In 1973 Roe v. Wade was adjudicated by the Supreme Court. This landmark decision proved to be the watershed between science and the law.
Statements made within the decision, and since, concerning human development, have been disingenuous, irresponsible or deliberately deceitful.
One would like to believe that Supreme Court Justices, acting as learned and wise servants of our society, exercise great and considerate care in making decisions that not only affect our daily lives, but impact the evolution of our culture in the most moral and responsible way. We also want to believe they seek out all available facts concerning a case before coming to decisions. Alas, such is not the case.
It is clear that Attorneys Jay Floyd (before the Court of 7) and Robert Flowers (before the Court of 9), arguing for the unborn during Roe v. Wade were unprepared in biological knowledge to answer Justice Blackmun's questions about the beginning of life, and when a fetus becomes a person. Blackmun, himself, was (and still is) woefully ignorant of the concept of "biological life". Unable to come to terms with the ordinary understanding of life as a biological life he confused the issue by including in a question to Flowers, concerning when a fetus becomes a person, "a religious person, a medical person, a philosophical person". If personhood implies, at all, a usefulness, a newborn would be no more a person than the fertilized ovum!
Nevertheless, Blackmun eventually concluded that those in "medicine, philosophy, and theology" could not come to a consensus as to "when life begins". This was intellectual dishonesty at its worst.2 Justice Blackmun failed to become properly informed by the time he wrote the decision for the Webster-case (1989), because he depended upon an amici curiae brief in which 167 "distinguished scientists" concluded: "there is no scientific consensus that a human life begins at conception, at a given stage of fetal development, or at birth."3
This statement misleads the reader. They use the term "conception" only in a biological sense. What follows from conception, biologically, is a continuum, which, realistically, never ceases. Thus, a biological life is defined by its inception and destiny, both of which are inseparable and interdependent. It follows, then, that under conditions which we have come to understand as normal, there is no point of arbitration, even after birth and unto death. Therefore, interposing "stages" which purport to have meaning for biological development are wholly arbitrary, specious and disingenuous at best. All of development, therefore, from first contact between sperm and ovum is a fait accompli.
The amici further state: the beginning of a human life "cannot be answered by reference to scientific principles)'. They then invoke more than a biological consideration by stating that the answer "will depend on each individual's social, religious, philosophical, ethical and moral beliefs and values."
If these kinds of lifes are assigned to an embyro or fetus, they would be done so arbitrarily. If they are acquired, this would occur as a learned belief or value long after birth!
But, their statement removes the biological imperative; therefore, they compound there own pronouncement and, in effect, pose a problem of "life" for the newborn, infant, Juvenile, and, in fact, for any age of an individual. In point of fact, scientific principles can and do define when life begins (for the new individual), simply by recording the results of each pregnant woman, the issue of which we know is derived from a union of sperm and ovum! The question is, and has been, answered, repeatedly, over the time of many thousands of years, ever since hominids first appeared on the earth.
These same amici make still another profoundly gratuitious statement: "The question of when a human life truly begins calls for a conclusion as to which characteristics define the essence of human life. While science can tell us when certain biological characteristics can be detected, science cannot tell us which biological (sic) attributes establish the existence of a human being. "
Here, the amici do not equivocate the biological imperative, as they did when asking when a human life begins. They cannot have it both ways.
Wendell M. Stanley, Nobel Prize winner and discoverer of the tobacco mosaic virus, stated it clearly:
"The essence of life is the ability to reproduce. This is accomplished by the utilization of energy to create order out of disorder, to bring together into a specific predetermined pattern from semiorder or even from chaos all the component parts of that pattern with the perpetuation of that pattern with time. This is life."4
It is important to know that of the 167 "distinguished scientists", cited in the above mentioned amici curiae brief, only 31 had "index-described" terms related to embryology, that is, 'development' or 'developmental' being used in part of the descriptions of their fields. However, only one (1) of those 31 was a self-defined embryologist, and that one not even as a human embryologist!5
Obviously, there is a major problem. The Roe v. Wade decision was regarded as a decision that legalized abortion within the first two trimesters, by rendering it a private matter between doctor and patient. But, it was much more than that, because it indirectly declared the embryo and fetus up to the time of "viability" (assumed to be, but not declared as such, approximately 24 weeks post-fertilization) a non-person! Justice Blackmun believes the issue is resolved. Interviewed on ABC Nightline, on 2 December, 1993, ANATOMY OF A DECISION: Roe v. Wade, he stated: "the basic issue is decided . . . . the constitutional issue is decided, and not on moral grounds".
