Neither, Nor: Bryne's and Willke's Pseudo-Battle Over Human Embryonic Stem Cells

Dianne N. Irving
Copyright June 19, 2008
Reproduced with Permission

[Note: This article is copyrighted and thus must be acknowledged when using its original ideas and resources or quoting from it.]


I. Introduction

What a painful spectacle it is to witness over the internet two such stalwart prolife physicians, who have done so much in their work to help protect the most vulnerable of human beings, battle it out over the terms "conception" and "fertilization" (as presumably when a human being begins to exist) - and both are dead wrong. Biology 101 wrong. (See Paul A. Byrne, M.D., "Despite Attempts to Explain it Away, Human Life Begins at Conception Not Birth", LifeNews.com, June 16, 2008, at: http://www.lifenews.com/nat3979.html; J. C. Willke, M.D., "Whether You Use Conception or Fertilization, Human Life Has a Clear Beginning", LifeNews.com, June 16, 2008, at: http://www.lifenews.com/nat3986.html). It would seem that politics is playing the decisive role here, rather than science or even medicine.

I'm not going to address the massive number of other basic scientific or philosophical errors in their arguments here (perhaps later), but given the enormous stakes, I just want to quickly provide readers with more accurate information on when human beings begin to exist in an effort to rectify the false "scientific" mis-information provided the public in Bryne's and Willke's recent pseudo-battle. The accurate information below is not my own subjective "opinion", but rather based directly on the most internationally respected scientific sources in human embryology and human molecular genetics - resources which not only Drs. Bryne and Willke have had access to for decades, but also all the other prolife and prochoice "scholars" and "leaders" as well. A trip to the local library or a few hours on the internet would do it.

II. What's at stake

At a minimum, the corruption of the objective scientific facts constituting the scientific fields of human embryology and human molecular genetics, as well as the application of such facts in several disciplines of medicine are at stake. Much of such pseudo-science has already made its way into the textbooks. When the basic objectively determined facts of science are corrupted, then all those other fields to which they are applied are likewise corrupted. This is surely important considering that such medicalized "pseudo-facts" are then applied to innocent human patients in dozens of related medical fields, often causing considerable physical and psychological harm, even death.

Second, the impact of such false science when incorporated into laws and regulations has the effect of creating massive legal loopholes in such legislation. The legal principle is that, if a law/regulation does not specifically address something then that something is not covered by that law/regulation. By default, then, all those other "somethings" may be done and are essentially remain legal. The issues surrounding human embryo/fetal research are replete with hosts of such false "science" being used in even so-called "prolife" bills/regulations - with the result that all sorts of unethical research using human embryos and human fetuses are thereby allowed, while all the time most people rest assured that they aren't. Such would definitely be the case if either Dr. Bryne's or Dr. Willke's "science" were incorporated into the Colorado "personhood" amendment, or any other law/regulation on these issues (see Irving, "Problems with 'from conception to natural death'", August 8, 2007, at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irvi/irvi_67coloradoinitiative.html; "Problems With Colorado's 'Personhood' Amendment: The Phrase, 'From the Moment of Fertilization'", May 31, 2008, at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_126colorado.html). To make it clear, to use either the term "conception" or the term "fertilization" in a bill would thereby create enormous legal loopholes that would instead legalize by default all manner of unethical research using innocent living human embryos/fetuses. [See Irving, "What Human Embryo? Funniest Mental Gymnastics from Medicine and Research" (Oct. 14, 2004), at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_82whathumanembryo1.html].

Third, when such false science becomes the norm within the public square, it precludes people from correctly forming their consciences on these issues. It is difficult enough to confront and deal with the real scientific facts, but the use of such false science makes it even easier to "justify" or rationalize a whole host of unethical actions, e.g.: the use of abortifacients, prenatal genetic diagnosis, early abortions, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other artificial reproductive technologies (ARTs), human embryo/fetal research, human cloning and other human genetic engineering research, human embryonic stem cell research, iPS research and other "alternative methods", even the use of human subjects in research. [Re the latter, note, e.g., that ever since the 1981 OPRR federal regulations for the use of human subjects in research, the federal government has in fact "scientifically" defined out of existence many categories of human subjects by their false definitions of both "pregnancy" and "fetus" as supposedly beginning at "implantation" (5-7 days of embryonic development), inserted therein by prolife itself! For a long list of similar false scientific definitions used in federal laws/regulations, see Irving, "Analysis of Legislative and Regulatory Chaos in the U.S.: Asexual Human Reproduction and Genetic Engineering" (Oct. 20, 2004), at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_81chaosasexgen1.html].

