Science and Ethics
Letter to the Editor

Someone just sent me the text of your very interesting essay from the Skeptical Inquirer, adapted from your Toronto talk earlier this year. Though we do not see eye to eye on all matters, I appreciate much of what you had to say. Indeed, I too have been interested in nature and ethics for several decades, though I do not hold the modern penchant for reductive explanations as providing a sufficient account of nature, animal no less than human. (You might be interested in two efforts along these lines: Toward a More Natural Science--especially chapters 10-13; especially 13--and The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature.) But I would not have taken up the electronic pen were it not for your mistaken presentation of my view on human embryos.

You claim that "He maintains that all human life, including a cloned embryo, has the same moral status and dignity as a person from the moment of conception." I do not maintain this, and I have never said this. In fact, I have said in print that I am inclined to doubt this view, though I also remain agnostic on the question. I do not know with confidence how to regard the early human embryo, and I doubt that people who claim such knowledge--on either side of the debate--really have it. I do think that any honest biologist in the presence of an embryo--animal as well as human--would be in awe of its indwelling powers of organic and integrated self-development and ontogenesis and would never succumb to the temptation of seeing it as "just a bag of cells." It is an organism at the early stage of development--but that still leaves open the precise moral standing that it should command among us, and I have never said that the embryo is a person or its equivalent.

I have said that one need not believe that an early human embryo is fully one of us to be troubled by the idea and practice of regarding it as mere raw material for our own, albeit humanely inspired, use. That disquiet concerns less what we do to embryos than what we do to ourselves. As a policy matter, I do oppose all human cloning, including the creation of cloned embryos for research but not for the reason you have ascribed to me.

I thought, for the future, you would like to have this error corrected.

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Leon R.
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