The California Human Rights Amendment, sponsored by the California Civil Rights Foundation, states clearly that all human beings are persons "from the beginning of their biological development - regardless of the means by which they were procreated, method of reproduction, age, race, sex, gender, physical well-being, function, or condition of physical or mental dependency and/or disability."1 We fully support this statement concerning the civil rights of all human beings, which applies, of course, to even the most vulnerable among us, including the single-cell human organism, the human embryo immediately reproduced at the beginning of the process of fertilization. A human embryo is a human being - not just a "cell" or a "bunch of cells"; not an "egg", and not a "pre-embryo". Yet it has been implied, even by the Attorney General of the State of California,2 that this youngest of human beings is not a human being, but just "an egg", or just "a fertilized egg". This claim is not only ridiculous; it is also perpetrating erroneous and false science.
It has been known for over 125 years that fertilization results in the formation of a new genetically unique living single-cell human organism, a human embryo or human being at the single-cell stage.3 This is not "new", and it is not a "mystery". All one has to do is go to the library or on the internet and look it up. Especially helpful and accurate are the Carnegie Stages of Early Human Embryonic Development.
In 1942, the Carnegie Stages of Early Human Embryonic Development were instituted at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C.4 The Carnegie Stages of Early Human Development are the basis for the Nomina Embryologica which was part of the larger Nomina Anatomica for decades until 1989. In 1999 the name was changed by the International Associations of Anatomists to Terminologia Embryologica and Terminologia Anatomica.5 Their international nomenclature committee on human embryology, FICAT (i.e., Federative Interational Committee on Anatomical Terminology), consisting of experts in human embryology per se from around the world, continually reviews the latest scientific data on human embryology, sanctioning that data that is scientifically correct, and rejecting that which is scientifically false or misleading.
For example, this international nomenclature committee formally rejected the false scientific term "pre-embryo". As succinctly put by O'Rahilly (one of the originators of the Carnegie Stages) and Muller:
"The term 'pre-embryo' is not used here for the following reasons: (1) it is ill-defined because it is said to end with the appearance of the primitive streak or to include neurulation; (2) it is inaccurate because purely embryonic cells can already be distinguished after a few days, as can also the embryonic (not pre-embryonic!) disc; (3) it is unjustified because the accepted meaning of the word embryo includes all of the first 8 weeks; (4) it is equivocal because it may convey the erroneous idea that a new human organism is formed at only some considerable time after fertilization; and (5) it was [used] in 1986 'largely for public policy reasons' (Biggers). ... Just as postnatal age begins at birth, prenatal age begins at fertilization." (O'Rahilly and Muller 2001, p. 88) ... The ill-defined and inaccurate term pre-embryo, which includes the embryonic disc, is said either to end with the appearance of the primitive streak or to include neurulation. The term is not used in this book.. (O'Rahilly and Muller 1994, p. 55) ... The term conception, however, may refer either to fertilization or to implantation and hence (like gestation) is best avoided." (O'Rahilly and Muller 2001, p. 19). (emphases added)
Likewise, the old now-defunct but still used "Biogenetic Law" is also scientifically inaccurate and rejected:
"Recapitulation, the So-Called Biogenetic Law. The theory that successive stages of individual development (ontogeny) correspond with ('recapitulate') successive adult ancestors in the line of evolutionary descent (phylogeny) became popular in the nineteenth century as the so-called biogenetic law. This theory of recapitulation, however, has had a regrettable influence on the progress of embryology (G. de Beer). ... According to the 'laws' of von Baer, general characters (e.g., brain, notochord) appear in development earlier than special characters (e.g., limbs, hair). Furthermore, during its development an animal departs more and more from the form of other animals. Indeed, the early stages in the development of an animal are not like the adult stages of other forms but resemble only the early stages of those animals. The pharyngeal clefts of vertebrate embryos, for example, are neither gills nor slits. Although a fish elaborates this region into gill slits, in reptiles, birds, and mammals it is converted into such structures as the tonsils and the thymus." (O'Rahilly and Muller 2001, p. 16) (emphases added)
However, as noted, such false scientific information is obviously "helpful" when used to insert legal loopholes into laws and regulations (among other things).
