Irving: Open Communication To Participants of the CBHD/NCCB Bioethics Stem Cell Coalition:
Setting the Record Straight Re Drs. Furton/Matthews-Roth's NCBC Website "Response" To Their Stem Cell Research Article

Dianne N. Irving
Bethesda, Maryland
Copyright November 20, 1999
Edited for format and clarity July 21, 2004
Reproduced with Permission

A very unfortunate situation has arisen. If I respond to it, I will be considered "divisive". If I don't, false human embryology will continue to be propagated, which in turn is used to ground errant concepts of "personhood", which in turn is used to "ethically" justify the use of early human embryos in destructive experimental research. After much reflection, I have chosen to respond, and leave it to the readers to come to their own conclusions.


Drs. Furton and Matthews-Roth have posted the following announcement on the internet web site of the National Catholic Bioethics Center: "Embryo Stem Cell Discussion Special. A reader of Ethics & Medics recently sent comments about the article entitled "Stem Cell Research and the Human Embryo, Part One" by Edward J. Furton, M.A., Ph.D. and Micheline M. Mathews-Roth, M.D. which appeared in the August, 1999 issue of Ethics & Medics. "We link to the article here, then the reader's comments, and then our response to these comments -- Ed." They also provide there a hyperlink to "A critique by a Reader", which "critique" is signed by "A Reader of Ethics & Medics", and they also refer to me in their "Response" as "an anonymous reader".1 [All emphases are mine]

Although I intend to address their still-erroneous "human embryology" in my statements here, I think it only fair to first address what I consider to be the questionable behavior engaged in by Drs. Furton (a theologian) and Matthews-Roth (who is an M.D. physician, not a Ph.D. human embryologist). In short, with reference to the above posting, I find it necessary to point out some significant details not apparent to any "reader" of Ethics and Medics.

Specifically: I did not find out about their original article from their web site on Ethics & Medics or from any mailings from the National Catholic Bioethics Center; I never sent them my private e-mail comments as "an anonymous reader" or in any other form; I did not give them or anyone my permission to post my private e-mail on their internet web site -- in any form; in posting my e-mail they left significant parts of it out, inserted language and sentences which were not in my original e-mail, and changed the format of my private e-mail in very significant ways; I never accused them in my private e-mail or in any other way of knowingly and willingly supporting the McCormick/Grobstein "pre-embryo" argument; I never accused them in my private e-mail or in any other way of not following Church teachings; and I never accused them in my private e-mail or in any other way that they were not "completely committed pro-lifers". Let me elaborate on these points before I turn to my specific scientific responses.

-- This situation originally arose because Richard Doerflinger (NCCB) had just sent out by e-mail Furton and Matthews-Roth's original article to me and to others directly involved with the human embryonic stem cell research issue (e.g., the CBHD/NCCB Stem Cell Coalition) just one week before the critical American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting, and the voting debates in Congress on human embryonic stem cell research. Thus I found out about this paper through Doerflinger's e-mailing it to me. I did not find out about it by checking the latest menu in Ethics and Medics, or through any mailings from the Center.

-- I did not personally send my comments to Furton, Matthews-Roth, or anyone at the Center in any way shape or form. So the reference to me on their internet site as "an anonymous reader" who "sent comments" is false and purposefully misleading. Furton and Matthews-Roth know perfectly well that I did not send my personal e-mail comments to them or to any person at their Center -- and I have that in an e-mail which Furton sent to me after "someone" else sent him my comments.

-- I never gave Furton and Matthews-Roth, or anyone else, my permission -- either implicitly or explicitly -- to post on the Center's internet web site, or in any other place, any part of my private e-mail to my own colleagues. Never.

In fact, I tried to defuse this situation. When Furton did contact me by e-mail that he had "heard through the grape-vine "that I had some concerns with their article, and when he then instructed me to send him scientific proof to back up my remarks, I sent him numerous materials and scientific references, and even offered to send him the 45+ pages from the human embryology textbooks from which I have always quoted. I also offered to discuss these scientific statements in detail with them at any time by phone, etc. I then received a rather curt e-mail response that they wanted to post my private e-mail on their internet web site and asked for my permission to do so -- a request to which I did not respond, as it sounded rather like "over-kill", and more a concern about ego than about what the scientific truth is. So I never gave them any permission for them to do so, in any way.

