Parade Magazine and Stem Cell Research

C. Ward Kischer
August 4, 2005
Reproduced with Permission

On Sunday, 10 July, 2005, Parade magazine published a major article promoting human embryonic stem cell research. It is a classic example of bad propaganda. It is clear that the author, Micah Morrison, has never consulted a human embryologist. The beat goes on. Every complaint I have had, and still have, about the misuse of the proper terminology and facts of Human Embryology, can be repeated for the content of Morrison's article.

One of the tragedies of the publishing of this article is the fact that Parade magazine has a very wide circulation. It is an insert into Sunday newspapers across the whole country.

Parade has a history of abusing the truth, as evidenced on April 22nd, 1990, by publishing a profound exercise in rewriting the science of Human Embryology by the late Carl Sagan, an astrophysicist, and his wife, Ann Druyan. The article promoted abortion.

In the present case, Morrison prejudices his thesis at the very beginning by stating:

". . . .scientists are racing to understand and harness the power of stem cells, the basic building blocks of the body." He also calls them "progenitor cells", which simply means a precursor.

Stem cells, by definition, have always been known as reparative or regenerative cells. Most every tissue of the human body has them, although in many cases they are difficult to identify. They are partially differentiated, but not completely so. When called into action this cell divides into two daughter cells, one of which enters into a pathway toward complete differentiation, and the other remaining in the stem cell pool to be used again upon proper stimulation. They are there to replace damaged or lost cells in a given tissue or organ.

The use of the "progenitor" term is meant to equate all three terms: "building blocks", "stem cells" and "progenitor cells". This is a conflation of terms. The inference is that the cells of the early human embryo are all three. Wrong, for the following reasons: let's use an early human embryo of, say, 8 cells as an example. It is not known if all of those cells are the same. Within that cluster, some are inside and some are outside, which may make a difference as to their fate. From experiments done on lesser species the implication is that in the human they are all the same, that is, each cell is totipotent. By definition, totipotent means able to form the complete individual. It is known that a blastocyst, an age of 5 to 14 days post - fertilization ( p.f.) may split to form identical twins (or more). However, the question to ask is: is each cell of that age (5 to 14 days p.f.) totipotent, and, do they need to be? No one knows. The terms "building blocks" and "progenitor" allude to this phenomenon, that all or at least some of those cells can form the complete individual if cultured and implanted alone.

To say that "stem cells" may be obtained from early human embryos is disingenuous, at the least. It is implied that the cells of the early human embryo are, in fact, "stem cells". This is not the case. As the human embryo procedes through development, specific tissues will differentiate some of their cells into "stem cells". But, all of this occurs after many, many cell generations and many, many interactions with countless other cells of the embryo and fetus.

The culturing of early human embryonic cells in order to obtain "stem cells" truncates those generations. It is reasonable to assume that many physiologic changes will be lost. Further, can enough chemicals and other components be added to the cultures to make up for those presumably lost under normal development? Doubtful. Does this probability mean that stem cells derived from those cultures would be ineffective in therapeutic applications? No one knows.

The Parade article includes a box on page 5 headlined: "Americans make distinctions between types of stem cell research". They distinguish between Reproductive cloning and Therapeutic cloning, and the article states: "Language matters". Yes, it surely does.

Cloning refers to using the genetic material (as in chromosomes or DNA) from an advanced cell (the article infers it would be an adult cell), placed in an enucleated egg cell and stimulated to divide. At the instant of division it would be a human embryo. This is asexual reproduction and is the artificial equivalent of fertilization, which would be sexual reproduction.

In either case one is dealing with a human life. "Reproductive cloning" differs from "therapeutic cloning" only in that the latter involves killing the human life by using its cells for culture experiments, while the former would involve transplanting the cloned embryo into a woman for development to term.

Parade (Micah Morrison) neatly avoids the penetrating fact that cloning produces a human life and that "therapeutic cloning" means killing a human life. The deeper and protracted question is: When does human life begin? This is the question which advocates for human embryonic stem cell research always ignore.

Here is the answer: Every human individual begins his or her life at the first moment of fertilization, or, in the case of cloning, the first instant of division. In the latter case, it is still true even if genetic manipulation has occurred in the donor DNA or chromosomes. Thus, we enter into a continuum of life until death, whenever that may occur. At any point along this continuum there exists a whole, integrated human life. This is because all throughout the continuum the characteristics of life are changing, albeit at differeent rates at different times: structure, form, content, function, appearance, etc. It cannot be otherwise. This is the science of the matter. Further, implantation of the embryo into the uterus cannot be the beginning of human life because the embryo has already been developing for 5 to 6 days, p.f., prior to implantation.

On the contrary, suppose one wants to designate the number of cells as the beginning of human life: 2, 4, 8, 16, 160, or 2 billion? Where is the designated starting point, and why? Suppose one wants to designate the beginning of human life when the heart starts beating, generally stated as somewhere between 18 and 22 days, p.f. Would it be the first detectable heart beat? The first contraction of a heart muscle cell? The first appearance of the contracting muscle filaments, the myofibrils? The appearance of the contracting proteins? The activation of the genes controlling the synthesis of those proteins? Pretty soon we are back to the first instance of fertilization!

The point is: suggestions on the contrary are ARBITRARY, and that is not science.

The Parade article (again, Micha Morrison) on page 5, neatly and falsely guides the reader into a religious objection to embryonic stem cell research. The truth is that the objection can be and is totally scientific in that the scientific value of a human life is the same anywhere along the continuum of life. This truth has absolutely nothing to do with religion. It is despicable for Parade to engage in this exercise in deception, which is at the heart of bad propaganda.

I am not wrong about when human life begins; but, if I am to be challenged, let it be by a scientist; better yet, I invite ANY human embryologist to refute my claims and conclusions.

Parade (Micah Morrison) has done a profound disservice to the public. But, then, the mainstream media has virtually shut out the truth about this issue and by doing so has promoted a dark chapter in the public's knowledge of Human Embryology.