Question: What's in the Petri Dish, Property or Person?
inescapable ethical question to be confronted has been formulated by Glenn
McGee and Arthur Caplan, "What's in the dish?" Is an oocyte
hosting a transferred DNA nucleus a person, or a potential person? Is a
fertilized ovum from an IVF clinic that has been borrowed in order to make a
blastocyst a potential person; or is it merely a piece of property to be
donated for destruction in medical research? If the blastocyst is a potential
person because its trophechtoderm makes it totipotent, is each interior
pluripotent hES cell less of a potential person just because it no longer has
access to a trophoblast? Would the pluripotent hES cell be considered a
potential person if we could discover how to turn on its trophoblast genes and
make a placenta? Would these questions apply as well to hEG cells taken from an
aborted fetus? Even if pluripotent hES and hEG cells could be removed from the
list of potential persons, would their respective sources in destroyed
blastocysts and aborted fetuses render their utilization unethical?
questions are essential to evangelical Right-to-Life advocates and Roman
Catholics who borrow categories from earlier stages in the abortion debate.
Richard Land, who heads the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the
Southern Baptist Convention objects to treating stem cells as property.
"Human cells, tissues, and organs should not be commodities to be bought
and sold in a biotech slave market." He adds, "Some researchers have
established in their own minds an arbitrary lesser moral status for human
beings in their embryonic stage of development."
Roman Pontiff and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith attribute full
human personhood and dignity and moral status to us from the moment of
fertilization on. In order to avoid any slight of ethical hand that might
compromise this firm position, the Vatican uses interchangeably terms such as
'zygote', 'pre-embryo', 'embryo', and 'foetus'.
is of indispensable value here for our ethical deliberation is the Vatican's
unflinching resolve to protect the dignity of human personhood. Yet, the
questions raised by stem cell research are more than this line of ethical
deliberation is presently ready to handle. The Vatican's approach is like an
ethical spray gun; whereas what we need in this instance is to paint with a
fine pencil brush. We need to color within the lines, so that we avoid
accidentally blotting out advances in the quality of human health and
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| Contributed by: Dr. Ted Peters