They then sent me their innocuous "version" of "my" comments that they wanted my permission to post on their internet web site anyway, referring to me as "an anonymous reader". Again, I never gave them any permission to do so, in any way. This "version" arrived just minutes before I left for Mexico City to present an invited paper at a Vatican-sponsored conference precisely on these issues. Since their document printed out as all symbols, etc., and therefore was totally unintelligible, I could not take the time to argue with them. I suppose I did make one mistake: I assumed that if I let it go for now until I got back from Mexico they would realize that they were grossly over-reacting, acting childish, and change their minds. Just as in an earlier gross and inaccurate professional attack on me by John Haas2, Furton's boss, I also decided in this situation to "take the high road", and simply ignore them until I got back and we could discuss this in a more professional manner by phone, etc. Shortly after I arrived back home a friend of mine alerted me by e-mail that "my" comments were posted on the NCBC's internet web site. This person recognized, of course, that these "comments" must have come from me. That is how I found out about my private, rearranged e-mail being posted on the internet web site of the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

-- The people to whom I sent out my comments were simply and only those to whom Doerflinger had already sent Furton and Matthews-Roth's original paper and a few others involved with this specific issue. I hardly posted my comments on the internet, as they did, for millions of people around the world to read and thousands of other web sites to link to -- nor would I ever have done such a reckless thing. My e-mail, to these few persons involved only with the Stem Cell Coalition and human embryonic stem cell research issus, was a private communication from me to them. Regardless if whether or not posting my e-mail on their internet is illegal (I am presently investigating that), it certainly was, in my opinion, reckless. If Furton or Matthews-Roth or Haas had any questions with anything I had said in a private e-mail to others, they certainly could have conducted themselves far more rationally by simply calling me directly on the phone for the express purpose of discussing these scientific details with me. However, the only reason that Furton did call once and leave a phone message for me was only to get my permission to post "my" private e-mail on their web site so that they could "respond" -- permission which I never gave. And clearly, since Haas is Furton's boss, Haas must have given Furton permission to proceed in this highly reckless manner.

-- Further, not only did Furton and Matthews-Roth post my private e-mail on the internet without my permission, they also left out important parts of that e-mail, added items which I purposefully did not include in my original e-mail, and significantly changed my original format. For example, in my original e-mail I had included three items which were very important:

(1) an entire paragraph citing for those unfamiliar with either the relevant science or the philosophy a number of my published papers, etc., which explained in more depth what the McCormick/Grobstein argument was, how they had used incorrect human embryology, and how that incorrect human embryology was used as the major premise in their philosophical argument for "individuality" or "personhood" beginning at 14-days (i.e., their "pre-embryo" argument);

(2) the document attachment to this specific private e-mail of mine, i.e., my recently published paper, "When do human beings begin? 'Scientific' myths and scientific facts", in which I quote directly from several human embryology textbooks to document my position, and which does contain a great number of critically important scientific references to those human embryology textbooks for the readers of my private e-mail to consider for themselves.

(3) a reference to my published and exhaustive critique of Keith Moore's 3rd and 5th editions of his human embryology textbook, which demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt how completely self-contradictory and scientifically erroneous that human embryology textbook was -- especially insofar as the 5th edition had started to use the scientifically discredited term "pre-embryo" -- the term so intimately associated with the McCormick/Grobstein bioethics literature. I referenced this specific paper because Furton and Matthews-Roth were quoting almost exclusively from this 5th edition in their own paper, and because I did not think it advisable for those in the Stem Cell Coalition interested in the human embryonic stem cell issue to turn to that specific text for accurate information about early human development without first knowing about the status of that text.

These three critical items were totally left out of "my" e-mail which Furton and Matthews-Roth had now posted on their internet web site.

