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The Concept of a Person in Moral Philosophy

  • Ludger Honnefelder
Chapter
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 52)

Abstract

What moral status befits human zygotes, embryos and foetuses? How should we treat the mentally severely retarded or patients in an irreversible coma, who are only surviving in a vegetative state? Is everyone who is a human being also a person? For a number of years, these or similar questions have formed the debate on medical ethics, at first only in the Anglo-Saxon countries, of late, however, also on the continent.1 That such questions are asked is a result of the rapid developments which occurred in the medical sciences over the past decades. We have learned how human life develops at a molecular level, and we know how to handle the procedures and their underlying regularities in such a way that human embryos can be grown in large numbers in vitro. For the first time we also have the technical means to keep accident victims or severely ill people alive for an indeterminate amount of time albeit in a vegetative state. How should we use these new possibilities? Evidently, it is the quest for moral orientation, not liberal cynicism, that produces the above questions, even if the way in which they are put, and still more the answers that they are given, are often unconvincing. A survey of the literature shows that the way in which these questions are put is not in itself indicative of a particular moral position.

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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ludger Honnefelder
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Bonn Institute for Science and EthicsBonnGermany

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