Potentiality plays an important role in bioethical debates concerning embryos and fetuses. In these debates, “conservatives” tend to attribute ethical significance to an organism’s potential for human life, whereas “liberals” are likely to deny both the logical coherence of the concept and its ethical significance. Whether favorable or critical, both sides of the debate have had in mind a very specific sense of potentiality, namely, natural potentiality, a pre-given telos awaiting to unfold. This Article argues that an equally important and novel sense of potentiality is at play in these cases, namely, techno-potentiality, a power that medical technology extracts from the organism and holds in-reserve for future use. Examining three bioethical debates, brain-death pregnancy, fetus viability, and pre-implanted embryos, the Article demonstrates the importance of techno-potentiality for understanding how these debates have come about. Understanding the emergence of a new kind of potentiality is as ethically significance as is resolving the bioethical dilemmas to which it gives rise.
The author thanks Dvir Yogev, Nir Gonen, and Tzahik Netzer for their invaluable research assistance.
© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston