American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 83, Issue 4, Fall 2009

Christopher Tollefsen
Pages 583-591

No Problem
A Response to Bernard Prusak’s “The Problem with the Problem of the Embryo”

Is the human zygote and human embryo a human being? Such questions are biological questions (although philosophy may helpfully be drawn upon in rebutting objections and clarifying concepts). The issue of personhood is thus best kept entirely off the table when that question is being discussed. What is, or is not, possible for ontological persons, and what would, or would not, be morally warranted for moral persons, should not play a role in the assessment of biological evidence with a view to answering the biological question. Yet this is what happens in a recent essay by Bernard Prusak (ACPQ 82:3 [Summer 2008]), an essay devoted to showing why the “problem of the embryo” will always be with us. More careful attention to developmental biology, and greater care in distinguishing scientific from metaphysical and ethical questions, would go some way towards making the problem of the embryo less intractable than Prusak believes.