This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Embryo decision

Today, as reported by the AP, Federal Judge Joyce Lambert banned new regulations allowing the destruction of blastocysts to do stem cell research, in response to a suit from a lab that only does adult stem cell research, which argued that it could not ethically do both kinds of research and that this puts them at a competitive disadvantage in competing for NIH research grants, and that harvesting cells from embryos is a violation of federal law. You can read the story at

While I disagree with using the law to protect grant seekers from more competition, per se, the problem is not with the ruling but with the underlying law - which confuses a pre-Gastrulation blastocyst with a developing embryo.

The part of the blastocyst that is destroyed to harvest stem cells becomes the afterbirth. Indeed, stem cell research shows that after harvesting, such cells are no different ontologically than adult cells - except for the fact that cells that have not gone through gastrulation may not be viable in the first place. The value of this research is not the cells themselves, but the process by which eventual therapeutic cloning can take place in order to go from extracted DNA to a whole organ or nerve fiber. Of course, use of organ cartilage and adult stem cells seems to do this adequately anyway, so therapeutic cloning does not appear to be necessary. As to the ethics of this, it’s not a child until it is an organism, with differentiation, bodily integrity (meaning if you remove a cell, you lose an adult structure), influence from the genes of both parents, and no possibility that the genes from a non-human parent are effecting development. That point is gastrulation, not fertilization.

I suspect that the underlying law will be changed shortly.


Blogger Andrew Haines said...

What's the basis for your claim that "it's not a child until it is an organism"? Why is "differentiation" a necessary aspect of a living being?

Certainly, the change in trajectory at the moment of fertilization -- i.e. at the point of membrane fusion which initiates cytoplasmic transformation and the whole process of nucleic transfer -- when a (former) oocyte no longer behaves like it did before (and when the sperm is no longer viable per itself) seems to indicate something unique prior to formal differentiation.

If you rely on "differentiation [and] bodily integrity" to affirm the presence of an organism, can you offer a reason? And, moreover, can you contest (by that reason) that the radical change of nature at fertilization is really pre-organic?

10:29 AM

Blogger Michael Bindner said...

Organism are organized and have organs. Blastocysts are not. You can cut a blastocyst or a preblastocyst into two pieces and both would develop into complete human beings. They are entirely unintegrated.

Prior to the badly researched Evangelicum Vitae, even Catholic ethicists would contend that because twinning could occur, one could safely assume that the blastocyst was not yet a "person."

Hard core embryology textbooks mark gastrulation a much more important event than fertilization.

The products of beastiality continue to develop until gastrulation. Ontologically, they are the same as the products of two human parents, so unless you are willing to grant the products of beastiality "existence" as some type of human being, you cannot grant "existence" to any blastocyst.

Under a non-privileged view of natural law, this should end the matter. The Church's "scholastic" version of it, where a disagreeable answer is not acceptable, this is not the case. That says more about the Church than blastocysts, however.

12:35 PM


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