The Moral Status of the Human Embryo: a Critique of Peter Singer’s Conception of the Potentiality of the Embryo
Mbih Jerome Tosam, Kizitor Mbuwir

In this paper, we argue that Peter Singer’s view on the potentiality of the human embryo is erroneous. According to Singer, the human embryo is a human person in potentiality and not in actuality. As a potential person, an embryo cannot be accorded the same moral worth as a person. For him, ‘there is no rule that says that a potential X has the same value as an X, or has all the rights of an X.’ And since there is no such rule or any general inference from ‘A is a potential X, to A has the rights of an X, we should not accept that ‘a potential person should have the rights of a person’ (Singer, 1993, 153). Singer’s argument, at first sight, appears plausible, but upon critical scrutiny, one finds serious problems with his interpretation of the concept of potentiality. For instance, the argument that ‘Prince Charles is a potential king of England but does not now have the rights of a king’, which he employs in the case of the human embryo, does not logically follow. The example of Prince Charles involves passive potentiality while that of the human embryo involves active potentiality. Passive potentiality needs an external agent to actualize it whereas active potentiality does not require any external agent to realise it. The gametes have passive potential because they need to be fused either naturally or artificially in the laboratory for them to gain the status of active potentiality. The embryo has an active potential because it controls its own development from within. These two cases of potential do not therefore mean the same thing. We argue that it is not possible to attribute active potentiality to the human embryo without considering it as a person.

Full Text: PDF     DOI: 10.15640/ijpt.v3n2a5