III. Why the term "conception" is dead wrong

While it might be true that many eons ago the term "conception" referred to when sexually reproduced human embryos begin to exist, it was never used to refer to when asexually reproduced human embryos begin to exist (such as naturally occurring human identical twins/triplets, all cloned and genetically engineered human embryos, etc.). Further, today the term has been totally corrupted. Now it generally means "implantation" (or even post-implantation). Therefore, if the term "conception" were to be used in any legal document, it would operate, in effect, as a "pre-embryo" or "pre-embryo substitute" - a giant-size legal loophole. That is, legally, there is no human being present, or if there is, there is still no human person present. Therefore, all manner of unethical research and medical practices would be legalized by means of the legal loophole provided by the exclusionary use of the term "conception". The use of the term would also mis-inform people's consciences as to whether such research and other related activities are ethical or not, e.g., the use of abortifacients, prenatal genetic diagnosis, early abortions, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other artificial reproductive technologies (ARTs), human embryo/fetal research, human cloning and other human genetic engineering research, human embryonic stem cell research, iPS research and other "alternative methods", even the use of human subjects in research.

Many state laws already define "conception" as "implantation" (or beyond), based on the erroneous term "pre-embryo" or its various "substitutes. See, e.g., Philip G. Peters, Jr. "The Ambiguous Meaning of Human Conception," University of California Davis Law Review, 40, no. 1 (2006): 199-228 [available from http://lawreview.law.ucdavis.edu/issues/Vol40/Issue1/DavisVol40No1_Peters.pdf. See also the abstract, at Social Science Research Network (SSRN), available from http://papers.ssm.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=694102; also available from Westlaw and Lexisnexis]; Elizabeth Spahn and Barbara Andrade, "Mis-Conceptions: The Moment of Conception in Religion, Science, and Law," University of San Francisco Law Review 32, (1998): pp. 261-295; erroneously defining "conception" as "implantation".

The term "conception" is also often mis-defined even in major professional reports and literature, government regulations, and international laws and regulations as meaning "implantation" (or even beyond), based likewise on the erroneous term "pre-embryo" or its various "substitutes.

See, e.g.: Miller-Keane Encyclopedia & Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing & Allied Health, 7th ed. (Philadelphia, Penn. 2003), p. 406 - erroneously defines "conception" as "the onset of pregnancy, marked by implantation of the blastocyst"; John Walton, Paul B. Beeson, Ronald Bodley, eds. Oxford Companion to Medicine (Oxford 1986), p. 254 - erroneously defines "conception" as "the fertilization of an ovum by a spermatozoon and the implanting of the resulting zygote"; Richard Sloane, Sloane-Dorland Annotated Medical-Legal Dictionary, 1992 Supplement (St. Paul 1992), p. 131 - erroneously defines "conception" as "the onset of pregnancy, marked by implantation of the blastocyst"; American Fertility Society Ethics Committee, "Ethical Considerations of the New Reproductive Technologies", Fertility and Sterility 46, Supplement 1 (September 1986): 27S; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Ethics in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2nd ed., No. 97 (2004, pp. 957, 958 - erroneously defines "preembryo" as the "product of fertilization before 14 days and the arrival of the primitive streak"; American Medical Association Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, CEJA Report 1-I-94, "Pre-Embryo Splitting" (1994); American Society of Reproductive Medicine Ethics Committee Report, "Human Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer," Fertility and Sterility 74, no. 5 (November 2000): 873-876; American Society of Reproductive Medicine, "Chapter 16: Experimentation on the Preembryo," Fertility and Sterility 87, no. 4, Supplement 1 (April 2007): S52-S58; British House of Lords, The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulations 2001, no. 188; California Advisory Committee: Cloning Californians: Report of the California Advisory Committee on Human Cloning (Sacramento, Calif. January 11, 2002) - chaired by Irving Weissman, terms "preembryo" and "ball of cells" to refer to the early embryo used throughout report; Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, Committee on the Basic Science Foundations of Medically Assisted Conception, Report of a Study and Workshop Papers, "Medically Assisted Conception: An Agenda for Research," (1989);

