Who's a Who?

Dianne N. Irving, M.A., Ph.D
Permission granted


Carie and Tim were thrilled! They might finally become parents. Long dark years had preceded this moment and any hope of Carie becoming pregnant again was almost destroyed. Massive scar tissues had left her infertile. These were caused by past abortions, sexually transmitted diseases, and the use of an IUD. But thanks to the “In Vitro Fertilization” (IVF) clinic, their troubles were over. Technicians had successfully fertilized 11 pre–embryos for them, and were ready to implant them into Carie's womb!

Their strategy: Of the 11 pre–embryos, 3 were discarded due to genetic diseases, leaving 8 healthy ones. Five would be implanted, but 3 of the fetuses would be “reduced and removed” during pregnancy to allow the remaining 2 the best of chances. The other 3 pre–embryos would be frozen and either implanted later, destroyed, or donated for use in experimental research.

Carie and Tim studied the complicated “informed consent” forms that explained in detail the basic human embryology, medical procedures, risks and benefits, and the proposed strategy. One question kept haunting them. “Exactly, what are these little 'pre-embryos?”, they asked their IVF researchers. “Would it be morally wrong to destroy some of them?”

“Absolutely not,” replied the researchers. “Every expert in this business unanimously agrees that they are merely.....loose collections of totipotent stem cells, about the size of the period at the end of a sentence.”

“They are 'whats', not 'whos',” he explained, erasing any lingering doubts in Carie's and Tim's minds. The “informed consent” forms were signed, and the strategy put in place.

(analysis of story)

Not “whos”. What does that mean? First of all, let us look at the facts and separate them from false terminology and statements.

There is no such thing as a “pre–embryo”. The researchers have just made up this term. All of these little “whats” are really little “whos” — little persons!

Two questions have been confused here: one is scientific; the other is philosophical. The scientific fact is that at fertilization these tiny embryos of Carie's and Tim's were ALREADY real, live, existing human beings. So Carry and Tim are ALREADY parents — even before implantation takes place! This is not a “faith” position. This is an objective scientific fact agreed to by every human embryologist world–wide. Anyone who claims otherwise is making a false statement. Look up Biology yourself in the library.

The philosophical question: Does this mean that they are human persons too? Are they human persons like me and you? Persons with ethical and legal rights and protections?

The answer is YES. Personhood depends on there being a HUMAN NATURE there, not on whether or not certain human functions and activities are actually being exercised at the time (e.g., being self-conscious, willing, choosing, loving, feeling pain or pleasure, etc.). Otherwise, even adults who are mentally ill, the comatose, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's patients, drug addicts, alcoholics, the disabled — even us when we are sleeping — would not be “persons”! There are no exceptions. EVERY human being is simultaneously a human person.

Since IVF couples like Carie and Tim are ALREADY parents, they ALREADY have the moral and legal obligations to protect their children from harm. This means they cannot allow any of their children to be eliminated because of some lab test, or abort them to make way for larger brothers and sisters, freeze or donate them for destructive experimentation for any reason, no matter how good it sounds. Evil may not be done that good may come of it.


nov 31/Jul/00