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Unenabled Embryo Use

      To the Editor: In the commentary by Guenin
      • Guenin LM
      The morality of unenabled embryo use—arguments that work and arguments that don't.
      in the June 2004 issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the author explained cogently why 6 arguments in support of using human embryos in research and therapy do not work. Fortunately, his “argument from nonenablement” also does not work.
      Guenin advances the curious argument that the parents' conceptual intent regarding the embryo's future and the accident of where the embryo is located (petri dish vs uterus) actually determine the embryo's ontological status, ie, what it is. According to him, the decision to suspend the embryo's development at an early stage and donate the embryo for experimentation transforms it into an “epidosembryo,” to which no “possible person” corresponds. This is transubstantiation by mental fiat and physical location-a truly miraculous occurrence!
      The real issue is the ontological status of the zygote because all subsequent development consists simply of growth. Growth is accidental change, whereas conception is substantial change. A gamete implanted in a woman's uterus will never grow into a baby.
      The Catholic Church teaches unequivocally that “human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.”
      If fertilization brings substantial change and the zygote formed is both alive and human-facts accessible to both philosophical and scientific analysis-a soul is present because the soul is the principle of life in a material body and the form of the body.
      • Aristotle
      • Denzinger H
      Guenin's reference to the Vatican document Donum Vitae is misleading. That document does not teach that a person is a genome. It also does not teach that a person is a union of body and soul because this would preclude angelic persons and the 3 Persons of the Trinity. The classic definition of Boethius is “persona est naturae rationalis individua substantia,” a person is an individual substance of a rational nature.
      • Tixeront J
      Actually, since person denotes a “who,” not a “what,” a person cannot be subject to strict definition, which refers only to the “whatness” of a thing. Donum Vitae explicitly affirms the human person as a substantial union of body and spiritual soul, the immediate creation of the spiritual soul of each human person by God, and the inviolability of the human person from the moment of conception. It also explicitly (and presciently) rejects the argument from nonenablement.

      Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Donum Vitae, Vatican City; 1987.

      Perhaps realizing the weakness of his argument, Guenin buttresses it with references to the embryo not being sentient or capable of forming preferences and adopting ends, thus confusing the actualization of various potencies with the underlying nature in which such potencies are grounded. He also buttresses it with references to the relief of human suffering, which is actually the utilitarian defense of embryo use he previously (and properly) rejected, a variant of the Machiavellian principle that the end justifies the means-a principle covertly or overtly embraced by today's brave new world of bioethicists. According to Guenin, “Therefore nothing that we might do to an epidosembryo can cause it discomfort or frustrate it.” I would submit that killing is the ultimate frustration for the victim.

      REFERENCES

        • Guenin LM
        The morality of unenabled embryo use—arguments that work and arguments that don't.
        Mayo Clin Proc. 2004; 79: 801-808
      1. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. United States Catholic Conference, Washington, DC2000
        • Aristotle
        Barnes J De Anima (On the Soul): The Complete Works of Aristotle. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ1984
        • Denzinger H
        Enchiridion Symbolorum (The Sources of Catholic Dogma). Loreto Publications, Fitzwilliam, NH1955
        • Tixeront J
        History of Dogmas. Christian Classics, Westminster, Md1984
      2. Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Donum Vitae, Vatican City; 1987.