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J Med Philos. 2005 Aug;30(4):379-94.

Aquinas's account of human embryogenesis and recent interpretations.

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  • 1Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, 425 University Boulevard, Indianapolis, IN 46202-5140, USA.


In addressing bioethical issues at the beginning of human life, such as abortion, in vitro fertilization, and embryonic stem cell research, one primary concern regards establishing when a developing human embryo or fetus can be considered a person. Thomas Aquinas argues that an embryo or fetus is not a human person until its body is informed by a rational soul. Aquinas's explicit account of human embryogenesis has been generally rejected by contemporary scholars due to its dependence upon medieval biological data, which has been far surpassed by current scientific research. A number of scholars, however, have attempted to combine Aquinas's basic metaphysical account of human nature with current embryological data to develop a contemporary Thomistic account of a human person's beginning. In this article, I discuss two recent interpretations in which it is argued that a human person does not begin to exist until a fetus has developed a functioning cerebral cortex.

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