The Final Corruption of Human Embryology

C. Ward Kischer
Published: February 15th, 2007
Revised: March 3, 2006
Reproduced with Permission

The history of science records certain events which have seriously impeded the search for truth. That is what science is: the search for truth. Sometimes the truth is obscured due to lack of information, or the means by which to measure; but, at other times, due to deliberate falsehoods. Alexander Kohn said it precisely: "The whole edifice of science is built upon honesty"1.

An Early Error in Science

Ptolemy (127-151) had believed that the earth was the fixed center of the universe; but, it was Copernicus (1473-1543) whose insights set the stage for Galileo (1564-1642) and Kepler (1571-1630) to establish that the planets revolve around the sun. They used the telescope which aided in their calculations; while, Ptolemy used his naked eye for visual observations. Ptolemy was principally a mathematician, although he is listed as being one of the ancient astronomers2. But, his science was flawed. This has significance for later errors in science, particularly in Human Embryology, especially in the last few decades.

The Homunculus

Perhaps the earliest major problem in Human Embryology was the theory of preformation, supported mainly by Leeuwenhock (1632-1723) and gave rise to the idea of the Homunculus. This was a miniature human being supposedly seen in the head of the sperm, through a microscope no less! The theory was that when deposited in the female, it simply grew in size. Common sense should have revealed this as the "mystery" of the Chinese boxes, and with an ad infinitum series3. In fact, Hartsoeker (1656-1725) made incredibly detailed camera lucida drawings of the homunculus and published an atlas of homunculi well into the 18th century4.

With the advent of fertilization studies the idea of preformation was abandoned in favor of epigenesis, the building of tissues and organs in a progressive mode of differentiation.

The homunculus and preformation were the results of lack of adequate information, wild imagination and, most likely, some prejudicial thinking.

The Basic Biogenetic Law

The next major problem in Human Embryology was caused by Haeckel (1834-1919), who published his famous theory of recapitulation, which became known as The Basic Biogenetic Law. This was formulated in 1866 and states: "Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny"5. Simply stated it came to mean that adult stages of ancestors are repeated during the development of descendants and are telescoped back into earlier stages of development. The remains of this false law are still published today and take the form of false claims that the human embryo forms gills; whereas, they do not, nor even remotely, produce any semblance of gills6. It is this very legacy which prompted the celebrity, Mary Tyler Moore, in her recent testimony before a Congressional Committee on Stem Cell Research, to remark that "the human embryo is no more than a fish".

The tragedy of the long life of The Basic Biogenetic Law lies in the fact that 38 years before Haeckel's publication, von Baer (1792-1876) published his work (1828) which obviated that of Haeckel. His 4th law states: "The young stages in the development of an animal are not like the adult stages of other animals lower down on the scale, but are like the young stages of those animals"7.Undoubtedly, the pressures of evolutionary theory enabled Haeckel's theory to prevail over von Baer's.

The Preembryo

In 1979 Clifford Grobstein authored an article in Scientific American in which he introduced his invention called the "preembryo"8. He used false science in justifying this term, and it became known as "The Big Lie in Human Embryology"9. He was upfront about the use of this term and admitted it was invented to change the "status" of the human embryo. This translated to a change in the moral status of the human embryo. He also equated this term with a "preperson". At first he said the preembryo age extended to 14 days post-fertilization, but later claimed it to be 7 weeks post fertilization10. This term was seized upon by prochoice advocates, including members of the clergy11 and physicians12. In spite of many efforts to discredit the term, it is still used today in the mainstream media to enable abortion and stem cell research, e.g. the use of "spare" embryos in IVF laboratories. Some of the more wild extrapolations of this term include declaring that human life does not begin at fertilization, but, in fact, only at implantation. So, here we are strapped with another false dogma in Human Embryology, so far for 28 years. We may have to suffer decades more of this false Human Embryology, just as we have for the Basic Biogenetic Law.

The Newest Insult

Now comes a new abuse of Human Embryology. In 2005 a new textbook was published entitled: "Bioethics and The New Embryology", authored by Scott F. Gilbert, Anna L. Tyler and Emily J. Zackin13. It is a monument to political correctness and a testimony to the final corruption of Human Embryology.

In 1993 I warned that Human Embryology was being rewritten according to political correctness14. My prediction has come true. Gilbert's book is short on Human Embryology and long on parsing its language.

The overlying principle gained from Human Embryology from fertilization to birth, and beyond - unto death, is that of the continuum. This principle can only be understood and appreciated by consideration of all of the elements of development, indeed, by all of the life processes.

