Written for "Communique" July 24, 1999 (copyright)
Reproduced with permission

Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research:
Are official positions based on scientific fraud?

Dianne N. Irving, M.A., Ph.D.
Copyright: July 1999
Permission Granted

The fundamental bases for the official positions of NBAC and the White House involve the arguments that either: (1) the immediate product of fertilization or cloning is not a human being yet; and/or, (2) it may be a human being, but it is not a human person yet. Either way, the major reasoning goes, respect and dignity due to te early human embryo simply evolve in degrees as the biological organism evolves through its developing biological stages (as the former NIH Human Embryo Research Panel Report and the NBAC Report have variously expressed).

Both of the arguments above refer to the question, "When does a human being begin?" or for some, "When does the physical dimension of a human being begin?" Both of these variations are based on what is a strictly scientific question, since we are referring to the proper academic discipline required to be used in identifying the beginning of the physical biological aspect of a human being. Therefore, this question must be answered by the objective, empirical facts demonstrated by the science of human embryology - not by normal physicians, bioethicists, politicians, philosophers, theologians or sociologists (as is usually referenced in the bioethics literature). My comments here can in no way be deconstructed, misrepresented or dismissed - for purely politically purposes - to be simply just my own individual opinion, a faith opinion, or a pro-life opinion. Rather, I base my comments on the objective scientific facts of human embryology. If I am incorrect, then 100 percent of human embryologists are also incorrect. So what is going on?

In reference to this strictly scientific question, I would point out that for years there has been a great deal of pure scientific obfuscation used to ground both the "human being" and the "human person" arguments in the bioethics literature Most recently, the official statements of the White House and NBAC similarly and directly reflect the "scientific" mantra of other more explicit official statements of NIH and its chief scientist, Dr. Harold Varmus. Those official statements can now be included in that obfuscation.

In the case of the official and explicit statements of Dr. Varmus (which may be found at http://www.nih.gov/news/stemcell/statement.htm), for him to knowingly and purposefully testify before a subcommittee of the Senae of the United States that a human embryonic zygote (he uses the term, "the product of fertilization of an ovum") and all its developing stages up to the blastocyst stage, are just "totipotent stem cells" (i.e., just "parts") which only have the "potency to become "a mature human organism" - but even then "only if it is implanted" - is, I would argue, patently scientifically false and thoroughly misleading.

There is a fine line between scientific obfuscation and scientific fraud, and I think that fine line has been crossed over and over again in these issues. Scientific fraud in general has become increasingly alarming within the scientific community itself as expressed in its own literature, and it can take many forms - including obfuscation. I my opinion, based solely on the correct science of human embryology as agreed to by all human embryologists, I would place the recent official statements of Dr. Varmus and the NIH regarding human embryonic stem cell research - which statements are directly implied by the recent conclusions of the White House and NBAC on this issue - squarely in the category of scientific fraud. I think the time is well past that someone should say so, and that an official Congressional investigation be carried out.

The reasons why I would consider those statements as clearly scientifically fraudulent include the following:

(1) The science of human embryology has long demonstrated beyond any doubt whatsoever that these early human embryonic stages to which D. Varmus refers are all really developing stages of a whole human being, not just a part of a human being, e.g., not just stem cells, as Dr. Varmus states. While it is true that the single-cell human embryonic zygote, and the multi-cell developing human organism up to the blastocyst stage, is "totipotent" (relatively speaking), it is not scientifically true, as reflected in Dr. Varmus's statement, that it is just a stem cell. Scientifically it is far more than that. A stem cell is only a part of a whole organism; an organism is the whole thing.

Take the example of the "Dolly" experiment. The skin cell that was used as the donor cell was just part of the mother sheep, not the whole mother sheep herself. Or, a skin cell on Joe's face is not Joe; it is just a part of Joe. To destroy the skin cell on Joe's face does not destroy Joe. But to take out Joe's guts and insides does destroy Joe (as happens when living human embryos are the source of stem cells for the kinds of research referred to in this present discussion, as well as the source of gene fragments used in some somatic and germ line gene therapy research).

In defining these stages as just "totipotent stem cells," and leaving out the critical scientific fact that this is a whole humn being or organism, Dr. Varmus knowingly misrepresents the full truth about the objective human embryological scientific facts, and in so doing he misleads the U.S. Senate subcommittee on the pivotal point of the debate. Whether their own theoretical argument is that there is no whole human being there yet, or whether it is that there is no human "person" there yet, both of these positions must be grounded on the correct and complete objective scientific facts of human embryology. For Dr. Varmus to selectively pick out bits and pieces of the correct human embryological scientific facts, and to selectively leave out other correct human embryological scientific facts - for whatever reasons - and to present these "selections" as the full official scientific explanation of stem cell research to the U.S. Senate subcommittee, seems to me to fit into the category of scientific fraud. Indeed, it is very reminiscent of many earlier official scientific obfuscations with their persistent and calculated use of the scentifically discredited term "pre-embryo". In thus referring now to the early stages of the developing human embryo as just "totipotent stem cells", is Dr. Varmus's selective use of this phrase simply the new reincarnation of the old fake "scientific" term "pre-embryo"?

