Do human embryos have souls?
Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Director of Education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center, tells us that it is an open question. While it is always and in every case immoral to directly kill a human zygote or embryo, the moral status of this action is not based upon the certainty that a human zygote is a person or has a soul. The moment of “ensoulment” has been a debate in Catholic theology for a millennium and a half, and even occupied St. Thomas Aquinas (who held that ensoulment occurred at time after conception). Fr. Pacholczyk attempts to maneuver the moral landscape in his essay, arguing from teleological and eschatological standpoints with respect to the human embryo’s development. His main points are:
- The Church has never definitively stated that zygotes or embryos are persons
- The Church teaches that a zygote or embryo must be treated as if it were a person from the instance of conception, that is, they are to be treated as inviolable and deserving of unconditional respect
- The question of the timing of ensoulment is not relevant to the moral status of killing a zygote or embryo
- As integral beings, zygotes and embryos are structured for maturation into full, flourishing human persons and at every instant are capable of receiving a soul from God
- Destroying a zygote or embryo interdicts God’s eternal plan for the individual human person
- It would be a greater evil to destroy a zygote or embryo that is not ensouled than to destroy a zygote or embryo that has been ensouled