It would be folly, and too extensive, to chronicle all of the errors and misstatements in Gilbert's text. So, some of the most egregious will be examined.

Gilbert prejudices his text and his students by immediately declaring his bias when he states on page viii in the Preface that he "favors the legality of abortion".

Development of the new individual human life is often described as a miracle. There is an exquisite sequence of events in the continuum from the first moment of fertilization that has survived trial and error, threats without and within, over eons of time. Most of these events we do not, as yet, understand and are yet to be discovered. Our life form and function is not perfect, as evidenced by about 2% major, visible anomalies, and another 2% minor, unseen anomalies, of all live births. But, to ignore this surprising miracle and to be immediately cavalier as to impose a social construct over the scientific achievment of the development of life belittles the mission of the scientist to discover, extract and understand life processes.

We are in the age of merciless revision and it appears that Gilbert is leading the way.

"Independent Survival" and "Meaningful Life"

On page 11 Gilbert describes the third trimester as: "if born prematurely, [the fetus] would have a reasonable chance of independent survival (i.e., survival without modern technological support)". This is not exactly true. Certainly, the prematurely born usually have problems by being born too early. Chief among them is the lack of surfactant, a lipoprotein secreted by cells of the lung and which coat the lung alveoli and provide compliance during contraction and expansion of the lungs. Sometimes a synthetic substitute can be applied to ease this condition. But, "independent survival"? The truth is the newborn cannot independently survive, but demands even more attention and care than prior to birth.

Harry Blackmun, who wrote the majority opinion of Roe v. Wade, takes it a step further. He states the "compelling" point is at viability [24 or 27 weeks gestation]. "This is so because the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life [my emphasis] outside the mother's womb"15. A "meaningful life"? A protected and nurturing life within the uterus is not meaningful?

This phrase used by Blackmun was in terms of regulating abortion, at least it appeared that way. But Blackmun was being disingenuous because on the same day he wrote the majority decision for Doe v. Bolton, which allowed for abortion at any time right up to the last minute before delivery on the basis of such frivolous terms as emotional distress.

Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Gilbert first introduces the term "embryonic stem cells" when referring to Carnegie Stage 3, the blastocyst of 4-5 days, on his Figure 1.4, page 8. The embryonic cells of this stage are known as "the inner cell mass". But, he refers to them as "embryonic stem cells" and uses the term throughout his book, and devotes two whole chapters, nos. 9 and 10 to their discussion.

The whole premise of "embryonic stem cell research" is wrong. A stem cell is a partially differentiated cell, but not wholly differentiated. Virtually every tissue in the body has stem cells, but in some tissues they are extremely difficult to identify. They are there to replace damaged or lost differentiated cells. There may be multiple factors which stimulate them to divide and proliferate. When they do, a stem cell produces two daughter cells, one of which moves to a pool of fully differentiating cells, the other daughter cell remains in the pool of stem cells, available to be stimulated again.

Fliedner indicates that the key word "stem cell" appears in the literature only in the 1960s16. I believe he is correct. In fact, Goodman and Hodgson, in 1962, may be the first authors to use the term in a scientific paper, and this identified stem cells in the peripheral blood of mice17. Prior to this these cells were known in histology, but were identified by the terms, "reparative cells" or "regenerative cells"18.

In point of fact, there is no such thing as an "embryonic stem cell". But, there is a caveat to this: that is, we do not know when during development the stem cells actually appear in their several tissues. Some may appear during the embryo age [before the end of the eighth week of development] or may appear during the fetal age [9 weeks or beyond]. No one knows.

The term "stem cell" has been commandeered to be equivalent to the blastomeres [cells] of the early embryo. In fact, this term has been used to mean they are the same as totipotent cells and/or pluripotent cells, particularly those of the inner cell mass of the blastocyst, as per Gilbert's Figure 1.4 in his book. Only in the broadest sense could the term "stem cell" be applied to these early embryonic cells. It is inferred that because the early embryonic cells, with their countless cell divisions, will give rise to every cell in the human body, they must be the "stem" of any tissue [more than 200 of them]. In theory that may be true in the technical sense, but the term is being misused.

It is meritorious to characterize all of the differentiative steps in the life history of a given cell. Considering the countless cell divisions which normally occur, this would be a formidable series of investigations. No one knows when true stem cells are derived, nor why they are arrested at the stem cell stage.

In reality the early cells of the embryo will eventually derive true "stem cells" for virtually each and every tissue. Knowing when these times occur should be important; but, the culture studies being made now are deriving definitive differentiated cells from human embryonic cells.The question is: is that what is wanted? If fully differentiated cells are what is wanted, then why not just do organ transplants? That is exactly what is being done. However, the recipients must take antirejection drugs the rest of their lives. To avoid this, a cloning procedure is proposed, which involves multiple problems.

