Letters to Embryologist Keith L. Moore Re "Pre-Embryo"

Dianne N. Irving
Letters
Copyright July 19, 1993
Reproduced with Permission


Keith L. Moore, Ph.D., F.I.A.C.
Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology
Faculty of Medicine
Medical Sciences Building
University of Toronto
Toronto. Ontario
Canada M5S 1A8

Dear Dr. Moore:

As a former research biochemist at NIH, and a Ph.D. philosopher/bioethicist, I am writing to express my concern about your intended use of the term "pre-embryo" in your fifth edition of The Developing Human. Per a conversation with Dr. C. Ward Kischer, I understand that you and your co-author, Dr. Persaud, have graciously agreed to change the term to "pre-implantation embryo". I wish to reinforce Dr. Kischer's own concern about precise human embryological terminology.

I have often personally used references from your earlier editions in my own work, and have consistently recommended them to many others. My doctoral dissertation for Georgetown University (Department of Philosophy) was entitled Philosophical and Scientific Analysis of the Nature of the Early Human Embryo, in which I cited you extensively. In fact I cited you in an amicus curiae brief I wrote which was recently filed with the United States Supreme Court (I have enclosed a couple of papers published from the dissertation and a copy of the brief for your information). The dissertation analyzes only from the perspectives of logic, philosophy and science - not from religion or theology. It was simply in the intense context of reviewing simultaneously both the scientific and the philosophical/bioethical literature on the issue of "fetal personhood" that I realized for myself the depth and extent of both the incorrect science and the incorrect philosophy used throughout these current debates. In fact, in selecting only 23 representative arguments which place "fetal personhood" along various embryological marker events during human embryogenesis, I concluded from my (very extensive) research that in virtually every one of the 23 articles, the science used as the supposed "objective" grounding of the argument was text-book and current-journal inaccurate, the philosophy used was historically inept and inaccurate, and none of the conclusions even followed logically from these premises. I would be pleased to send the entire 400 page dissertation to you for your inspection.

Clearly there is a problem somewhere. As a former scientific researcher I decided to investigate and publish about the "science" being used first - as it is the science which is being used to ground or "prove" different philosophical, bioethical or political conclusions about "personhood". Obviously, if the science is incorrect, then the philosophical, bioethical or political conclusions based on that science are also incorrect. As a realist philosopher and bioethicist, my starting point for philosophical research, definition of key terms, etc., is the correct science. Hence both scientifically and philosophically I am keenly sensitive to the propagation, publishing, etc., of any sort of fabricated "science", caused for any sort of reason. Perhaps one reason is that in my field I see constantly the immediate application of this "science" on innocent human patients and populations.

There are many others who are now also concerned with this issue, and investigating on their own and in cooperation with peers and associations. Whether this situation is due to inferior course work, sloppy lab techniques, sheer ignorance, "publish or perish", or politically correct (or incorrect) agendas, it is difficult to determine at this point. But as a member of the Board of Directors of the journal Accountability in Research, I am concerned with many others about all of these problems arising in scientific research. Why any researcher would want to deliberately falsify the true facts of nature, or extrapolate from them irrational or fanciful philosophical or political conclusions is beyond me. Ultimately they must know it won't work. Hopefully most of the problems arise from the former categories. But it is interesting that, according to Patricia Woolf in a paper presented in 1991 at a FIDIA research ethics conference at Georgetown, over 80% of the fraud formally determined by the OPRR to date was generated by physician researchers in the field of embryology.

