Words Mean Things: And They Have Consequences

C. Ward Kischer
May 18, 2007
Reproduced with Permission

For the past 35 years, since Roe v. Wade, many statements have been made, relative to human life issues, and to Human Embryology in particular, which have been misleading, disingenuous and outright lies.

Moral relativism has been perhaps the most egregious assault and was reinforced by John Gearhart, Ph.D., a prominent stem cell researcher, who promoted himself to be a human embryologist to The President's Council on Bioethics. He is not. He co-authored an article, in which it was stated: "The future therapeutic benefit of the human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC), however, must be balanced against a necessary respect for the moral relevance of the human embryo and fetus." [2000. The human pluripotent stem cell: impact on medicine and society. Fertility and Sterility, 74:1-7.]

This is how moral relevance works: The proponent picks out an issue, then asks: Who is to say what are facts or what is true, given the rights of the powerful to construct their own narratives and call the result history? [After all, its premise is that everyone has their own set of morals]. Through tricks of language, or parsing, new 'facts' are manufactured. We look at those and are amused at how bizarre and incredible they are; but, correcting them is next to impossible because we don't have the resources or the connections, meaning, of course, the mainstream media. We know they are absurd but tend to leave it to others to 'right the wrongs'. We should not. It takes a concentrated effort by many, and to that end I call upon those interested in the integrity of life issues, and of Human Embryology, indeed, all who want the truth to prevail, to correct that which is wrong.

What follows are just a few of the most flagrant examples of statements made relative to human life issues followed by a brief commentary.

1. - Justice Harry Blackmun writing in the majority opinion of Roe v. Wade. 22 January, 1973.

"We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer."

At best this is wholly disingenuous; at worst, it is the ultimate lie. "Medicine" has a biological basis, and, biologically, life begins at fertilization [conception]. That is immutable, and human embryologists have, indeed, established it as a consensus. Blackmun simply ignores this. Therefore, when Blackmun says "when life begins" cannot be resolved, he is being totally arbitrary.

2. - Clifford Grobstein. 1979. External Human Fertilization. Scientific American, 240: 57-68.

"The external changes during late fetal life are significant for defining the genesis of a person, because they evoke recognition and affective emotions in other persons." The major point is that at least until eight weeks the human embryo can be safely considered to still lack the two essential aspects of personhood: affective recognizability by other persons and internal conscious awareness. . . The stages involved not only are prepersons but also are preembryos."

The word "person", whether it is used in the legal sense or the biological sense, is purely arbitrary. There is no doubt about that. Grobstein says: "affective recognizability by other persons. . .". Other persons would be many with a whole spectrum of conclusions. He also says: "internal conscious awareness. . .". Psychologists call this "sentience". It is not a biological term. Peter Singer says this does not occur until sometime after birth. Grobstein says eight weeks! How is sentience to be measured? This whole statement is simply silly. This was Grobstein's introduction of the term "preembryo", which has given the world of Human Embryology so much grief. This term has also been used to mean "prelife"!

3. - Bill O'Reilly on The O'Reilly Factor. 4 July, 2000. Fox News Channel.

"No one knows when human life begins."

O'Reilly repeated this same line several times over the next two years. I e-mailed O'Reilly three times correcting him on his comment. In fact, his head Producer, Mary Bennis called me on the phone twice to let me know she would see to it that O'Reilly would read what I wrote. In spite of that O'Reilly never put any of my comments on his "Mail section". Further, on the Factor on October 10th, 2006 he interviewed Eleanor Smeal, who is President of The Feminist Majority Foundation about abortion. O'Reilly continually referred to the fetus as "a potential human being". O'Reilly has not learned a thing. He is guilty of the worst kind of "spin" in his so-called "No Spin Zone"!

4. - Dr. Mary Hendrix, Past President of FASEB (Federated Association of Societies for Experimental Biology), 18 July, 2001. Testimony before a hearing of the Senate Labor/HHS Appropriations Subcommittee on stem cell research.

"This very early embryo is so small that it can fit on the tip of a sewing needle."

Of course this reduces human life to the point of being insignificant and relatively unimportant.

5. - Dr. Mary Hendrix, continued testimony, as above:

"The ability of adult stem cells to replicate is not as robust as embryonic stem cells."

"The potential of adult stem cells remains only a hope, and that's why federally - funded embryonic stem cell research, which is far more likely to lead to new knowledge and therapies quickly, must be allowed to proceed."

Baloney. This is nothing but pap. The truth is just the opposite. I am a human embryologist. I am also a former adult stem cell researcher. Dr. Hendrix is not. Therefore, I ask: how in all of creation is it that Dr. Hendrix is called to testify at a hearing, as above? First, she should know better. She used to be in a Department of Anatomy and was Head of the Department of Anatomy at Iowa. She is not even a stem cell researcher. Second, she should know that she was speaking to relatively ignorant Senators, who are likely to believe almost anything [Maybe she did know that]. Shame on her.

6. - Norah Vincent, Columnist for The Village Voice. Quoted in The Los Angeles Times, 29 March, 2001.

"Those babies are ours, and we can do with them what we like. We can smoke three packs a day. We can drink motor oil. And if that baby comes out with a brain that doesn't quite work or that doesn't work at all, if it has an impaired mortal dependency on a narcotic, or it comes out with expensive special needs, well, the government will pay for it. That's what government is for: to safeguard my right to do what I like and pick up the tab when I've done it. I can do anything, consequences be damned. Let freedom ring, because, by God, I am a woman, and this is America."

Reading this, one wonders about the sanity of our society. Norah Vincent should have NO credibility. But, guess what? Bill O'Reilly gave her just that. In January, 2007, she appeared on The O'Reilly Factor, and was listed as a "Fox News Analyst"! speaking about gay adoptions. ABC Prime Time also gave her credibility on March 6th, 2007 when she spoke about her masquerade as a man. Such a statement, as above, may have rational people thinking about promoting legalized sterilization.

Words mean things, and I would like to think that they do have consequences. But, sometimes I wonder - I don't know.