A new study suggests that cells to be cultured might be obtained from amniotic fluid or membranes. In either case they would have to be tissue - matched to a recipient to avoid rapid rejection. Thus, it is implied that, from now on, every person born should preserve their own placenta. Cells cultured from that source would be genetically compatible with the patient and there should be no rejection.

Individuation

On page 19 Gilbert describes gastrulation. He states that when the embryo "can no longer give rise to twins or other multiple births it is sometimes called individuation". No human embryologist uses this term. In fact, the Nomenclature Committee of The American Association of Anatomists rejected this term in its official lexicon Terminologia Embryologica. It is a false term and was used by Grobstein to justify his invention of "preembryo", which term has also been rejected by the Nomenclature Committee.

English Common Law

On page 34 Gilbert cites English Common Law as ("locating") the beginning of human life at quickening, the first felt movements of the fetus by the mother. This is incorrect.

Stevens and Sojka cite the fact that English Common Law applies all rights to the unborn, extending from the time of conception and are embodied in Blackstone's Commentaries on English Common Law, Book 1, Section 130, and also in the 9th amendment19. It was, in fact, Roe v. Wade and Justice Blackmun's statement that the term "person" excluded the unborn.

The Beginning of Human Life

In the chapter "Unit 1: When does human life begin?" Gilbert states on page 40: "Science does not offer a hard and fast answer to the question of when human life begins, and there is no consensus among scientist's opinions".

Wrong on both counts. This is perhaps the most flagrant of Gilbert's falsifications. No human embryologist supports his opinion, and that is exactly what his conclusion is - an opinion, a political one at that. Virtually every human embryologist is unequivocal in their fact that the new individual human life begins at fertilization (conception)20, 21. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know this. Most any woman who goes through a 9 month pregnancy knows when that life began. It is as simple as that. Furthermore, in medicine, the Obstetrician routinely employs a formula to determine "when that life began", that is, the time of fertilization.

To cite such timemarks as "Brain Birth", "Quickening", or "Preembryo", simply confuses the student and begs their political application. No amount of parsing the language is going to change the truth. Anyone can simply apply the principle of the Continuum; It will work.

Further, Gilbert's declaration that there is no consensus as to when life begins is a page out of the Appendix of an Amici Curiae Brief of 167 Distinguished Scientists and Physicians, Including 11 Nobel Laureates, of the Webster case of 1988, page 4, in which it is stated: " there is no scientific consensus that a human life begins at conception". Of the 167 signees only one had a listing as a human embryologist. We were unable to track any information about this one person.

Catholics

On page 131 Gilbert states: ". . . Catholics believe (sic) that life begins at conception". Actually, they know that life begins at conception. The Catholic church teaching is based on the science. As a consequence they apply the facts to the matter. Herein lies the parsing statements that refer "life" to a "belief" and not a "fact". This allows Gilbert and others to cite religion as part of the "belief".

Plan B

On page 58 Gilbert discusses "misinformation about the morning after pill", better known as Plan B. Yet, he produces the worst kind of misinformation. Some 1500 Pharmacists oppose filling prescriptions for these estrogenic hormones because they claim they cause abortions. Gilbert states: "There is no scientific evidence that this is the case". Wrong. It is the case. Instructions with Plan B say it should be taken within 72 hours after having unprotected sexual intercourse, which is plenty of time for fertilization to take place. However, Plan B prevents implantation; thus, they act as an abortifacient. The problem for Gilbert is that he would like to consider implantation as the beginning of human life. But, this is simply not so. It takes 5 to 6 days for the embryo to reach the uterus and implant. All the while development of the new individual human life continues, as he well knows. Again, claiming implantation as the beginning of human life is a political conclusion.

On the same page Gilbert states the WHO and NIH "confirm that neither sperm nor HIV can get through the rubber of the intact condom". The simple physics of sexual intercourse produces heat of friction which often leads to condom rupture or, at least, to expansion of the small pores in the rubber or latex (which are always present), thus allowing for passage of sperm or HIV.

A Word About His Bioethics

Gilbert does ask many penetrating questions, which in and of themselves are good, and cause the students to think. But, he does so at the expense of many truths, which are omitted or parsed to corruption.

As for the bioethics, some topics are mostly hidden, e.g. Utilitarianism on page 246, under the Chapter on "The ethics of animal research". Utilitarianism promotes the greatest good for the greatest number, which can ultimately lead to "the end justifies the means". This is significant to the subjects of abortion, euthanasia, eugenics, care of the disabled, eldercare, etc. not just use of animals in research.

