Volume 82, Issue 3, Summer 2008
Bernard G. Prusak
The Problem with the Problem of the Embryo
This paper seeks to explain why the debate over the personhood of the embryo goes nowhere and is more likely to generate confusion than conviction. The paper presents two arguments. The first aims to establish that the question of the personhood of the embryo cannot be resolved by turning to science, although
the debate about the embryo has largely been a debate about the scientific facts. It is claimed that the rough facts on which the parties to the debate agree admit of
multiple more refined accounts, among which science is powerless to adjudicate. So what happens is that the arguments go round and round, neither party convincing the other, both infuriating each another. The second argument concerns the implications of this claim for the many controversies involving the embryo. Here the question is how people who do not know what to make of the embryo might go about deciding how it should be treated.