Monday, July 20, 2009

Efforts to deny biological status of human embryos fail

Though the biological status of the human embryo as a full-fledged member of our species is well established, some who advocate for embryo-destructive research or abortion continue -- despite all scientific evidence to the contrary -- to make creative arguments for the view that the human embryo is not really a human being, biologically speaking.

Ronald Bailey is one such person, and he recently made yet another attempt to deny what the facts of human embryology tell us. But three top-notch pro-life scholars, scientist Maureen Condic and philosophers Robert George and Patrick Lee, show how Bailey's position is clearly faulty. The bottom line:
In various places we have made explicit what is generally assumed in biology: If an organism has all the internal resources, along with an active tendency or disposition, to develop itself to the stage where it performs the functions specific to an organism of a certain kind, requiring only a suitable environment and nutrition for that development, then it is an organism of that kind, at an immature stage of its life cycle. Only thus can one recognize a chrysalis as an immature member of Lepidoptera, or a tadpole as an immature member of a frog species. Human embryos, whether they are formed by fertilization (natural or in vitro) or by successful somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT — i.e., cloning), do have the internal resources and active disposition to develop themselves to the mature stage of a human organism, requiring only a suitable environment and nutrition. In fact, scientists distinguish embryos from other cells or clusters of cells precisely by their self-directed, integral functioning — their organismal behavior. Thus, human embryos are what the embryology textbooks say they are, namely, human organisms — living individuals of the human species — at the earliest developmental stage.
The real question in the debate over research with human embryos isn't their biological status (what they are), but their moral status (how they ought to be treated). Are they valuable, rights-bearing persons deserving of respect and protection, like you and me?