Metaphorical Imagination: The Legal and Moral Status of Embryos and Fetuses in Four Common Law Countries

Dissertation, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Galveston (1998)

The legal and moral status of embryos and fetuses has been a contentious issue for judges, legislators, philosophers and theologians. This dissertation examines some of the major metaphors used to describe embryos and fetuses in legal opinions from four common law countries: the United States, Canada, England and Australia. The major metaphors of appendage, person and property have appeared consistently in the courts of these four countries. The dissertation begins with an introductory chapter on metaphor, and then proceeds to examine various cases, devoting a chapter to each country surveyed. Various committees, such as the Waller Commission in Australia, the Warnock Commission in England, the NIH's Human Embryo Research Panel in the US and the Royal Commission on the New Reproductive Technologies in Canada, have also used a variety of metaphors in addressing the status of embryos and fetuses. The last chapter examines the most dominant metaphor in the bioethics literature and argues that such a metaphor by itself is inadequate in capturing the moral complexity of the unborn. We use a variety of metaphors to describe the status of higher animals, suggesting they are neither persons in a strict sense nor merely things. Yet in the absence of any definitive status we are still able to devise policies for the protection of animals. Why are we unable to approach the status of embryos and fetuses in a similar manner? With the variety of metaphors used in different settings to describe human embryos and fetuses, this dissertation argues that we should be more imaginative in our thinking of such creatures, avoiding the either/or dichotomy of persons and property
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