It is disturbing that Blackmun would separate "constitutional" from "moral". There is an axiom which used to be taught in law which says: ALL LAW COMES FROM MORAL LAW. Although sophisticated pundits of the law would now argue this, a reading of the history of law would confirm it.
Blackmun later made this statement: "I'd like to think I've written into law [sic] other significant decisions, but one gets tagged with one - and, there it is". I have always believed that the Supreme Court is not supposed or empowered to write into law (making law), but to interpret law. Is it not the function of the legislative branch of government to make, or write law?
The Supreme Court has had several chances to reconsider the effects of Roe v. Wade, the latest efforts being the cases of J.M., Individually v. V.C., et al., and Alexander Loce v. The State of New Jersey. The Supreme Court of The United States, in its October Term, 1993, elected not to hear those cases.
Still to be decided by the high court are the crucial questions of (1) when legal life begins, (2) when establishment of the individual (personhood) occurs, and (3) will there be an invocation of equal protection under the law (14th amendment) for the embryo and fetus. The Roe Court, and subsequent Courts in the cases of Webster, Akron and Casey have not addressed these questions; but more importantly, the biology - the HUMAN EMBRYOLOGY -referred to in those cases was in error. For the benefit of the Supreme Court, a proper dialogue has never taken place!
Since Roe v. Wade, there has been an inundation of one-sided monologues, appearing in lay and scientific publications, newspapers, interviews, talk shows, virtually aD forms of media, calling into question the quality and status of the embryo and early fetus - especially by persons with no experience, training and little knowledge of human embryology. Why do they do this if the Roe decision essentially obviated, forever, as Blackmun believes, claims of personhood prior to "viability", and confirmed the seeming finality of a woman's right for an abortion?
It appears the answer is that most of the proponents of choice know that they successfully prevented the biological truth from entering into the Court hearings and decisions, and, anticipating that eventually this truth would out, have been rewriting human development by skewing, distorting and outright lieing about the known facts, and by constructing an intellectually dishonest social policy concerning human development, most of which has gone unchallenged in the more common media sources.
One of the most active and prolific contributors to this problem is Clifford Grobstein, who is a developmental biologist, not a human embryologist, and who is a member of The American Fertility Society. In addition, he has authored a book entitled: "Science and The Unborn", subtitled: "Choosing Human Futures" (Basic Books, Inc., New York 1988).6 He writes articles for lay publications, is interviewed by others, such as Psychology Today, and promotes his ideas about human development through computer networks, all without challenge. He also may have invented the term preembryo7, a term which has been and is being used to reduce the status of the early embryo to that of a non-person and non-human.
He identifies his most active professional area as "public policy". He has had some success in politicizing human embryology and even in finding some allies among, of all places, the scientific world of Human Embryology, who are willing to inject his "New Wave" definitions into the jargon of human development. Keith Moore, who is an author of several texts on human embryology, poses a question on page 71 of the third edition of: Before We Are Born (W.B Saunders Co., Philadelphia, 1988)8 asking: "When does the embryo become human?" On the next page he gives two answers, the scientific one and the political one, then asks the student to choose between them! However, it must be said in his latest edition (1994) he still gives the two answers but does not ask the student to choose between them. In addition to that, Moore, in his latest (5th) edition of The Developing Human (W.B. Saunders, Co., Philadelphia, 1993)9 uses for the first time, albeit in a contradictory way, the term preembryo, a politicized reference to the first week of human development. This is the first recorded use of the term in a textbook of human embryology! Interestingly, however, when this author protested use of the term to Moore, he offered to remove it in the next printing, which he did in his third printing of that textbook.
Grobstein obviously agrees with Blackmun, concerning the presumed finality of the Roe decision, because now Grobstein writes about the futures he has planned for the aborted individuals in evermore confident tones, but, again, without apparent dialogue!
He is, perhaps, the leading spokesman for "choice", but prefers to identify it as 'public policy', and a leading sponsor of human embryo "research". Grobstein is the avant-garde of those reinventing human development, and those writing a new social policy for the status of the new individual.
