Are human embryos Kantian persons? Kantian considerations in favor of embryonic stem cell research

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11 Scopus citations


One argument used by detractors of human embryonic stem cell research (hESCR) invokes Kant's formula of humanity, which proscribes treating persons solely as a means to an end, rather than as ends in themselves. According to Fuat S. Oduncu, for example, adhering to this imperative entails that human embryos should not be disaggregated to obtain pluripotent stem cells for hESCR. Given that human embryos are Kantian persons from the time of their conception, killing them to obtain their cells for research fails to treat them as ends in themselves. This argument assumes two points that are rather contentious given a Kantian framework. First, the argument assumes that when Kant maintains that humanity must be treated as an end in itself, he means to argue that all members of the species Homo sapiens must be treated as ends in themselves; that is, that Kant regards personhood as co-extensive with belonging to the species Homo sapiens. Second, the argument assumes that the event of conception is causally responsible for the genesis of a Kantian person and that, therefore, an embryo is a Kantian person from the time of its conception. In this paper, I will present challenges against these two assumptions by engaging in an exegetical study of some of Kant's works. First, I will illustrate that Kant did not use the term "humanity" to denote a biological species, but rather the capacity to set ends according to reason. Second, I will illustrate that it is difficult given a Kantian framework to denote conception (indeed any biological event) as causally responsible for the creation of a person. Kant ascribed to a dualistic view of human agency, and personhood, according to him, was derived from the supersensible capacity for reason. To argue that a Kantian person is generated due to the event of conception ignores Kant's insistence in various aspects of his work that it is not possible to understand the generation of a person qua a physical operation. Finally, I will end the paper by drawing from Allen Wood's work in Kantian philosophy in order to generate an argument in favor of hESCR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4
JournalPhilosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 31 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health Policy
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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