Furton and Matthews-Roth also added to my e-mail as posted on their internet web site an explicit bibliographic reference to the theologian Fr. Moraczewski, of whom I had purposefully obliquely and anonymously referred in my original e-mail simply as "a theologian". My purpose for that comment was not to engage Fr. Moraczewski in any debate or to embarrass him in any way whatsoever. My purpose was to indicate that Furton and Matthews-Roth's own reference to only the inner cell mass as the embryo and as the human being was scientifically wrong, and in fact "a theologian" had indeed recently used that erroneous science to apply the principle of double effect and conclude that the use of certain abortifacients were ethical. What Furton and Matthews-Roth's intentions were here is unknown. Regardless, I purposefully never explicitly used Fr. Moraczewski's name or explicitly referenced his article in my original private e-mail. I was simply pointing to an anonymous but concrete example of how the same incorrect human embryology which Furton and Matthews-Roth had just published in their paper had in fact already been applied.

Furton and Matthews-Roth also changed the original format of my private e-mail in other significant ways, leaving out many stresses on words which were important if people were to really understand the issues involved here -- especially the connection between the science and the philosophical, or "personhood", issue. How on earth could their world-wide internet audience be expected to correctly understand my comments or Furton and Matthews-Roth's "Response" fairly under these circumstances? It is precisely because of the possibility of things like this happening that I did not want to give my permission for my private e-mail to be posted on any web site to begin with -- to be manipulated by them without my permission and outside of my control. Clearly, my concerns were well-founded.

-- The kind of "human embryology" which Furton and Matthews-Roth used in their original article and in their "Response" is intimately and directly related to the philosophical "personhood" issue and to the human embryonic stem cell debates. The very fact that Furton and Roth simply don't see the connection between the erroneous human embryology they used in their article and the philosophical issue of "personhood" in the human embryonic stem cell research debates is ludicrous -- even scary. Again, some of the parts of my original e-mail that Furton and Matthews-Roth left out of their "Response" explain that connection quite graphically. I can only suppose that is why they left it out.

It is critical to understand the connection between the science and the philosophy (and by "philosophy" I don't mean religion or theology!) -- and so, having a career as a bench research scientist, and having Master's and Doctorate degrees in philosophy, and having taught the entire history of philosophy (covering 28 philosophers' positions on natural philosophy, epistemology, metaphysics, anthropology, and ethics) for 12 years now, I hope you will understand if I find a serious and sincere need to digress for a moment.

It is simply not true that philosophy is necessarily part of religion or of theology (or vice versa), or that the "personhood" issue is necessarily a religious or theological concept. As even St. Thomas, for example, has made quite explicit and clear (see his The Division and Methods of the Sciences), the subject matter of philosophy is "reality" or "being" -- ens commune -- and not God; and the epistemological method to come to know reality is by means of the light of reason alone, without the aid of Divine Revelation, faith or the teachings of the Magisterium. Not so with theology, a totally difference "science" (as that term is understood and used in scholastic writings). The subject matter of theology is God, and the epistemological method by which we come to know God is through Divine Revelation, faith and the teachings of the Magisterium. These are two totally different (but related) "sciences", two totally different subject matters, two totally different methods or epistemologies.

Thus, by using reason alone (embodied reason!) a person can empirically derive certain philosophical concepts about reality -- including material reality. God help us if we couldn't! It is possible to derive a valid and sound concept of "personhood" -- which is used as a philosophical concept within these secular bioethics debates -- from the correct empirical data found in human embryology. This is how a realist philosophy obtains literally all of its concepts of material reality, including the concept of the material physical dimension of a human being. From that empirically grounded human embryology one can argue validly and soundly back to the presence of a human person at the moment that a human being begins. The test as to whether or not that philosophical concept of "person" is true or false is whether or not it matches or corresponds (or is derived from concepts which do) with the material reality that was experienced, and which caused that philosophical concept of "person".

So not all philosophies are religious or theological; some use reason alone. Not all philosophies are relative or purely subjectively based; some philosophies are objectively based. Some philosophies are right, and some philosophies are wrong -- that is, some philosophies match reality, and some don't (e.g., many concepts used in rationalistic philosophies). In the present issue, it is possible to derive empirically grounded, objectively based and realistically corresponding hard-core philosophical concepts of "personhood" from the correct human embryology -- that is, assuming that you know your science and your philosophies.