He has written a chapter in a book entitled: "Ethical Issues In Research", edited by Darwin Cheney and published by The University Publishing Group, Inc., Frederick Maryland (1993).10 This chapter seems to bring together his previous manipulations of the science of human embryology with his intended uses and disposal of "materials" important to our human futures, under the guise of a New Wave social policy. That policy is predicated on reinvented science.
Therefore, a careful critique of what he says is requisite, if for no other reason but to inform an unsuspecting public as to the direction our evolution might take us. Only a well-informed public can apply the necessary pressure to restore the proper reverence for human development.
Our culture is at stake. The evolution of our society and, indeed, the very root of societal endurance, its moral base, is being redefined, virtually by fiat. There must be reasonable dialogue, and those properly prepared in science without a political agenda must be heard, lest once more science becomes darkened with demonic doctrines.
Herein, is the critique of Grobstein's New Wave human embryology, and futuristic social policy with appropriate excerpts from his chapter on "The Status and Uses of Early Human Developmental Stages":
"The focus of this chapter is on the moral and legal status of early human developmental stages, with emphasis on how these stages should be treated in laboratories and in clinical practice. ... With regard to the topic of research on early human development, this chapter will direct attention to the moral considerations that exert external directive pressure on research, its funding, and its outcomes . . . . What is not so immediately obvious is the extremely limited funding (approaching zero) currently available from US federal sources for studies on early human developmental stages. Moreover, the dearth of such funds clearly is not accidental; rather it is traceable to deliberate policy of the Federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). ... the existing funding pattern strongly suggests that understanding of early human development is of far less interest and importance than that of other species such as, say, the mouse."
Not so. The funding pattern has been, and is, relatively low because of medical, legal and ethical restrictions concerning acquisitions of human embryonic or fetal tissues. In spite of the many abortions performed each year, most are performed in clinics on early stages of embryos by saline treatment or mechanical disruption which destroys the embryo or early fetuses, and often renders the tissue unusable. Procurement of the best and most viable tissues would mean surgical intervention. Most physicians and patients are unwilling to undergo such a radical procedure. However, since President Clinton has lifted the ban on funding of fetal tissue research, and the NIH is currently conducting hearings on ethical and moral co~ of human embryo research, funding is likely to rapidly increase.
"Moreover, reference to the next millennium is not incidental. I refer to it because in this research area religious teachings exert significant pressure on US funding -- even though the issues involved are certainly not solely religious, and teachings of various religions are hardly always concordant on the matters involved."
Left out of this statement are the legal restrictions. These are not going to be removed, easily, or at an They may be explained by the age-old legal maxim: all law comes from moral law, and moral imperatives have their origin in religion. To remove the moral basis for restrictions is to remove virtually all restrictive control for society. What then would be left? - a kind of social anarchy which would declare that the end justifies the means.
Acquisition of early embryos and fetuses from in utero and even in vitro fertilization followed by culturing through early stages has been restricted because of the revered quality traditionally applied to the new individual and because of the self-imposed restrictions by physicians applying the technique solely in cases of fertility problems. However, if a different quality can be applied, it is likely to be followed with a different value.
". . . Defenders of current restrictive policies on funding for research on early human developmental stages argue that because human abortuses constitute a possible source of study materials, increases in the number of authorized and funded early human studies will promote a higher frequency of abortion."
And this is true, not only for "a possible source of study materials", but for many experimental procedures. "60 minutes" ran a piece in 1993 about a clinic in Russia set up to make fetal cell and tissue injections into children afflicted with Down's Syndrome. One part of this clinic was given over to free elective abortions. The fetus was removed alive, dissected and living tissue preserved for experimental injections. The fact that this occurred in Russia does not preclude the likelihood of similar clinics or operations eventually appearing in this country. In fact, at least two diseases are regarded as lending themselves to fetal cell or tissue implants for therapeutic relief, albeit temporary at best: 1) Parkinson's, and 2) Diabetes mellitus. Only living cells can afford any benefit. Therefore the best assurance for that is the living fetus, and the model for the use of those has already been established by the Swedes. 11,12
"To others, aware of the issue, this argument is tenuous at best; it is little more persuasive than the suggestion that wider research use of adult human tissues will increase the frequency of capital punishment. In both instances, an unjustified conflation of unsubstantiated assertions is claimed to demonstrate causal connections that are then advanced as though they were objective fact."
