HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Thursday, April 7, 2005

Embryo and Human

Adding to the stem cell research debate (which for some reason seems to be everywhere in the news recently) The Chronicle of Higher Education has a great article entitled,"The Thoughtful Distinction Between Embryo and Human" by Professor Michael S. Gazzaniga, who is a professor of cognitive neuroscience and director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Dartmouth College. This essay is adapted from his upcoming book The Ethical Brain, to be published Dana Press later this month.  He asserts,

Clearly, I believe that a fertilized egg, a clump of cells with no brain, is hardly deserving of the same moral status we confer on the newborn child or the functioning adult. Mere possession of the genetic material for a future human being does not make a human being. The developing embryo that becomes a fetus that becomes a baby is the product of a dynamic interaction with its environment in the womb, its postnatal experiences, and a host of other factors. A purely genetic description of the human species does not describe a human being. A human being represents a whole other level of organization, as distinct from a simple embryo as an embryo is distinct from an egg and sperm. It is the dynamics between genes and environment that make a human being. Indeed, most of us are willing to grant this special status to a developing entity long before it is born, but surely not before the entity even has a brain.

Fixing the beginning of life is a tricky issue that, like most, if not all, neuroethical issues, should depend on the context. There is not a single answer. My life and your life began at conception. But when my life began and when life begins are different questions. A 14-day-old embryo created for research is not, and should not be granted the moral status of, a human being. Embryos are not individuals. As a father, I may react to a sonogram image of a nine-week-old embryo and see a future child; as a neuroscientist, I know that that creature cannot survive outside the womb for another 14 weeks. In neuroethics, context is everything. And it is our brains that allow us to analyze, reason, form theories, and adapt to all contexts.

Thanks to Joe Hodnicki for this cite.  Joe is the blog editor of Law Librarian Blog, which I described before, much to his chagrin, as a fun blog.  I would be remiss if  I also did not mention that it is extremely informative and well-written blog.  You will definitely not miss out on the latest debates over the regulation of electronic media, an examination of some of most recent legal publications, the latest legal academic job opportunities, conferences and important news.  [bm]



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