Embryos and us

What respect and protection are owed to the human embryo in its first days of existence? The rise of stem cell research has forced the question. Scientists believe that the stem cells extracted from the earliest stages of the embryo have the capacity to grow into any type of tissue, and that these cells can be used to repair or replace damaged tissue and organs in people suffering from diseases like diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

In the face of such possible uses of humanity’s freedom to explore and shape life, what respect is owed to the embryo? It’s hard to give an absolute answer. A recently fertilized egg, only a few days old—at which point it is a cluster of 100 to 300 cells, which all together can fit on the head of a pin—does not seem to merit the same respect owed to an embryo with, say, a developed neurological system. Nor does it make sense to call the embryo a person.


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