However, if one uses incorrect "human embryology" as a starting point for doing philosophy, then any philosophical concept of "personhood" empirically derived from that incorrect human embryology would not be true, i.e., would not match reality -- especially if one was also simultaneously trying to impose a rationalistic philosophical or theological system on this incorrect empirical data. After all, most rationalistic philosophies (and theologies) inherently have a mind/body split -- a necessary requirement for there to be any "delay" in "personhood" at all! This is precisely what McCormick and Grobstein, as well as innumerable other secular bioethicists, have done for over 30 years. And this is why these "arguments" can only be refuted by both the correct human embryology and by a realist philosophy (where there is no such mind/body split). This is precisely what I have tried to do in my own work (whether successfully or not).

-- Furton and Matthews-Roth argue that I gave no scientific references to back up my comments. Yet in my original e-mail I had attached as a document my entire recently published article, "When do human beings begin? 'Scientific' myths and scientific facts", which contained dozens of these scientific references (and I had already sent to them many other such "proofs"). I had also referenced for the readers other published papers and works which also contained dozens of scientific references (this was just an e-mail, remember) -- none of which Furton and Matthews-Roth mentioned on their NCBC internet web site, but all of which they were fully aware of. Of course, these scientific references attached to and included in my original e-mail were among the things which they deleted before they posted their "version" of it on the NCBC internet web site -- so it would appear to their readers, I presume, that I was commenting without referencing or backing myself up, and appear that I was emotionally "fearful" or anxious (an interesting ploy in and of itself). Emotionally "fearful" or anxious I am not. Intellectually fearful or anxious I am -- there is a difference, and I have quite legitimate and sufficient reasons for so thinking.

-- I did not start this unpleasant situation; Furton and Matthews-Roth did. They are the ones who wrote the problematic article to begin with, and Doerflinger is the one who passed it around to us all by e-mail. (It is worth noting that Doerflinger has honestly and genuinely commented to me on other occasions and in a separate e-mail related to this situation that he didn't see the relevance of all this embryology or with the "personhood" issues, nor did the members of the "pro-life" caucus on the Hill with whom he has worked for so many years. I do respect his right to think so, but it is, frankly, even scarier.) The only reason why I even went to the trouble of writing my comments and e-mailing them to the others involved in the human embryonic stem cell research issue was precisely because Furton and Matthews-Roth were using essentially the same "human embryology" that McCormick and Grobstein had used in order to argue the individuality issue -- i.e., the philosophical "personhood" issue. I was simply trying to prevent that erroneous human embryology -- now already published and spread literally around the world on the NCBC internet web site -- from being propagated even further and again used to justify, in this instance, human embryonic stem cell research.

It is, frankly, irrelevant whether or not Furton and Matthews-Roth used the actual term "pre-embryo", and it is, frankly, irrelevant whether or not Furton, Matthews-Roth, Doerflinger, Haas or others -- and there are others -- just "don't get" the connection between the embryology and the philosophical "personhood" issue, or think it is "silly" (pace Doerflinger) -- including pro-life leaders, Church leaders, or the members of the "pro-life" caucus on Capitol Hill. That is, to be blunt, their problem. If you don't get it, you don't get it. Unfortunately, most public policy makers and secular bioethicists involved in these issues DO get it, and HAVE for 30 years, and the consequences have been disastrous. Just consider the huge number of public policies, local, state, national and international laws, regulations, documents, etc. that for over 30 years and right now do use the philosophical "personhood" issue as their justification -- complete with all this erroneous human embryology, with or without using the term "pre-embryo". This is the concrete reality -- like it or not, agree with it or not, understand it or not, care about it or not, get it or not, politically convenient or not.

