Early: The New “Embryonic”

Filed in Politics, Science, Social IssuesTags: Clone The Truth, Cloning, Missouri, Sanctity of Life, Stem Cells

Rebecca Taylor of Mary Meets Dolly links to this Kansas City Star article:

Missouri’s cloning war came to the Capitol on Thursday when two Washington University scientists wrangled over research on early stem cells and the laboratory techniques used to grow them.

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The two men, both respected researchers, offered their competing viewpoints during a forum at the Missouri Press Association’s Day at the Capitol.

Rebecca makes a great point about the following:

The conclusion? It comes down to whether you view the cells created by the process to be a person.

Steven Teitelbaum, a professor who supports the initiative petition that would protect stem-cell research in Missouri, said he believes that cells in a Petri dish are not persons. But science, he said, cannot answer the question.

“It depends on your religious tradition, your ethics, the feeling in your gut…” Teitelbaum said. “When does a soul come into the body, if at all? Clearly, no one knows that.”

Richard Chole, a fellow professor who opposes the initiative, said he believes that a human being is formed at the moment of conception or the moment that a person’s skin cell is copied through cloning techniques. Taking the stem cells that develop, he said, essentially kills a developing human.

“A line should be drawn,” Chole said, “at the point we are destroying a human life.”

Rebecca's take:

Teitelbaum is correct that there is no way to scientifically prove when the soul enters the body. And different religions hold differing beliefs. We Catholics believe that the soul is present from the moment of conception because that is when science tells us that a new human life begins. (Surprisingly, many Catholics erroneously believe that an embryo created by SCNT does not have a soul.)

But, if he is correct that no one knows for sure, why would he automatically say it is okay to destroy life that we are unsure about? Wouldn't logic dictate that if "science cannot answer that question" that science should err on the side of caution?

Indeed.

Other than that point, something else caught my attention in this article. See the following excerpts:

Missouri’s cloning war came to the Capitol on Thursday when two Washington University scientists wrangled over research on early stem cells and the laboratory techniques used to grow them.

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The controversy involves a process known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, sometimes called therapeutic cloning. Researchers take a human egg cell, remove its nucleus and replace it with the nucleus of an ordinary cell, such as a skin cell. The egg reprograms the nucleus to act like an egg that was newly fertilized by a sperm.

In a few days, it will grow into a ball of cells known as a blastocyst. Inside that ball are early stem cells, which have the potential to grow into all the different tissues of the body.

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The basic issue, he said, is the vast potential that research on early stem cells offers.

The author's bias on this issue is shining as brightly as Moses' face when he descended Mt. Sinai, veiled in the substitution of "early stem cells" for "embryonic stem cells" and referring to the embryo as a "ball of cells".

SCNT is a cloning technique that results in a zygote. Upon first division, that entity is then an embryo, by definition. The blastocyst is part of the embryonic phase of development of that entity. Thus, the stem cells contained within that blastocyst are embryonic stem cells.

But the bias doesn't stop with the misrepresentation of the nature of stem cells as embryonic. Note that the author also makes this statement:

The controversy involves a process known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, sometimes called therapeutic cloning.

Saying that SCNT is "sometimes" called therapeutic cloning is like saying the President of the United States (POTUS) is "sometimes" called the Commander-In-Chief (CIC). POTUS is always the CIC, even if he does not always act in that capacity. SCNT is always cloning; the differentiation between "therapeutic" and "reproductive" exists only in the intended use of the product of the procedure.

To that end, I find the following arguments by Steven Teitelbaum to be specious.

First:

Teitelbaum said the initiative uses common-sense meanings. When typical voters think of human cloning, they expect to see a baby, he said. The initiative would ban cloning a baby by imposing criminal penalties against anyone who attempted to implant cloned cells into a woman’s uterus.

Proponents claim the initiative uses "common-sense meanings", yet the initiative fact sheet adamantly claims that it bans human cloning:

Voting YES on the Initiative protects stem cell research and cures - and strictly prohibits human cloning.

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It also sets responsible boundaries and guidelines to ensure that stem cell research is conducted ethically and safely. And, it resolves concerns that stem cell research could lead to human cloning by strictly banning any attempt to clone a human being.

These semantics are not "common-sense"; they are an intentional misrepresentation of the nature and intent of both the procedure, and the initiativfe itself. At the point of implantation into the uterus, the cloning procedure has long-since been completed, and the clone has long-since been created. At this point, implantation in the uterus versus harvesting for stem cells is a matter of intended use of the clone, not one of defining the nature or identity of the entity resulting from the cloning procedure.

Second:

In addition, the blastocyst created by nuclear transfer is fundamentally different from one created by the union of sperm and egg, Teitelbaum said. The sexually produced blastocyst has some 25 genes functioning that permit it to implant in the uterus and begin to develop. In the cloned version, those genes are not functioning, he said.

Oh really? Fundamentally different, eh? Somebody better tell Dolly; she still thinks she's a sheep. A whole lot of researchers are going to be shocked by this revelation that she is "fundamentally different" from a sheep, because she was the result of SCNT.

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3 Responses to “Early: The New “Embryonic””
  1. Chip,
    Just letting you know that I got the theology of ensoulment a bit wrong and have corrected my error on official Catholic Church teaching.
    My entry now reads:
    “We Catholics believe that we must respect the life of the embryo because a soul may be present from the moment of conception, the point at which a new human being begins. (Surprisingly, many Catholics erroneously believe that an embryo created by SCNT could not have a soul.)”
    Thought I would give you the heads-up.
    Thank-you for the link!

  2. cb says:

    Thanks for the update, Rebecca!

    With respect to religious belief, I think “life begins at conception” is the only reasonable position.

    With sexual fertilization, the moment of conception is the point at which a new, unique, living entity exists (developing of its own initiative, and with a genetic makeup different from that of both contributing gametes).

    Thus, if SCNT results in a living embryo, then with respect to moral issues we must treat it as identical to a sexually fertilized embryo.

    I’m not Catholic, but I greatly appreciate the Catholic church standing up for the sanctity of life!

  3. aarone says:

    I think the idea of cloning is wrong. Creating a life is not something we should have the power to do. Re-creating a person who has already existed is morally wrong.