I know that most bench researchers have great distain for politics, philosophy, etc. But perhaps at this particular point in time they need to be made more aware of what happens to their "data" and "conclusions" once they leave the lab. The impact is enormous - and hence the paper I have enclosed on "The impact of scientific misinformation on other fields: philosophy, theology, biomedical ethics and public policy". In line with this concern, one of the most politicized embryological terms to come out of basic medical research in the last several years has been the term "pre-embryo". Surely you, in your position, are aware that it is being used as an arbitrary line of demarcation - before which the human embryo is: not a human being (e.g., Bedate and Cefalo), or not a human person (e.g., Grobstein and McCormick); therefore he or she is not due any ethical, social, political or legal rights or protections guaranteed "real" human beings or human persons; therefore early human embryos (or later fetuses) can be used in: all sorts of tissue and organ transplantations; myriads of experimental research projects (sheet from my dissertation also enclosed); so-called "innovative IVF therapies" (which are really experimental research, have not undergone all of the proper stages of clinical trials, etc., and which now involve the health and well being of adult female human patients as well); justification for abortion; ownership (i.e., as mere property) of frozen human embryos in legal proceedings, etc. - just to give a few examples. Indeed, quite a number of national and international research guidelines have been determined on the basis that the "pre-embryo" is either not human, or not a "person" (e.g., the Warnock Commission). What is curious is that so much of this inaccurate science has been published for quite a number of years now, yet there seems to be a sort of tacit "blanket of silence" about it from within science itself.

Furthermore, regardless of their own personal positions on abortion, scientists must understand that the issue of "abortion" is not an isolated issue in bioethics. Rather, all of the major seemingly unrelated bioethics issues are quite connected. "Conceptual" precedents set in one area form the foundation for conceptual changes in definitions in others - leading to quite a number of changes in legal definitions occurring today. For example, it is being argued in the legal literature that there is scientifically a "parallel" between the now legal definition of "brain death", and a sought-after new legal definition of "brain life" (before "brain life" there is no "person" present, and so the embryo or fetus is just an object to be used).

As a former scientific researcher I find it alarming that so many heretofore critical definitions based solely on highly debatable philosophical, sociological, political, ethical, etc., criteria - and especially those "definitions" that couldn't "make it" in their own fields - are now more and more seeking scientific data and conclusions for their very justification. In fact, I wonder if such extra-scientific influences are not beginning to "prejudice" the very data and conclusions of pure science itself - and hence this letter of concern to you. The potential for irreparable harm to both the field of science and to innocent human beings and human patients is clearly present. Science is becoming more and more politicized. Dr. Kischer is quite correct about these extra-scientific influences on science. I wanted as well to point to the extent and the degree of this influence, and commend your sensitivity to the present situation.

As one of the most highly respected embryologists in the field today, you can certainly play a critical key role in helping to keep the science of embryology from being tarnished and merely "used" by such extra-scientific interests and influences. We in the other fields which draw from yours for our own research must rely on your expertise and on your leadership. If you have any questions about these papers or this letter, or if there is any way in which I could be of service to you, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for your time, concern and patience.


Sincerely,

Dianne N. Irving, M.A., Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
History of Philosophy/Bioethics
De Sales School of Theology
5108 Randall Lane
Bethesda, MD 20816
301-229-4176

cc C. Ward Kischer, Ph.D.
Adil Shamoo, Accountability in Research

[Edited for format and clarity July 18, 2004]


LETTER (OCT. 1993)

Copyright October 18, 1993


Dr. Keith L. Moore
Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology
Faculty of Medicine
Medical Sciences Building
University of Toronto
Toronto, Canada M5S 1A8

Dear Dr. Moore:

A couple of months ago I wrote to you concerning the erroneous and inaccurate human embryology which has been flooding the literature - scientific, philosophical, theological, bioethical, public policy, etc. - for some time now. No where do I find any effort on the part of professional scientists to acknowledge or correct in the literature this grossly inaccurate and surely unscientific misinformation. This silence on the part of the scientific community is startling.

And the misinformation continues. For your information I have enclosed a recent article published by Clifford Grobstein in a 1993 book on "research ethics". The same inaccurate “human embryology” he has been publishing for years is again perpetuated in his article. Given that he is not even a human embryologist, why are these inaccuracies allowed to be claimed as scientific fact and further disseminated to - now - the bench research community? If you will notice, his article is the only article in the entire book which does not even include one single footnote or reference!

If you have any suggestions as to how to correct the literature concerning human embryological development I would be very appreciative. Thank you very much, and my best regards.


Sincerely,

Dianne N. Irving, M.A., Ph.D.
Catholic Association for Scientists and Engineers
5108 Randall Lane
Bethesda, MD 20816-1917
301-229-4176

cc C. Ward Kischer, Jerome Lejeune, Frank Kelley

[Edited for format and clarity July 18, 2004]

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