Using just this same or similar embryology has done and does do irreparable damage -- with or without the term "per-embryo". To realize this all one has to do is acknowledge the last 30 years of secular bioethics literature to see that. In fact, that is precisely what NIH and NBAC have done and still are doing, and precisely why I referred to those organizations in my e-mail. And if people still can't see that, then that is not just their problem -- it is a very serious problem for all of us. 30 years of total obliviousness to the secular bioethics literature and the secular bioethicists whose "philosophical" arguments on "personhood" are now the norm is enough. This is total and complete culpable ignorance and negligence.

The 28 most representative arguments (there were hundreds more) which I addressed in my doctoral dissertation in 1991 (and in many peer-reviewed published articles since then) were written up to two decades earlier by secular bioethicists who used erroneous human embryology and philosophy (not religion or theology) to argue for "delayed personhood". These arguments are now embedded in our laws, governmental regulations and public policies. Obviously, in order to refute those arguments and correct those laws, governmental regulations and public policies it is necessary to argue against those very same specific scientific and philosophical claims (religion or theology are rarely used by these secular bioethicists).

How many people still have never heard of, read, or tried to professionally refute in the literature articles by these bioethicists: e.g., Suarez, Bedate, Cefalo, McCormick, Grobstein, Ford, Wallace, Edwards, Bole, Haring, Sass, Singer, Kuhse, Kasimba, Wells, MacKay, Lockwood, Dawson, Goldenring, Kushner, Shea, Gertler, Jones, Buckle, Hare, Englehardt, Tooley, Macklin, Caplan, Warnock, Walters, Robertson, etc., etc., etc. -- and even dozens of governmental officials or Congressmen like Sen. Edward Kennedy, Congressman Henry Waxman (who have worked directly with secular bioethicists for decades) -- and even the Director of NIH Dr. Harold Varmus? Take a swing through the Kennedy Institute of Bioethics Library at Georgetown University -- you won't find more than 0.5% of the total number of articles in their entire card catalogue written by any of our Catholic or pro-life academic scholars.

One thing is certain. Those who continue to stick their heads in the sand and pretend that the "personhood" issue is "silly", or that attempts to correct this damage are "silly" (so my work has been referred to) are clearly not the one's running this country or influencing its laws, federal regulations or public policies. Secular bioethics is, and they must just relish this self-imposed exile, ignorance and "blindness".

-- I did not state or imply anywhere in my e-mail, in any other document of any kind, or to anyone that I was accusing Furton and Matthews-Roth of purposefully and willingly supporting the "pre-embryo" argument, or of purposefully or willingly supporting McCormick and Grobstein, or of not following Church doctrine, or questioning whether or not they were genuine "pro-lifers" -- as they have so indicated in their "Response" on their internet web site. In fact, I went out of my way in my private e-mail comments to state (quoting from my original e-mail), "For purposes of addressing just the incorrect human embryology in what is an otherwise excellent article ... I am assuming that Furton and Mathews-Roth wrote this without realizing what they have done, and they must not be familiar with the literature for the last two decades ... but they have unwittingly reinforced the very incorrect and wrong 'human embryology' that McCormick and Grobstein (and all of their proponents, e.g., Ford, Wallace, etc.) have used for over 20 years now to argue for delayed personhood -- a fact that would literally pull the rug out from under the efforts to block human embryonic stem cell research and human embryo research of all kinds, cloning, the use of abortifacients, etc. It would justify ('scientifically') that until 14-days there is no human person there yet. Therefore, human embryonic stem cell research would be ethically acceptable. ... [A]lthough I understand their sincere efforts to scientifically justify their position (which I share) ... ." (unquote).

I was only trying to stop the further proliferation of this tainted human embryology to the other members of the human embryonic stem cell research coalition, most of whom are not scientists and therefore who might also unwittingly propagate this tainted human embryology in their own writings, use it in debates or in testimonies the next week on the Hill, etc. -- especially given the close timing (one week) involved here. For Furton and Matthews-Roth to now claim on the NCBC internet web site that they were "astonished" that I was accusing them of knowingly and willing supporting McCormick and Grobstein is blatantly false, and even contradicted on the "pieces" of my e-mail that they did see fit to post. It is also blatantly false that I tried in any way to paint them as not following Church teachings or that they were not true "pro-lifers". In fact, me thinks that they hath protesteth too loudly.

