Removal of a small glob of living tissue from a human body requires a surgeon who knows how, what, when, and where to cut, and the consent of the patient to whom the tissue belongs. As technique, this cutting may be rather sophisticated, and since it is intended to prolong the life of the patient, it is significant as well as sophisticated. When it comes to the removal of a small glob of living tissue called a human fetus, however, the situation changes dramatically. This particular bit of surgery is no longer considered merely skillful cutting by a surgeon for the purpose of inducing health in a patient. Suddenly the circle is enlarged to include many others. Why this difference? Why are the surgeon’s skill and the patient’s consent not enough to settle the issue, in this case? What is it about fetal tissue that has drawn doctors, lawyers, legislators, sociologists, psychiatrists, and even philosophers and theologians into the discussion?

All tissue, including fetal tissue, is made up of living cells composed of the same chemicals. Yet fetal tissue is unique. Of all the tissues in the body, it alone has a fixed genetic makeup different from that of the body in which it is lodged. A woman cannot say of fetal tissue, this is mine, in the sense she can say of her kidney tissue, this is mine. She cannot keep it, any more than she can give it to someone else; she must surrender it in birth—or die.

But we can hardly say the physical fact of the genetic uniqueness of human fetal tissue is the basis of all the anxious inquiry, for the same uniqueness prevails in the animal world. Rather, the issue is that human fetal tissue, left unmolested, will develop into a human being, and there is something about a human being ...

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