National Academy of Sciences, Commission on Life Sciences, "Comparison of Stem Cell Production With Reproductive Cloning," in Stem Cells and the Future of Regenerative Medicine (2002); National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, Scientific and Medical Aspects of Human Reproductive Cloning: How Is Reproductive Cloning Done? (2002); National Bioethics Advisory Commission, Cloning Human Beings: Report and Recommendations of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, (Rockville, Md. June 1997); National Institutes of Health, Human Embryo Research Panel Meetings (Washington, D.C. 1994) - using term "pre-embryo" in: February 2 meeting, pp. 27, 31, 50-80, 85-87, 104-106; February meeting. 3, 1994 meeting, pp. 6-55; April 11 meeting, pp. 23-41, 9-22; National Institutes of Health, Office of Science Policy Analysis, Cloning: Present Uses and Promises (Washington, D.C. January 29, 1998); National Science Foundation and U. S. Dept. of Commerce, Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance: Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Science, edited by Mihail C. Roco and William Sims Bainbridge (Washington, D.C., June 2002); New Zealand Parliament, Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill (1996); Supplementary Order Paper 2003, no. 80, May 14, 2003, Bills Digest No. 972; The Twins Foundation, "New Ways to Produce Identical Twins—A Continuing Controversy", Research Update 9, no. 1 (1994).

And that is just a miniscule sampling of what is out there. Clearly, the term "conception" should definitely not be used in the pending Colorado "personhood" amendment, in any other laws or regulations, or even in addresses to the general public.

IV. Why the term "fertilization" is dead wrong

While Dr. Willke is correct that sexually reproduced human embryos begin to exist at fertilization (both in vivo and in vitro), his "pre-embryo substitute" consists in absolutely no recognition whatsoever of when asexually reproduced human embryos begin to exist (such as naturally occurring human identical twins/triplets, all cloned and genetically engineered human embryos, etc.). He has defined them out of existence altogether. That is, there is no human being or human person present at all when human embryos are asexually reproduced. Therefore, again, all manner of unethical research and medical practices would be legalized by means of the legal loophole provided by the exclusionary use of the term "fertilization". The use of the term would also mis-inform people's consciences as to whether such research and other related activities are ethical or not, e.g., the use of abortifacients, prenatal genetic diagnosis, early abortions, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other artificial reproductive technologies (ARTs), human embryo/fetal research, human cloning and other human genetic engineering research, human embryonic stem cell research, iPS research and other "alternative methods", even the use of human subjects in research.

V. Scientific documentation: when sexually and asexually human beings begin to exist

There is quite simply no "mystery" or "doubt" as to when both sexually and asexually reproduced human beings begin to exist. According to properly credentialed world experts for decades now, sexually reproduced human beings begin to exist at the beginning of fertilization (when the sperm penetrates the oocyte). [See Irving, "The Carnegie Stages of Early Human Embryonic Development: Chart of all 23 Stages, and Detailed Descriptions of Carnegie Stages 1 - 6" (April 22, 2006), at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_123carnegiestages2.html]:

[Note: For full detailed references, go to your local library, find them on the internet, see Irving, or contact me at DNIrving@aol.com.] It has been known empirically for over a hundred years that the beginning of fertilization is the beginning of sexually reproduced human beings (Wilhelm His 1880-1885). This is also the beginning of: the human embryo, the human organism, the human individual, the genetic sex of the embryo, the embryonic period, and normal pregnancy, which begins at fertilization in the fallopian tube, or ovaduct, of the mother, not at implantation in her womb (Carlson 1999, pp. 2, 23, 27, 32, 444; Larsen 1998, pp. 1, 17; Moore and Persaud 1998, pp. 2, 12, 18, 34, 37; O'Rahilly 2001, pp. 31-33). This single-cell embryo is totipotent (see Denken, Irving), that is, capable of forming all the cells, tissues, and organs of the later embryo, fetus, and adult. The cells (blastomeres) of the early developing human embryo will also exhibit a range of totipotency, that is, if separated from the developing embryo, they are capable of forming new human organisms (as in natural and artificial monozygotic "twinning", the latter used as "infertility treatments" for years now in IVF and other ART facilities). This totipotent capacity also applies to the cells of the developing embryo from 2 cells (about 1-3 days) until the first formation of the free floating blastocystic cavity (about 4 days), to the cells of the inner cell mass of the implanting blastocyst (about 5-7 days), and to the diploid primitive germ-line cells (future haploid sex gametes) (as early as 2 weeks) of the later blastocyst (American Medical Association 1994, pp. 1-9; American Society for Reproductive Medicine 2004, pp. S256-257; Carlson 1999, pp. 43-45, 73; German National Ethics Council 2004, p. 14; Institute of Medicine and National Research Council 1989, pp. 25, 102ff; Lewin 2000, p. 605; A. Liu 2005, pp. 369-378; O'Rahilly and Mller 2001, pp. 23, 24, 37, 39, 136-137, 139; Strachan and Read 1999, pp. 508-509; Schieve et al 2004, pp. 1154-1163). This new single-cell human being immediately directs his/her own further continuous human growth and development by producing specifically human proteins and enzymes (Emery 1983, p. 93; Hao et al. 2006, p. S513; Holtzer et al. 1985, pp. 3-11; Illmensee et al. 2006a, pp. 1112-1120; Kollias et al. 1987, pp. 5739-5747; H. Liu et al. 2005a, p. S368; H. Liu et al. 2005b, p. S370; Moore and Persaud 1998, p. 12) that will cascade (will be produced on demand) throughout development (Emery 1983, p. 91; Lewin 2000, pp. 63, 914, 950). This embryonic development is most accurately documented in the Carnegie Stages of Early Human Embryonic Development (CSEHED).