The "human embryology" that Furton and Matthews-Roth have published in this article and again in their "Response" on the NCBC website could be pointed to and used by others to argue that since it is the inner cell mass that "gives rise to" the embryo (as Furton and Matthews-Roth stated in their article and in their "Response"), then there is no embryo there yet, there is only a "pre-embryo". Or one could argue that since only the inner cell mass is the human embryo, the human being (as Furton and Matthews-Roth stated in their article and in their "Response"), and since the inner cell mass does not form as the embryo "proper" until the blastocyst stage (beginning about 4 days after fertilization), then in effect before 4 days (e.g., at the zygote or morula stage) there is only a "pre-embryo" there -- i.e., not a person. Or, if it is true (as Furton and Matthews-Roth have stated in their article and in their "Response") that twinning cannot take place after 14-days and the formation of the primitive streak, then others could point to their article and argue that there would be no "individual" there yet, and therefore before 14-days there would only be a "pre-embryo" there. Therefore early human embryo research, human embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, the formation of human chimeras, the use of abortifacients, etc., would be "scientifically" justified as ethical.

There is nothing new with this strategy. These are all classic McCormick and Grobstein-type arguments -- with or without the use of the term "pre-embryo". This is precisely the "human embryology" that McCormick and Grobstein -- and all of their numerous clones -- did use and are still using to scientifically ground their philosophical concept of "delayed personhood" -- thereby justifying all this experimental research using early human embryos. Again, it is irrelevant whether or not anyone thinks that these secular bioethics arguments are dumb or if the "human embryology" used by them is ridiculous. What is relevant is the concrete reality that these very arguments have been and still are the arguments which have won the day. If Furton and Matthews-Roth -- or others -- don't see it, that is too bad. I did see it, and thus responded accordingly.

Obviously I have been and can always be wrong, make mistakes. As a trained former bench research scientist, as a mature academic scholar, and as a long time university full professor I vividly understand my own limitations and enthusiastically encourage the intellectually honest probes, questions, and debates of all views and positions -- including my own. How else can anyone grow? How else can anyone teach? Genuine corrections and refinements of our thinking and positions must continue as long as we live if we are ever to adequately approach the truth.

But I do not see that as the issue here. The issue here is the further propagation of erroneous "human embryology" that has been and continues to be used to ground likewise erroneous philosophical concepts of "delayed personhood" used in immensely influential arguments for over 30 years and now literally and concretely embedded in our laws, federal regulations and public policies which allow the destruction of millions of innocent human beings for the "good" of others. THAT is the real issue here, and what my work represents on this issue. If anyone can demonstrate where I err I would consider that a tremendous favor and welcome it as a means of continuously refining my thinking on this or on several of the other issues I try to address.

-- Furton and Matthews-Roth never did admit in their "Response" to any of the blatant scientific errors in their original article, which errors still remain -- and to which I will turn momentarily.

In short, this action by Furton and Matthews-Roth is, in my opinion, devious, irresponsible, un-academic, over-reactionary, childish and libelous. My personal feelings are irrelevant here. What they have done has caused serious damage to my own professional work and reputation, and to those using my materials. The damage is my loss of academic credibility -- just as Haas' earlier published comments, interestingly enough, did damage to the academic credibility of Kischer's and my book, especially my credibility as a Ph.D. philosopher. That time I did take the "high road", and did not insist on the publication of my 5-page, single-spaced, line by line academic rebuttal of Haas' outrageous and academically ridiculous comments about me (my response never was allowed by the editor to be published). This time it is even more important to set the record straight. Too much is at stake here which has nothing to do with me or Furton or Matthews-Roth and which is far more important than us -- the loss of the millions of lives of very innocent human beings who are already being used as mere biological commodities for others -- specifically because of the successful and massive use of this erroneous "human embryology" and errant "philosophical" concepts of "delayed personhood" based on that erroneous "human embryology".

I turn now to the second part of my response to them in order to demonstrate some of the scientific errors still contained in their paper and in their posted "Response" to my private e-mail comments.

Next Page: Part II .......
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