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The Beginning of Individual Human Life

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Stem Cells, Human Embryos and Ethics

In this chapter the author asks the question when any individual life begins – at conception, at birth or at some point in between. He gives a survey of some of the ancient answers to this problem within Greek philosophy, in rabbinic texts and among Christian thinkers of antiquity and the Middle Ages. He also discusses alternative ways of phrasing that kind of question, including formulations in terms of animation or personhood. With regard to the moral status of embryos he argues that an embryo in the early days after fertilization cannot be seen as an individual human being because it may split into identical twins. He then refers to the Warnock Committee that offered a terminus ante quem for the origin of individual human life, namely the 14th day. He also himself supports placing the individuation of a human being somewhere around this point of time. And he concludes: ‘But if the embryo, in its earliest days, is not yet an individual human being, then it need not necessarily be immoral to sacrifice it to the greater good of actual human beings who wish to conceive a child or reap the benefits of medical research’.

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References

  • Jones D.A. (2004). The soul of the embryo: An enquiry into the status of the human embryo in the Christian tradition. London/New York, Continuum.

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  • Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilization and Embryology (chaired M. Warnock). London, HMSO, 1984.

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  • Report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Stem Cell Research (chaired R. Harries). London, HMSO, 2002.

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  • Thomas Aquinas (1975). Summa contra gentiles. Notre Dame, IN, University of Notre Dame Press.

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Kenny, A. (2008). The Beginning of Individual Human Life. In: Østnor, L. (eds) Stem Cells, Human Embryos and Ethics. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-6989-5_12

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