Unsubstantiated assertions converted to objective fact have actually been the rather high-profile domain of Clifford Grobstein and others, e.g claims to different "stages of individuality"(5),13 inferences that human embryos display "gill slits and tails",14 and invoking "thought" occurring at 30 weeks of age post-fertilization.15
"Rather than such loose logic, what seems to be needed at this point is careful evaluation of the potential gains and losses if early human developmental stages were more accessible to scientific study. I will provide an appraisal along these lines, based on a preliminary analysis which, persuasive to me, proves that under appropriate oversight and with suitable safeguards early human developmental stages should be available to gain otherwise unobtainable important new knowledge."
It is only fair to ask, at this point, how important the "unobtainable new knowledge" might be. To date, no human embryologist is advocating experimentation with human embryos. Grobstein is a developmental biologist. Experimenting with vertebrate and invertebrate embryos is part of the discipline of developmental biologists. They are tinkerers, fiddlers, and doodlers, the contemporary biological engineers. Now, they propose for human embryos what they previously have done as a career discipline. The problem is they see little, if any, distinction between human embryos and those of other vertebrates.
". . . the zygote is genetically a new formulation capable of producing a lineage of like cells in a multicellular individual."
Read: "the zygote is genetically a new formulation . . ." as: ". . . a new individual . . ." To accept Grobstein's description would, at least, require him to arbitrarily decide how many cells establishes the new multicellular individual.
"However, the significance of these facts as stated are the subject of major controversy and, from my point of view, are substantially misinterpreted by some commentators who insist on regarding the resulting genetic individual as immediately equivalent to the total individuality of an adult."
What kind of significance is Grobstein talking about, and the 'facts" are significant to whom? - the new individual or those wanting to intervene in development of this new individual?
"Accordingly, these commentators declare the zygote to be a "person" in the full moral and legal sense. Other commentators however, reject this notion as naive and misguided, pointing out that -- like the preformationism of more than a century ago -- the interpretation grossly miniaturizes and distorts the significance of the subsequent developmental process."
This is a good technique by Grobstein, tieing a moral and a legal interpretation to a biological one, then comparing it to a discredited false theory of more than 300 years ago. In effect, he characterizes those claiming full "personhood" for the zygote as charlatans.
"The fact, of course, is that during development the established genetic individuality is translated and transformed through step-wise expression into the much more complex reality of the new generation."
Just as it continues from newborn to adult to old age fo death.
"The zygote does have important characteristics beyond those of either egg or sperm alone. But the zygote also lacks many key features of a person, which are readily identified in a newborn and even more clearly in an adult."
Which means that the newborn also lacks "many key features" of an adult!
"To be more specific (and extrapolating from studies on other species) the single-celled zygote is not yet even committed to becoming one individual. As it divides to form a small cluster of cells, each derived cell -- if separated from the others -- can make a whole new individual."
No properly constructed experiments have, as yet, been performed on human embryos to provide evidence for this assertion. So-called cloning of human embryos was reported in Science16 (not via a research publication) - from the work of Hall and Stillman, but does not provide evidence for several reasons: 1) the embryos chosen were those from 2 to 8 cell stages and they were chromosomally abnormal embryos (multiploidys with an extra set of chromosomes). 2) Separated blastomeres were grown through only the next few divisions, which would have occurred naturally, anyway, and 3) there still is no evidence that the blastomeres are exactly equivalent, which is the definition of a clone.
Commitment towards one individual may well have taken place at fertilization; then, again, it may not have. Grobstein draws a conclusion based on many experiments performed on several other species, most of them from Sea Urchin embryos. What he is describing is known to embryologists as "determinant or indeterminant cleavage". In the latter case, determination occurs late in cleavage thereby preserving pluripotentiality in the blastomeres of early embryos. In the former case, the opposite would be true, thereby obviating the pluripotentiality early in development. It is postulated that peptides or proteins, acting as determinants are released at the proper time to determine differentiation.
The truth is no "determinants" have ever been identified in the case of humans. Therefore, it is not known if, in fact, blastomeres of early embryos contain "determinants" which may or may not be inhibited, suppressed or masked, or that they may be added only at a later stage, say at the stage of the primitive streak, about 14 days, post-fertilizatzon (P-F). If a suppressor or inhibitor is suspected, then similarly, one must propose appearance of an agent to remove or override the suppressor or inhibitor. The truth is, there is no evidence to support any of this speculation.
