Potentiality and persons at the margins of life

Diametros 26:44-57 (2010)
The concept of potentiality is often invoked in debate over the moral status of human embryos. It has also been invoked, though less prominently, in debate over the moral status of anencephalic infants, individuals in permanent vegetative state, and the whole-brain dead. In this paper, I examine some of the theoretical assumptions underlying the concept of potentiality invoked in these debates. I show how parties in the debate over the ethical significance of potentiality have been talking past each other to a large extent because they rely on different concepts of potentiality. The conceptual differences are traced to different assumptions about the nature of persons and whether external factors may affect determinations of possibility and therefore potentiality. Any assessment about the ethical significance of potentiality therefore requires an evaluation of alternative concepts personhood and the connection between possibility and potentiality.
Keywords bioethics  abortion  potentiality  pesonhood
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