EMBRYO by Robert P. George


A Defense of Human Life
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An argument against embryonic stem-cell research based on reason rather than religious conviction.

Once you grant that the fertilized ovum (the zygote) is a human being, you confer on it the right not to be exploited or killed, aver George (Jurisprudence/Princeton Univ.), a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, and Tollefsen (Philosophy/Univ. of South Carolina). And the zygote is a human being, they maintain, because embryological science indicates it is a unitary organism that directs its development from the moment of conception. (In a few post-conception days, however, that unitary organism splits into a portion that will be the baby and one that becomes the placenta.) Much of the text is aimed at disposing of dualist arguments that deny the embryo human status because it lacks a soul or mind or sense of self. We are animals, the authors proudly proclaim, and the embryo has in potential all those so-called “person” qualities. They also take issue with “moral dualism,” which declares that entities lacking sentience or reason are not human beings. If that’s true, we can experiment on human infants or comatose patients, they argue. George and Tollefsen dispose of utilitarian claims that embryo research is a means of achieving the “greatest good for the greatest number” by declaring their absolute moral principle: It is the individual embryo whose life is at stake, and that life is inviolable. The authors parse other arguments—some subtle, some as silly as saying that embryos aren’t human because they don’t look human. In the end, they refuse to accept that reasonable people might differ. Yet people of reason do differ, and arguments for or against embryo research are not likely to be won by reason so much as by moral beliefs and emotions. Where the authors are on strong ground is in proposing rules to govern the in-vitro fertilization industry, responsible for myriad cryopreserved ova, and in advocating expanded research on other stem-cell populations.

Has its moments, but won’t prompt advocates of this kind of research to waver one bit.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-385-52282-3
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2007