The Person, the Soul, and Genetic Engineering

Issues in Law & Medicine, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

The Person, the Soul, and Genetic Engineering


J. C. Polkinghorne, The Person, the Soul, and Genetic Engineering, 30 J. MED. ETHICS 593 (2004).

Argument about the ethical possibility of the therapeutic use of embryonic stem cells depends critically on the evaluation of the moral status of the very early embryo. Some assert that at the blastocyst stage it is only potentially human, not yet possessing the full ethical status of personhood, while others assert that from its formation the embryo possesses all the moral rights of a human person. It is shown that a decision on this issue is closely related to how human nature is to be understood. The idea of a person as a dual combination of body and spirit correlates naturally with the assertion of absolute personhood from conception, while an idea of human psychosomatic unity encourages a development picture in which the embryo only grows gradually into personhood. The latter view is seen to be encouraged by new advances in science which emphasize the importance of the concept of information in the discussion of complex systems. Other ethical issues related to human genetics are also briefly reviewed.

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