George Streeter (Streeter 1942, p. 211; Streeter 1945, p. 27; Streeter 1948, p. 143) laid down the basis for the currently used Carnegie staging system, which was completed by Ronan O'Rahilly in 1973 and revised by O'Rahilly and Mller in 1987. The Carnegie Stages are often referred to as "the Bureau of Standards" of human embryology (O'Rahilly and Mller 2001, p. 3). Today they continue to be verified and documented by the international Terminologia Embryologica (formerly, Nomina Embryologica) committee, which consists of more than twenty experts academically credentialed specifically in human embryology from around the world. After reviewing the latest research studies in human embryology, their deliberations are published in the Terminologia Embryologica, part of the larger Terminologia Anatomica.

As for asexually reproduced human beings, they begin to exist when the DNA in the cells are appropriately differentiated to that of a human organism (rather than that of just a human cell). This would include all naturally occurring human identical twins/triplets formed in the woman's body, as well as all artificially reproduced human embryos in vitro (e.g., those reproduced by somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), germ line cell nuclear transfer (GLCNT), "twinning" (blastomere separation, blastocyst splitting, embryo multiplication, etc.), parthenogenesis, pronuclei transfer, mitochondrial transfer, hemi-cloning, the use of artificially constructed genes, chromosomes, nuclei, cells, sperm, oocytes, embryos, etc., and other human genetic engineering and alternative method techniques.

As human molecular geneticists Strachan and Read so succinctly explain one kind of cloning (nuclear transfer):

The term 'clones' indicates genetic identity and so can describe genetically identical molecules (DNA clones), genetically identical cells or genetically identical organisms.Animal clones occur naturally as a result of sexual reproduction. For example, genetically identical twins are clones who happened to have received exactly the same set of genetic instructions from two donor individuals, a mother and a father. A form of animal cloning can also occur as a result of artificial manipulation to bring about a type of asexual reproduction. The genetic manipulation in this case uses nuclear transfer technology: a nucleus is removed from a donor cell then transplanted into an oocyte whose own nucleus has previously been removed. The resulting 'renucleated' oocyte can give rise to an individual who will carry the nuclear genome of only one donor individual, unlike genetically identical twins. The individual providing the donor nucleus and the individual that develops from the 'renucleated' oocyte are usually described as "clones", but it should be noted that they share only the same nuclear DNA; they do not share the same mitochondrial DNA, unlike genetically identical twins. ... Nuclear transfer technology was first employed in embryo cloning, in which the donor cell is derived from an early embryo, and has been long established in the case of amphibia. ... Wilmut et al (1997) reported successful cloning of an adult sheep. For the first time, an adult nucleus had been reprogrammed to become totipotent once more, just like the genetic material in the fertilized oocyte from which the donor cell had ultimately developed. ... Successful cloning of adult animals has forced us to accept that genome modifications once considered irreversible can be reversed and that the genomes of adult cells can be reprogrammed by factors in the oocyte to make them totipotent once again. [Tom Strachan and Andrew P. Read, Human Molecular Genetics 2 (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 1999), pp. 508-509; emphases added.]

That is, the DNA in human cells can be reprogrammed, or dedifferentiated, back to that of a new human embryo, a new human organism. [For more detailed explanation of this process, see Irving, "Playing God by manipulating man: Facts and frauds of human cloning" (October 4, 2003), at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_22manipulatingman1.html].

VI. Conclusion

As painful as it is to watch this pseudo-battle between the good Drs. Bryne and Willke, the greater pain is surely their unwitting participation in the further corruption of the relevant fields of science and medicine, the advocacy of legal loopholes that would allow extensive unethical human research and medical practices, and the preclusion of people in general to correctly form their consciences on these critical issues. Enough pseudo-science is enough, no matter who is dispensing it.

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