If we're arguing potentiality, then depending on environment, the zygote can be potentially anything.  I mean, when we even argue for personhood, it is that very idea of potentiality we're arguing, for we know there's a certain point between fertilized cell and bilaminar stage where potentiality changes.  We know a zygote can potentially be a million human beings, and if it doesn't implant (which statistically happens at a very very high rate), there's no longer a potential for it to be human.  And if lab conditions permit, its potentiality is a human tissue.

So I'm not sure if I understand potentiality argument well.  The sperm and the egg cells are the only haploid cells in the whole universe that when put together will also make a human being too.  By that argument, if potentiality was the argument, we should also give due respect to sperm and egg cells.  All we're doing with the potentiality argument is draw an arbitrary line.  Why should a zygote's potentiality be any different than two haploid potentialities?  By that argument, it makes no different when there's a person in the zygote or not.  It leads to the same conclusion:  no abortion after conception.

In my opinion, YES, personhood is important, the most important.  That's where the true line is, and that's what is being argued for abortion.  It has been assumed that if there is no person in the embryo, then why is abortion wrong (other than health issues and selfish reasons)?

We have speculated already that maybe there's no need to use embryonic stem cells to begin with, that we can change the potentiality of an adult stem cell.  However, imagine this:  If one day it has been discovered that an adult stem cell can get to a point where we find another way to clone a human, then truly indeed the potentiality argument completely fails, and this is where we'll know for sure that a zygote can't simply be a person (not that we can't figure that out now, since we do know twinning can occur between then and the bilaminar stage).

God bless.
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Tags: bioethics embryonic stem cell research anthropology personhood 
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