embryo research

An excerpt from my latest column for the International New York Times, on the debate about time limits for embryo research. It was published under the headline ‘Rethinking Embryo Research Rules’.

It is a debate with important consequences not just for embryo research, but also for wider debates over abortion and infanticide. At the heart of all this lies a central question: Where do we draw the line between a blob of cells and a human being with moral status?


The intractability of this issue reflects the fact that, as a matter of biology, the development of human life is rarely characterized by clear lines. A cell created by a fusion of egg and sperm is (if we ignore the possibility of cloning) a necessary condition of being a human being, but not a sufficient one.


A human being is created in the long journey from being a single, microscopic cell to becoming a self-conscious moral agent. That change does not happen at any one instant, but slowly over time, so that, almost imperceptibly, a qualitatively different being is created.

Read the full article in the International New York Times.


  1. A very important milestone in the path to becoming fully human is the ability to survive outside the woman’s body. Unassisted by technology that was thought to be about 28 weeks: one heard stories of babies being kept alive in a shoebox next to the stove.

    Once the point of viability is reached it is no longer necessary to kill the fetus in order to terminate the pregnancy.

    Since the arbitrary definition of what constitutes a human being with legal rights in utero is a social act, society is responsible for providing protections to its members.

  2. Hmmm another interesting one ….I knew about the 28 weeks viability and must admit thought that’s quite a ways thro pregnancy …I understand most terminations are usually undertaken before that demarcation line tho …it’s interesting that the scientific research cut off point is much earlier and perhaps it should remain so ….it would be interesting to get a gynaecologist/obstetricians opinion

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