When Does Life Begin: The Harvard “I Can’t Hug an Embryo” Standard

Harvard biologist George Daley offers an exciting new test for determining when a mass of cells with human DNA such as a fetus is actually human life or not. Here is an excerpt from a recent posting of MIT’s Technology Review Weblog:

There was an interesting exchange in the stem cell debate earlier this week between Harvard biologist George Daley and Senator Sam Brownback on when a human embryo acquires moral rights. According to Wired News, Brownback “persistently” asked Daley at what age he would decline to use an embryo for medical research. Wisely, Daley said he could not define when an embryo becomes a human being. “I think there would be consensus among scientists that it would be impossible to define that time,“ Daley said. “But I don’t think it’s at the age of the blastocyst.”

Wired writes:

Brownback pressed further, asking him to envision his two children and determine at which point in their development it would be OK for scientists to perform research on them. “I can’t hug an embryo,“ Daley said. “I think (scientists) are comfortable with using the earliest microscopic ball of cells.“

Daley’s “I can’t hug an embryo” standard may prove to be a viable new tool for classifying certain life forms as not-fully-human and thus available for medical research, but his test may still pose perplexing questions in spite of it’s Harvard origins. For example, many parents observe that huggable children gradually become unhuggable teenagers. While some parents would be relieved to know that their unhuggable teenagers can ethically be turned over to Harvard scientists for medical research, others feel unsettled about the matter and wonder if such post-natal terminations (retroactive abortions, I suppose) might somehow be “wrong.” I suppose that further guidance from Dr. Daley might be helpful on this matter.

Until science has fully settled the matter, I have a helpful question for teenagers: Have you hugged your parents today?


Author: Jeff Lindsay

4 thoughts on “When Does Life Begin: The Harvard “I Can’t Hug an Embryo” Standard

  1. Great post.

    This illustrates what has long baffled me: the inability of pro-choice arguments to even consider that embryos/fetuses are at some point a life worth protecting. Like Daley said, most say “we can’t know.” Wouldn’t that suggest that when making the decision to tamper and/or destroy what may possibly be life we should err on the side of caution?

    All pro-choice rhetoric I have heard suggests that since we can’t know then let’s just leave to everyone’s personal discretion. This suggests to me they have no concern about life and are more concerned with personal interests, ie. cute, perfect, and convenient children or performing research.

  2. I have just given a speach on abortion in my ethics class and no one could argue my points for abortion. But one of the questions possed to me was when does life begin well in my oppinion life begins when the fetus is born because so much could go wrong in the womb, That the fetus could not survive. So lets stop splitting hairs on this issue.

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