Does an embryo become a person only once brain cells begin developing?

This week’s feedback features a supporter from Canada, who asks some thoughtful questions regarding abortion and brain development, and brain death. Their email is reproduced in full, and then CMI’s Dr Carl Wieland responses are interspersed below.

Wikipedia: Helmut Januschka


D.M. from Canada writes:


I was doing some thinking on abortion and how it could possibly tie in with organ transplants, people with disabilities, and the new science of “growing organs”.

It is clear from people who are disabled and can’t use any part of their body that the same person is alive, even in cases of “locked-in syndrome”. It is also the same case for people who are in a persistent vegetative state.

It is also the same case for people who go through an organ transplant. If you need a new heart, you are still the same person.

I recently saw a video from TED featuring a Dr. Anthony Atala from Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine where he explained how he can grow new organs using the patient’s own DNA, thus avoiding the risk of rejection.

So, bear with me here as I go into something that is very hypothetical and probably many many decades away, perhaps centuries, or maybe impossible, I don’t know. But if it is possible, we should probably think about some consequences.

What if one day, it becomes possible to perform a brain transplant? And let’s say that we go even further into the future and instead of using a “brainless” body (from someone who died), we perform a modern day miracle and are able to grow basically a whole new body without a brain using the patient’s own DNA, simply to avoid the foggy issue of whether or not the old brain in a former person’s body is still the same person…. 

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