Previously to the scientific breakthrough, fertilization, that is the fusion of the male and female gametes, was always known to be carried out inside the human body. But nowadays, our findings prove otherwise. This technique is called InVitro Fertilization with Embryo Transfer (IVF-ET).
This type of fertilization takes place inside a petri dish in a laboratory.
Ova are removed by means of surgical intervention and then are combined with sperm in a petri dish. This zygote then is transferred to the woman’s womb, yet unfortunately it is more likely not to be a success. Due to this, more than one ovum are taken and fertilized but only five or four get to be inserted inside the woman. The others are either disposed of or frozen for later use. But we ask, is this morally permissible to be done?
Various argue that, from the moment of fertilization, zygotes already contain unique genetic individuality. The information inside the cells, which distinguishes a person from another, control the development of the zygote, yet its growth also depends on the right environment to develop. Given this co-ordination, it will continue to grow without interruption and therefore this continuity helps the zygote in gradually developing to its full potential, that of being a full grown adult. With this one can conclude that the zygote is in fact a new person and therefore has the same rights as a person.
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Empiricists in the tradition of John Locke say that to be a person one must possess self-conscious. Believing in such an idea one can understand that the new fertilized zygote does not own such a condition. Therefore, according to the Empiricists zygotes can be used for experimentation, or be frozen, as they are in stage of life where they are developing into a person with potential.
Others disagree on such ideas, and state that what a person is now is only the product of what gave yesterday. Therefore, killing someone today would be as if he was killed yesterday. Since zygotes are going through the development of becoming a person with potential one cannot kill a zygote, as it deprives it of its future value. It is a continuing process and no one is entitled to stop this process.
This potentiality argument is sometimes misleading and makes others present another argument which in actual fact does not have to do with the potentiality argument. They dispute that, if one should take into consideration the fact that the zygote has the potential to become a person, then one should also take into consideration that an ovum and a sperm also have the potential of becoming a zygote which will eventually become a person. Having said this, they therefore say that both the sperm and the ovum should not be wasted. The sheer misinterpretation of the potentiality argument shows how these people fail to understand that the zygote needs to be protected only due to its genetic uniqueness existing right from the moment of fertilization.
Scientists and research presents to us a new dimension involving this issue. There exists what is known as the primitive streak. This streak occurs when the zygote reaches his 14th day. Before this 14th day, some believe that these zygotes can in fact be used for research; be frozen or even disposed of. Their argument about this matter is that scientifically it was proved that before the primitive streak occurs only cell division takes place and furthermore the group of cells has no sentience. This means that a zygote becomes a person when he is sentient. Therefore, since the zygote cannot experience pain or pleasure, it is not considered as a person and therefore does not have human rights.
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Biologists admit to the fact that in the beginning of when the two gametes meet, they cannot make out if it is one zygote or two sharing the same genetic identity. This is so, as after the fourteen day period these cells divide into two zygotes if they are twins. Then, giving they are, it is only after the primitive streak that the zygote starts to coordinate gradually into developing into their full potential, but until then all cells are the same and cannot be discriminated. Therefore, this view agrees with the previous one and states that before the fourteen day period experimentation can take place.
However, many ethicians claim that this view include serious fallacies. The fact that their can be more than one zygote only means that there will be more than one zygote sharing the same genetic code, and therefore both can still gradually develop into their full potential, that of being a fully grown adult.
The Utilitarians are another group of people whom lay on the table a different view to the previous ones. They are known to be indifferent about values, and persons. This means that they do not value individuals as being persons but simply treat them as numbers. Their motto is that the outcome of any action has to be done for the greatest good for the greatest number. This means that, if experimenting on a zygote will bring good for the greatest number by finding a cancer cure, then it is permissible to experiment with zygotes.
Totally disagreeing with such a view, Emmanuel Kant, who for the contrary thinks that one should treat humans as ends and never as means, says that one must never harm or abuse others, irrelevant of their stage in life, but most of all irrelevant of the good that might bring in the future. Therefore you can never treat a person or a zygote as an instrument to show other people, but value person for what they really are, and for what they really consist of.