Likewise, the term "egg" or "fertilized egg" that is used to imply that there is no human being present immediately at fertilization is also scientifically erroneous, as also noted in the Carnegie Stages.6
For example, the 23 Carnegie Stages7 consist of the accurate scientific information on the developing human embryo, the human being, through 8 weeks post-fertilization. Stage One is characterized by "unicellularity", from "first contact" of the sperm with the oocyte at the beginning of the process of fertilization through the formation of the zygote at the end of the process of fertilization. There is no such thing as the "fertilized egg Stage". The single-cell human embryo considered at this Stage is absolutely not just an "egg" or a "fertilized egg", but a new genetically unique living human being:
"Embryonic life commences with fertilization, and hence the beginning of that process may be taken as the point de depart of stage 1. Despite the small size and weight of the organism at fertilization, the embryo is "schon ein individual-spezifischer Mensch" [definitely and specifically a human person] (Blechschmidt, 1972). ... Fertilization is the procession of events that begins when a spermatozoon makes contact with an oocyte or its investments and ends with the intermingling of maternal and paternal chromosomes at metaphase of the first mitotic division of the zygote (Brackett et al, 1972). ... Fertilization, which takes place normally in the ampulla of the uterine tube i.e., fallopian tube - not the uterus], includes (a) contact of spermatozoa with the zona pellucida of an oocyte, penetration of one or more spermatozoa through the zona pellucida and the ooplasm, swelling of the spermatozoal head and extrusion of the second polar body, (b) the formation of the male and female pronuclei, and (c) the beginning of the first mitotic division, or cleavage, of the zygote. ... The three phases (a, b, and c) referred to above will be included here under stage 1, the characteristic feature of which is unicellularity. ... The term "ovum", which has been used for such disparate structures as an oocyte and a 3-week embryo, has no scientific usefulness and is not used here. Indeed, strictly speaking, "the existence of the ovum ... is impossible" (Franchi, 1970). The term "egg" is best reserved for a nutritive object frequently seen on the breakfast table.8 (emphases added)
These accurate internationally documented scientific facts are then professionally required to be used by human embryologists in their textbooks. For example, the following direct quotations make it absolutely clear that the single-cell human embryo reproduced at fertilization is not an "egg", or "just a cell", but a new genetically unique single-cell living individual human being:
Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm ... unites with a female gamete or oocyte ... to form a single cell [embryo] . This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual. (p. 18) ... The usual site of fertilization is the ampulla of the uterine tube [fallopian tube], its longest and widest part. If the oocyte is not fertilized here, it slowly passes along the tube to the uterus, where it degenerates and is resorbed. Although fertilization may occur in other parts of the tube, it does not occur in the uterus. ... The embryo's chromosomes sex is determined at fertilization by the kind of sperm (X or Y) that fertilizes the ovum; hence it is the father rather than the mother whose gamete determines the sex of the embryo. [Keith Moore and T.V.N. Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (6th ed. only) (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1998), p. 37].
Human pregnancy begins with the fusion of an egg and a sperm. (p. 3); ... finally, the fertilized egg, now properly called an embryo, must make its way into the uterus (p. 3); ... The sex of the future embryo is determined by the chromosomal complement of the spermatozoon ... Through the mingling of maternal and paternal chromosomes, the [embryo] is a genetically unique product of chromosomal reassortment .. [Bruce M. Carlson, Human Embryology and Developmental Biology (St. Louis, MO: Mosby, 1994 ), p. 31; ibid, Carlson 1999, pp., 2, 23, 27, 32].
In this text, we begin our description of the developing human with the formation and differentiation of the male and female sex cells or gametes, which will unite at fertilization to initiate the embryonic development of a new individual. ... Fertilization takes place in the oviduct [not the uterus]... resulting in the formation of an [embryo] containing a single diploid nucleus. Embryonic development is considered to begin at this point. (p. 1); ... [William J. Larsen, Human Embryology (New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1997), p. 17].
