Embryos, microscopes, and society
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Embryos have different meanings for different people and in different contexts. Seen under the microscope, the biological embryo starts out as one cell and then becomes a bunch of cells. Gradually these divide and differentiate to make up the embryo, which in humans becomes a fetus at eight weeks, and then eventually a baby. At least, that happens in those cases that carry through normally and successfully. Yet a popular public perception imagines the embryo as already a little person in the very earliest stages of development, as if it were predictably to become an adult. In actuality, cells can combine, pull apart, and recombine in a variety of ways and still produce embryos, whereas most embryos never develop into adults at all. Biological embryos and popular imaginations of embryos diverge. This paper looks at some of the historical reasons for and social implications of that divergence.
© The Author(s), 2016. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. The definitive version was published in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 57 (2016): 129-136, doi:10.1016/j.shpsc.2016.02.003.
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