Notice: Carnegie Stages; Lost, and Found

Dianne N. Irving
copyright August 10, 2012
Reproduced with Permission

I. Introduction:

A. Lost and Found

For those who have been following the various related debates involving the early human embryo for decades, it should be noted that the long-referenced Carnegie Stages of Early Human Embryonic Development from the National Museum of Health and Medicine/Human Developmental Anatomy Center/Developmental Anatomy have recently changed their entire website with all new URLs. This means that all earlier URLs in references in articles and books are now outdated. One would think that the NMHM would make certain that the old URLs online would be automatically forwarded to the new ones, but so far that is not the case. This involves not only my 25 years of articles on these related issues, but also all others (individuals, organizations and websites) who have relied on those accurate scientific facts.

I have recently located the new NMHM website online, with its new URLs, and am copying them below for future reference, and for people to be able to "convert" the old references and find them on the new URLs.

B. Significance of the Accurate Facts of Human Embryology

Since the accurate scientific facts of human embryology are (or should be) the very starting point for consideration of the ethics, laws, theology and politics involving the early human embryo, it is obviously critical to get those empirical scientific facts correct. Like a "domino effect", even small errors in those initial scientific facts lead to erroneous and often unethical conclusions in the various fields that should be relying on them.

To give but a few examples, the accurate scientific facts of human embryology for both sexually and asexually reproduced human beings should be the starting point for determinations involving: abortion; the use of abortifacients; embryo flushing; prenatal genetic diagnosis; human embryo research in general (including using bits and pieces of the early human embryo in research protocols such as culture media, assays, "controls", DNA chips, etc.); stem cell research; human molecular, tissue and embryonic cloning; human genetic engineering; in vitro fertilization (IVF, research labs and clinics); artificial reproductive technologies (ARTs, research labs and clinics); "regenerative medicine"; human germ line "therapies"; human recombinant DNA research, etc. These in turn are involved in issues such as: any laws, regulations or other legal documents involving the human embryo; "personhood"; "family"; surrogacy (legal and illegal); supplies of human oocytes, sperm and embryos (legal and illegal); genetic engineering of plants and animals for human consumption; transhumanism, futurism, postnaturalism, technoprogressivism, etc. Unethical research in any of these areas is often "accomplished" by means of using false scientific facts of embryology at the beginning of the argument, thus framing the debate and "justifying" the research -- as well as assuring effective "legal loopholes" and political compromises.

C. The Carnegie Stages of Early Human Embryonic Development

The accurate scientific facts of human embryology have been known and internationally acknowledged now for over 125 years, are not "new", and are not a "mystery". The first to study the human embryo systematically was Wilhelm His, Sr., who in the 1880's established the basis of reconstruction, i.e., the assembling of three-dimensional form from microscopic sections. His, who has been called the "Vesalium of human embryology," published his three-volume masterpiece Anatomie menschlicher Embryonen in 1880-85 [His, Vogel, Leipzig]. In it the human embryo was studied as a whole for the first time. A detailed Handbook of Human Embryology by Keibel and Mall appeared in 1910-12. Franklin P. Mall, who studied under His, established the Carnegie Embryological Collection in Baltimore and was the first person to stage human embryos (in 1914). Mall's collection soon became the most important repository of human embryos in the world and has ever since served as a "Bureau of Standards" for the science of human embryology. Mall's successor, George L. Streeter, laid down the basis of the currently used staging system for human embryos (1942-48), which was instituted in 1942, completed by Ronan O'Rahilly (1973) and revised by O'Rahilly and Fabiola Muller (1987). (Ronan O'Rahilly and Fabiola Muller, Human Embryology & Teratology (New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001); also, O'Rahilly and Muller, ibid., (3rd ed., 1994), p. 3.

Following these Carnegie Stages, the international nomenclature committee on human embryology, the Terminlogia Embryologica Committee (under FIPAT, previously the Nomina Embryologica Committee), has continuously updated these scientific facts since 1942 (including their rejection of the false scientific terms "preembryo" and "individualization" several years ago). This international committee consists of 20-25 human embryologists from around the world. The most recent updating of the Carnegie Stages (Jan. 2011) by the international nomenclature committee on human embryology, i.e., the Terminologia Embryologica Committee can be found here:

To use this new website for the Terminologia Embryologica online go to FIPAT, at: Click on "Free access to published terminologies", "Enter" to get to: You are now on the Public Entry Page; Click into "Source terminologies as originally published", to get to: This page lists the 3 Terminologias; To the right of the page, under "Terminologia Embryologica, from internal document (2009)", Click on e2.0: "Ontogeny" to get to: You are viewing "Page 8"; now use buttons at top right to move to Page 10 to arrive at description of Carnegie Stages 1-5 in Chart; The right side of chart provides documentation of the first 5 Stages; see especially "Single cell EMBRYO [St. 1].

II. How To Find New URLs For The Carnegie Stages Of Early Human Embryonic Development

First, it helps to understand the parent organization and the sub-departments that lead to the new website for the Carnegie Stages. The parent organization is the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM). Under that you will find the Human Development Anatomy Center. And under that is Developmental Anatomy, containing the original Chart of all 23 Carnegie Stages (first 8 weeks of development of the early human embryo). Here are the new URLs to reach these departments:

Second, to find the new URL for each of the original Carnegie Stages, go to the new URLs listed below (examples given for first 6 Stages only). Any particular Stage will first show a brief summary of the scientific facts on that website URL. But if you look toward the bottom left of the webpage, you will see a "photo" of a human embryology textbook by O'Rahilly and Muller; it is actually a hyperlink. Click into that hyperlink, and you will be taken to the full original pages of the Carnegie Stages giving extensive details and documentation.


Hopefully, these explanations will help those who have relied for so long on the Carnegie Stages of Early Human Embryonic Development and their readers.