What is definitely known is that 30% of all monozygotic twins are determined early in development, at the first 2 or 3 division stages P-F.17 This fact conflicts directly with Grobstein's claim that singleness does not occur until the onset of the primitive streak. Furthermore, Grobstein raises the case of monozygotic twins which occurs in only 1 of every 270 live births. He offers no account as to when singleness would occur for the other 269 individuals.
"The result is equivalent to natural twinning, which, of course, occurs with low but regular frequency in human development and produces litters of genetically identical individuals in armadillos. Genetic individuality, therefore, is not the same as developmental individuality; instead, the one precedes the other."
Genetic and developmental individuality are two of six arbitrarily invented "stages" by Grobstein, which support his special theories.
His so-called "developmental individuality" can be identical with "genetic individuality" because it is known that approximately 30% of monoygotic twins are derived from the first two cleavage divisions - the two or four cell stage.
Further, Grobstein is applying a condition for all cases of human development based on what is known to occur in only 1 of about every 385 live births.
Lastly, "developmental individuality" does not have to be the same as "genetic individuality" in order to identify a new individual. After all, any succeeding moment is not the same as any precelling moment. The significance is not that they are different but that one follows the other, because all of development is a continuum, borne from a fait accompli initiated by first contact of sperm with ovum.
"Furthermore, as cell division proceeds, the many cells produced aggregate as a collective that develops a central fluid-filled cavity within an outer cellular peripheral wall. By this stage, the developing entity has normally travelled down the oviduct and arrived in the uterus. There, its outer cells interact with the uterine lining, leading to its implantation or incorporation into the uterine wall. In this process, the peripheral cells of the developing entity do not become part of, or contribute to, the embryo proper -- defined as the direct precursor to the new individual-to-be. Rather, the outer cells of this stage contribute to the early placenta -- the organ of exchange with the mother -- which normally is discarded at birth."
The evidence is not conclusive to substantiate Grobstein's claim that "the outer cells" do not contribute to the embryo proper. Virtually all human embryology texts up to the present fume, have stated that the "outer cells" spec. the cytotrophoblast, contributes cells which eventually cover the lining cells of the primitive gut. Carlson's new text,18 indicates the covering of the cells of the gut come from the gut itself. However, this is true for the monkey, but no study has been done for the human. Larsen's new text states that the origin of the covering cells, the extra embryonic mesoderm, is, as yet, still theory.19 It really makes no difference. In actuality, those outer cells are acting on behalf of the embryo proper. If they do not, the embryo will die. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see how Grobstein can so easily separate the two functionally, as if one exists without the other.
"Therefore, the cellular aggregate produced by early divisions of the zygote is better referred to as a pre-embryo than as an embryo."
Nonsense. Many of the cells in the early cluster are destined to become part of the embryo proper. We simply don't know which ones they are. One might reasonably theorize that as mitotic divisions continue, an outer layer is distinguished from inner cells. However, it is not known whether or not this positioning is static or if, in fact, some cells change places with others. In fact, in a two-cell stage, no one knows if one or both of these cells will eventually become part of the embryo proper or only the "feeding" layer, as Grobstein puts it. Nevertheless, cells of the "embryo proper" certainly appear long before implantation!
The term pre-embryo is pure invention, arbitrary and probably was introduced by Clifford Grobstein in a 1979 article in Scientific American.(7) Traditionally, all of the early stages derived from the fertilized zygote have been regarded as the embryo, and this is confirmed by contemporary authors such as Carlson, Larsen and O'Rahilly. Ronan O'Rahilly, in fact, has a footnote in his 1992 text in which he states: "The ill-defined and inaccurate term pre-embryo . . . is said to end with . . . the primitive streak . . . the term is not used in this book."20
"It is only somewhat later that the actual precursor cells of the embryo -- and the eventual human adult-become conspicuously separate from the so-called trophoblast (feeding layer), which contributes to the placenta."
The cells and tissues of the "embryo proper" are not "conspicuously" separated from the so-called trophoblast. There is a contiguity of tissues which joins the embryo with the placenta, most importantly, the blood vessels which grow from the embryo proper to close approximation with maternal blood lakes in the uterus via the placenta.
"(Interestingly, the trophoblast cells sometimes escalate on their own, undergoing malignant transformation, and take the life of either the mother, the offspring, or both.)"
The same may happen from cells of the "embryo proper" in the form of teratomas.