A Theory of Unborn Life: From Abortion to Genetic Manipulation

A Theory of Unborn Life: From Abortion to Genetic Manipulation

A Theory of Unborn Life: From Abortion to Genetic Manipulation

A Theory of Unborn Life: From Abortion to Genetic Manipulation

Synopsis

In light of new biomedical technologies, such as artificial reproduction, stem cell research, genetic selection and design, the question of what we owe to future persons-and unborn life more generally-is as contested as ever. In A Theory of Unborn Life: From Abortion to Genetic Manipulation, author Anja J. Karnein provides a novel theory that shows how our commitments to persons can help us make sense of our obligations to unborn life. We should treat embryos that willdevelop into persons in anticipation of these persons. But how viable is this theory? Moreover, what does it mean to treat embryos in anticipation of the future persons they will develop into? Exploring the attractiveness of this approach for Germany and the U.S. - two countries with very different legal approaches to valuing unborn life-Karnein comes to startling conclusions to some of today's greatest ethical and legal debates. Under Karnein's theory, abortion and stem cell research are legitimate, since embryos that do not have mothers willing to continue to assist their growth have no way of developing into persons. However, Karnein also contends that where the health of embryosis threatened by third parties or even by the women carrying them, embryos need to be treated with the same care due to the children that emerge from them. In the case of genetic manipulation, it is important to respect future persons like our contemporaries, respecting their independence asindividuals as well as the way they enter this world without modification. Genetic interventions are therefore only legitimate for insuring that future persons have the necessary physical and mental endowment to lead independent lives so as to be protected from being dominated by their contemporaries. Evincing polarization and dogma, Karnein's clean, philosophically-driven analysis provides a sound ethical foundation for the interpretation of any variety of legal dilemmas surrounding unbornlife.

Excerpt

“I Wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me” (Sterne 1760, 1). Thus begin Tristram Shandy’s bitter complaints about the circumstances of his conception. He is dismayed about his father’s momentary distraction (by something Tristram’s mother was saying to him about winding up the clock) in the precise instant the sperm that was to make Tristram left his body and started its voyage to the egg. Tristram is gravely concerned “that, through terror of it, natural to so young a traveler my little gentleman had got to his journey’s end miserably spent; his muscular strength and virility worn down to a thread; his own animal spirits ruffled beyond description, and that in this sad disordered state of nerves, he had laid down a prey to suddenly start, or a series of melancholy dreams and fancies for nine long, long months together” (p. 3). Tristram is incensed about the consequences of this unfortunate beginning, which he considers to be beyond repair. “I tremble to think what a foundation had been laid for a thousand weaknesses both of body and mind, which no skill of the physician or the philosopher could ever afterwards have set thoroughly to rights” (p. 3).

The humor in these passages stems—in part at least—from the misattribution of cause and effect, namely that Tristram believes that his father’s momentous disturbance at the moment of ejaculation would have such terrible and everlasting consequences for young Tristram. Despite the absurdity, there is of course a kernel of truth about what Tristram’s father has to say about these fateful events, namely that “My Tristram’s misfortunes began nine months before he ever came to this world” (p. 3). The beginning of an individual’s life is always and inevitably also the beginning of that person’s luck and misfortunes.

What we should take seriously about Tristram’s lamentation is that it matters to persons what happened to the embryo from which they developed. In that sense, when Sterne broke with the tradition of epic narrative (which began in medias res and provided some of . . .

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