What Gilbert has left out in his book are the imperatives derived from moral law. There is an axiom which states: "All law comes from moral law, and all moral law comes from religious law".This was true for the Ten Commandments, and in the similar writings of the Sumerians and societies well before that. The students should at least have equal access to that source of original bioethics.

Sum

In sum, Gilbert could have been evenhanded in this book for students by offering alternatives and by being more factual. However, introducing his prejudice immediately, as in the Preface, destroys any objective intention or credibility for the readers.

Ptolemy was an early astronomer who used flawed science; Gilbert has done the same, and is not a human embryologist.


C. Ward Kischer, Ph.D. is an emeritus professor of Cell Biology And Anatomy, Specialty in Human Embryology,
University of Arizona, College of Medicine, Tucson
Arizona. He can be reached by e mail: wardkischer@yahoo.com.


References

1 Kohn, Alexander. 1988. False Prophets. Rev. ed., p. 1. Barnes & Noble, New York. [Back]

2 Hall, A. Rupert. 1962. The Scientific Revolution 1500-1800. 2nd ed., p. 109. Beacon Press, Boston. [Back]

3 ibid, p. 294. [Back]

4 As a graduate student I was privileged to view a copy of Hartsoecker's atlas, published in 1694, courtesy of my Major Professor, Dr. Howard L. Hamilton. This atlas is preserved in the library archives of ancient and rare books at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. [Back]

5 De Beer, Sir Gavin. 1962. Embryos and Ancestors. 3rd ed., p.5. Oxford University Press, London. [Back]

6 Blechschmidt, Erich. 1977. The Beginnings of Human Life. pp. 61-64. Springer-Verlag, New York. [Back]

7 De Beer, Sir Gavin. 1962. Embryos and Ancestors. 3rd ed., pps. 40, 52. Oxford University Press, London. [Back]

8 Grobstein, Clifford. 1979. "External Human Fertilization". Scientific American. 240: 57-67.Grobstein also wrote a gratuitous book entitled: "Science and The Unborn. Choosing human futures." 1988. Basic Books, Inc. New York. In this book he reinforces his "preembryo" and his new definition of "status" for the unborn, meaning, of course, a moral status. [Back]

9 Kischer, C. W. and D.N. Irving. 1997. The Human Development Hoax. 2nd ed., pp. 71-80. Self published. Distributed by American Life League, Stafford, Virginia. Also, Kischer, C. W. 1997. The Big Lie in Human Embryology. The Case of the Preembryo. The Linacre Quarterly. 64: 53-61. [Back]

10 Kischer, C. W. 1994. A New Wave Dialectic. The Reinvention of Human Embryology. The Linacre Quarterly. 61: 66-81. [Back]

11 McCormick, Richard A. 1991. Who or What is the Preembryo? Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal. 1: 1-15. [Back]

12 See Jones, Howard W. Jr. 2002. Editorial in Fertility & Sterility. 77: 658-659. [Back]

13 Gilbert, Scott F., Tyler, Anna L. and Zackin, Emily J. 2005. Bioethics and the New Embryology. Sinauer Associates, Inc. and W. H. Freeman & Co. Gordonsoville, Virginia. [Back]

14 Kischer, C. W. 1993. Human Development and Reconsideration of Ensoulment. The Linacre Quarterly. 60: 57-63. [Back]

15 Supreme Court of The United States. 1973. Roe et al. v. Wade. District Attorney of Dallas County. Syllabus. No. 70-18. p. 48. [Back]

16 Fliedner, Theodor M. 1998. Prologue to Characteristics and Potentials of Blood Stem Cells. Stem Cells. 16: 357-360. [Back]

17 Goodman, Joan W. and George S. Hodgson. 1962. Evidence for Stem Cells in the Peripheral Blood of Mice. Blood. 19: 702-714. [Back]

18 See Kischer, C. W. 2005. Research on Stem Cells. Life Issues.net. [Back]

19 Stevens, Clifford and Louis A. Sojka. 2003. Human Life Issues. 2. The rights of the unborn. The ABAC Quarterly.Distributed by American Life League, Stafford, Virginia. See also, Bulletin of The American College of Surgeons. 1996. 81: 32-35. [Back]

20 Kischer, C. W. 2003. When does human life begin? The final answer. The Linacre Quarterly. 70: 326-339. [Back]

21 Kischer, C. W. 1996. The Beginning of Life and the Establishment of the Continuum. The Linacre Quarterly. 63: 78-87. [Back]

Top