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J Med Philos. 1989 Feb;14(1):25-43.

The use of fetal and anencephalic tissue for transplantation.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill 27599-7570.


Advances in transplantation have extended the life and relieved the suffering of thousands of individuals. The prospect of being able to use tissues from embryos, as well as from anencephalic newborns, offers the promise of further relief of suffering. However, these possibilities raise significant moral and public policy issues. The question arises of the extent to which those who disapprove of abortion may make use of tissues derived from abortion in order to treat serious diseases. This essay argues that, with proper safeguards, such tissue can be used without cooperating in abortion. That is, even those who oppose abortion can benefit from the use of tissue procured during abortion. Questions also arise regarding the probity of maintaining a pregnancy in order to produce an anencephalic newborn whose biological existence will be maintained so as better to secure organs once death is declared. It is argued that, since no harm can be done to a being that has neither a sense of self or the capacity to feel pain, and since women have a right to forego abortions, there is no legitimate ground for opposing women's seeking meaning in their pregnancy through maximizing the opportunity of others to use the organs of their anencephalic newborn once death has been declared. Finally, it is argued that, since the capacities for sentience, a minimal condition for personhood, are never realized by an anencephalic, the entity has never been alive as a person. Therefore, there should be no opposition in principle to aborting anencephalics nor, after proper declaration, to making their organs available as one would after whole-brain death, despite the continued functioning of the brain stem.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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