The Baptism in the Jordan / Biotechnology & Morality, Part II

Veritatis Splendor and the Foundations of Bioethics

David L. Schindler

“We can form proper ethical judgments with respect to biotechnological science’s production and manipulation of embryonic stem cells for health-serving ends only insofar as we recover adequate notions of nature and human-organic life (as gift).”

(1) The nature of an organism: the insufficiency of the distinction between active potency and passive potency as a criterion. The distinction between active potency and passive potency in determining the nature of an organism is, by itself, insufficient. This distinction can be illustrated by an acorn which, left to itself, will grow into an oak tree, but not (for example) into a desk. The acorn, in other words, bears an active potential to become an oak tree but only a passive potential to become a desk because, in this latter case, its potential can be realized only through external intervention. This distinction is employed in the case of ANT to argue that the entity brought into being through the manipulation occurring ab initio is a sub-human entity, that is, because this entity does not of its inner dynamic progressively manifest human-organic traits.

The problem is that this distinction begs what is the pertinent question: whether the manipulation performed ab initio produces a non-human entity or on the contrary a human entity that is radically disabled. What the distinction between active potency and passive potency by itself fails to answer, in other words, is whether an acorn that does not develop into an oak tree fails to do so because it is not actually an acorn, or whether, on the contrary, it fails to do so because it is a radically defective acorn.

In a word, the nature of an organism is not determined in the first instance by its capacity to progress to a more mature stage of development: being an organism is not synonymous with (progressively) manifesting organismal traits.

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