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Response to: The human embryo in the Christian tradition
  1. R Gill
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor Robin Gill
 University of Theology, University of Kent, Canterbury, CT2 7NF, UK; r.gill{at}

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Perhaps the gradualist position on abortion has re-emerged repeatedly because it corresponds to pastoral experience

At one level David Albert Jones’s paper is very successful. Despite the high reputation of the late Gordon Dunstan, first as a mediaeval historian, then as an ethicist of considerable influence within the Anglican church, and finally as a pioneer medical ethicist, his crucial 1984 article appears to be overdrawn. Some caution is now needed before endorsing his claim that the Christian tradition according the embryo the full moral status of a human person from conception is “virtually a creation of the later nineteenth century”. Dr Jones produces a wealth of historical scholarship to challenge it.

At another level, however, Dr Jones is not concerned about nuancing a historical claim but about demonstrating that “licensing destructive research on human embryos for the sake of medical progress…cannot be justified…on the basis of the Christian tradition”.1 Unfortunately there is quite a large gap between these two claims. Manifestly “the Christian tradition” is not a unified tradition even within Jones’s own historical account. He admits himself that the Roman Catholic tradition diverged at times from what he clearly regards as the norm (especially its “perennial” theologian, Thomas Aquinas). And he is less than frank in admitting that many Reformed Christians …

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