Bioethics and Embryonic Development

The bioethics is the ethics applied to sciences of the life. These sciences include genetic engineering, xenotransplantation, medicine and gerontology.

The object of the genetic engineering is to combine molecules of deoxyribonucleic acid (or DNA, that contains the genetic code), and to insert them in alive hosts to obtain new genetic combinations. The object of the xenotransplantation is to implant in human beings, organs from other alive beings. The object of the medicine is to preserve the health, and to prevent, to alleviate and to cure the diseases. The object of gerontology is the process of aging of the alive beings.

The bioethics is applied to the scientific research of the denominated embryonic mother cells. These cells have the property to be divided and transform themselves into specialized cells of the most diverse sort. The mother cells are in the fertilized ovum, and also in the first embryonic cells, denominated blastomeres.

The bioethics also is applied to the infirmary, whose object, defined by the International Council of Nurses, is to foment the health, to prevent the disease, to reclaim the health state, and to alleviate the suffering.

Bioethical topics were dealed in the hippocratic corpus or works from the Greek physician Hippocrates; the Republic of the Greek philosopher Plato; the Summa Contra Gentiles of the philosopher and Italian theologian Thomas Aquinas, and in Lessons on Ethics of German philosopher Inmanuel Kant.

The bioethics, however, arose during the decade of 1960, influenced by the progress of the life sciences and by a change in the traditional conceptions of marriage, sexuality, procreation, care of children and civil rights (that included the patient right to be totally informed on their physiological state, and maintain some decision power over his own organism).

There are at least nine principals problems of bioethical, that can be consider thus:

First. If a patient is mortally ill, must the physician inform him on so serious state, if he believes that it will contribute to hurry the death?

Second. Must the physician accept the decision of a patient who refuses to take a therapy that can cure him from a disease that threatens his life?

Third. Must the physician allow the patient to refuse acceptance of extraordinary decisions to guarantee his life?

Fourth. A patient must be declared dead if, for example, the heart has stopped beating, or has stopped breathing, or has stopped the cerebral activity, or is in a deep comma?

Fifth. The identity of a human being consists of the sum of all original genes, so that if it suffers some genetic alteration is no longer the same being?

Sixth. A human being who had been cloned, and a human being of whom a cloned was taken, would be the same person?

Seventh. Are there genetic causes of conduct, in the same way that there are genetic causes of diseases?

Eighth. Must the human being try indefinitely to prolong the natural time of life?

Ninth. in what stage of the embryonic development we must confer moral status to the human embryo, and recognize that he is a human being? This is the principal problem of bioethics. As affirms Michael S.Gazzaniga, author of The Ethical Brain, central to many of the bioethical issues of our time is the question, When should society confer moral status on an embryo?

The moral status may be definid of this lax way: It is the status by which a human being is object of duties, only because he is recognized as human being, even though the law don’t impose that duties, and even though the law is incompatible with them. That definition implies that morality is not the same thing than legality; that morality is superior, and that morality is, or at least must be, the foundation of legality. Hence, moral status of embryo is not the same that legal status of the embryo. It is a superior status.

What is, then, moral status of an embryo? It is the status in which he is already object of that duties, as the duty of preserving his life or his body integrity. But, When becomes that status? For example, Becomes when the egg is fertilized? Or when, fourteen day after, begins the brain formation? Or later, around forty to forty-three days after, when begins the electrical brain activity?

This problem is the principal one of bioethics because the stage when the status moral of an embryo becomes, have the most influence on legal or no legal, publics or no publics, political or no political, religious or no religious, decisions about very important practical questions concerning the practical life, as abortion and in vitro fertilization; or concerning scientific questions, as biomedical cloning and mother cell research. For example, if the legislators believe the status moral of an human embryo becomes when the egg is fertilized, they can prohibit to use, in any case, embryonic mother cells for terapeutic purposes; but if they believe it becomes forty to forty-three days later, they can allow, at least in some cases, to use those cells.

Solving that problem is apparently very difficult, mainly because the moral questions are subjective and can be influenced by causes or motives of very different kinds; for example, religion, ideology, culture, custom and the personal conception of life, society, and world. Therefore, it seems impossible a universal agreement about a solution from the purely moral viewpoint. Nevertheless, it is possible a juridical solution that combine common sense, wisdom, orthodox morality and strict biology.