(2) The developing embryonic human being is not just a "potency" (or a "potential human being") to develop later into a human being, as Dr. Varmus states. Scientifically we know that it already is a living human being. The terms "potency" and "potential" are purely philosophical terms, not scientific terms, and should play absolutely no role whatsoever in determining this issue or in formulating such critical public policies. Even these philosophical terms Dr. Varmus uses only selectively, and again, they represent only a small portion of the bioethical/philosophical terms used for decades in the entire bioethical/philosophical debates on when a human being or a human person begin. Such purposeful selectivity of bioethical or phlosophical terms on the part of Dr. Varmus also seriously misleads the Senate subcommittee on these critical issues.

(3) Dr. Varmus claims that these early totipotent and pluripotent "cells" will not become a "mature human organism" "unless and until it is implanted." This too is scientifically false and misleading. Scientifically, the single-cell embryonic human zygote and all of its early developmental stages is already a human being (which is a human organism), regardless of whether or not it is implanted. Scientifically we know that every human being begins his or her physical existence at fertilization (or cloning). Implantation, or lack thereof, simply refers to whether or not an already existing whole human being will continue to live or not. No change of what it is takes place, only whether or not the whole human being that is already there continues to live and grow. It is really quite simple: if the early human being implants, then it can live and grow to maturity; if it doesn't implant, the the early human being will die young.

(4) Dr. Varmus's use of the terms, "an entire mature human organism, e.g., a human being," is not only scientifically misleading - it is scientifically bizarre. A "mature human organism" is only one of many stages of development of a whole human being - hardly the only stage. Scientifically, the embryonic organism and the mature organism are one and the same organism.The embryonic organism is just younger and at a less developed stage of growth. This defiition of a "human being" by Dr. Varmus would actually have our chief scientific officer define a "human being" as just a mature organism! That is scientifically absurd, although interestingly it would possibly provide a "scientific" basis for extremely controversial bioethical and philosophical definitions of "person" such as those advanced by most bioethicists, e.g., Peter Singer, R.M. Hare, Jonathan Glover, etc. Is this scientific "obfuscation" what this is all about?

(5) Furthermore, this scientific misinformation is also repeated on the same official NIH web site on stem cell research in their article, "A Primer for Stem Cell Research" [http://www.nih.gov/news/stemcell/primer.htm] - the immediate consequence of which is to further perpetuate these scientifically incorrect statements to other researchers at NIH and in the private sector, students, the media, and all others visiting this web site who are interested in and concerned about this research. This is nothing more, in my opinion, than he official propagation of scientific falsehoods at the highest levels of our government. I just have to wonder where all the good, intellectually honest human embryologists and other scientists have been.

(6) These scientific falsehoods are then used to "scientifically" and thereby "ethically" justify various kinds of unethical human embryo research - e.g., human embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, human/animal chimera research, DNA-recombinant human gene somatic and germ line therapy, human fertility and human infertility research, biological/chemical warfare screening research, etc. - all based and grounded on scientific falsehoods such as those given by Dr. Varmus in his official statement before the Senate subcommittee, and embodied in the "Primer" article on the official NIH web site.

Even the second of three major goals for performing this research, as presented by Dr. Varmus to the Senate subcommittee and in the article on the official NIH web site, consists in using early human embryos to screen drugs for the pharmaceutical industry - a "goal" which has been selectively and entirely left out of the public debates on this issue. I think that that is a lot of unethical research performed supposedly for some selective greater good, which could be accomplished by other more ethical means given the brilliance and ingenuity of most of our research communities.

Further, this fraudulent human embryology is also used to ground many unethical public policies, including among many others, those involving "contraception" (which is often really abortifacient), abortion, infertility clinic practices and policies, Hospital Ethics Committee policies, Institutional Review Board policies, federal OPRR regulations, prenatal diagnosis policies, fetal reduction policies, surrogate motherhood policies, and governmental eugenics policies (which seems to be the real goal here, given especially the extant international bioethics literature - look for yourselves).

I don't know what the answer to this continuing problem is, but the entire scientific community and the American public need to get on top of these clearly fraudulent issues now. To wait any longer will cause irreparable harm to the objective integrity and credulity of the varous and interrelated fields of science themselves, as well as to the American public - by applying to them such strange "theories" and "facts" in a myriad of ill-conceived and fraudulently based health care public policies.