| Hannah Schickl |
Bioethics - Medical ethics, Philosophy
On the moral consideration of human embryos in vitro with the example of stem cell research and preimplantation genetic diagnosisThe normative question how we should deal with human embryos in vitro is still one of the key problems within recent biomedical research and application. The way societies and individuals behave to this question affects judgements of international and national courts as well as international guidelines and national legislations and thus shapes the landscape of biomedical research and therapy itself. Since the convergence of human genetics and reproductive medicine in the 1980s there have been heated debates within science and public on the normative status of human embryos in vitro continuing the debates on abortion from the 1970s and moving them to the next level. While some ethics experts meanwhile tend to move away from this topic noticing that this question is too emotionally, religiously, culturally and historically loaded and argumentatively complex for a consensus the core of the problem remains: great uncertainty regarding the (theoretical philosophical) conceptual and normative (ethical and legal) concept on how to deal with new technologies and medical or reproductive applications involving human embryos in vitro. Paradigmatic examples of this uncertainty are the two contradicting decisions of the European Court of Justice (now: Court of Justice of the European Union) in 2011 (in the course of the appeal proceedings “Oliver Brüstle against Greenpeace”) and 2014 (in the course of the proceeding “International Stem Cell Corporation against Comptroller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks”) on the question whether human parthenotes are human embryos in the context of the patenting of procedures based on stem cells generated from these entities. Another example is the decision of the German Federal Court of Justice in 2010 (after the self-denunciation of a Berlin gynecologist) on the question whether preimplantation genetic diagnosis is prohibited in Germany or not that led to the amendment of the Embryo Protection Act from 1990 and the restricted permission of preimplantation genetic diagnosis in 2011. Furthermore, new technologies (like for example tetraploid complementation assay, human therapeutic cloning or human gene editing) or legal disputes and judgements (see the examples given above) constantly raise new questions and challenge existing arguments as well as legal regulations. Current developments do have important repercussions particularly on the question of the moral status of human embryos in vitro by enabling new or better insights into the scientific basis and possibilities thereby leading to new arguments or counterarguments. One important current example of such an argumentative turn within the professional ethical debate is the so called absurd extension argument referring to a possible transient totipotency of human induced pluripotent stem cells and possible human tetraploid complementation assay as a counterargument to the hitherto most influential potentiality argument for a strong moral protection status of human embryos in vitro (cf. Schickl et al. 2014). Therefore, my PhD thesis gives an analytical systematic review and provides a theoretical analysis of the conceptual and normative concepts by establishing secular philosophical and ethical criteria and arguments for the handling of new technologies, reproductive applications or medical therapies involving human embryos in vitro. My hypothesis is that systematic and analytic philosophical examinations are an important contribution to slowly untangle complex ethical topics that are emotionally, historically, religiously or culturally loaded in order to getting closer to a consensus step by step. Probably one of the most important examples of such a topic where the continuous contribution of philosophers and ethicists had a sustainable impact on the awareness and attitudes in society and in politics that was sufficient for reaching an international (ethical and legal) minimal consensus is animal ethics.