O'Rahilly 2001 - Table 8-1 Principal Features of Developmental States of the early human embryo: Stage 1 - Includes penetrated oocyte, ootid, and zygote. Thus accordingly, the penetrated oocyte and the ootid (before syngamy) are characterized as an already existing human embryo at Stage 1 of development. [Ronan O'Rahilly and Fabiola Muller, Human Embryology & Teratology (New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001), p. 89].
The same is true of the single-cell human embryo reproduced asexually (without the immediate use of sperm and oocyte), as we know happens in naturally occurring human monozygotic twinning in the woman's body, as well as in the laboratory.. Once the DNA in the cell/s are "appropriately organized", or in the same state as the DNA in the cell of the earliest human embryo, that new human being simply proceeds through the same developmental stages as those documented by the Carnegie Stages. Strachan and Reed perhaps explain this most succinctly in describing one kind of cloning:
The term 'clones' indicates genetic identity and so can describe genetically identical molecules (DNA clones), genetically identical cells or genetically identical organisms. Animal clones occur naturally as a result of sexual reproduction. For example, genetically identical twins are clones who happened to have received exactly the same set of genetic instructions from two donor individuals, a mother and a father. A form of animal cloning can also occur as a result of artificial manipulation to bring about a type of asexual reproduction. The genetic manipulation in this case uses nuclear transfer technology: a nucleus is removed from a donor cell then transplanted into an oocyte whose own nucleus has previously been removed. ... The individual providing the donor nucleus and the individual that develops from the 'renucleated' oocyte are usually described as "clones", but it should be noted that they share only the same nuclear DNA; they do not share the same mitochondrial DNA, unlike genetically identical twins. ... Wilmut et al (1997) reported successful cloning of an adult sheep. For the first time, an adult nucleus had been reprogrammed to become totipotent once more, just like the genetic material in the fertilized oocyte from which the donor cell had ultimately developed. ... Successful cloning of adult animals has forced us to accept that genome modifications once considered irreversible can be reversed and that the genomes of adult cells can be reprogrammed by factors in the oocyte to make them totipotent once again. [Tom Strachan and Andrew P. Read, Human Molecular Genetics 2 (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 1999), pp. 508-509]. (emphases added)
Clearly, by international agreement and documentation by the experts in human embryology and human molecular genetics, the youngest of human beings, i.e., the new single-cell human embryo formed sexually at the beginning of the process of fertilization or formed asexually, is also a human being deserving of all civil rights and legal protections as older human beings.
Dr. C. Ward Kischer, Ph.D.; Emeritus Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy, specialty in Human Embryology, University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson, Arizona.
Dr. Dianne N. Irving, M.A., Ph.D.; former career-appointed bench research biologist/biochemist, NCI, NIH; philosopher and medical ethicist.
3 See O'Rahilly 1994: Wilhelm His, Senior (1831-1904), the founder of human embryology [Fig. 1-1]. ... [H]uman embryology is scarcely more than one hundred years old. The first to study the human embryo systematically was Wilhelm His, Senior, who established the basis of reconstruction, i.e., the assembling of three-dimensional form from microscopic sections. His, who has been called the "Vesalium of human embryology," published his three-volume masterpiece Anatomie menschlicher Embryonen in 1880-85 [His, Vogel, Leipzig]. In it the human embryo was studied as a whole for the first time. ... A detailed Handbook of Human Embryology by Keibel and Mall appeared in 1910-12. Franklin P. Mall, who studied under His, established the Carnegie Embryological Collection in Baltimore and was the first person to stage human embryos (in 1914). Mall's collection soon became the most important repository of human embryos in the world and has ever since served as a "Bureau of Standards". Mall's successor, George L. Streeter, laid down the basis of the currently used staging system for human embryos (1942-48), which was completed by O'Rahilly (1973) and revised by O'Rahilly and Muller (1987). (Ronan O'Rahilly and Fabiola Muller, Human Embryology & Teratology (New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001); also, O'Rahilly and Muller, ibid., (3rd ed., 1994), p. 3. [Back]
5 The Terminologia Embryologica and Terminologia Anatomica, which was published in 1999 by the International Federation of Associations of Anatomists (IFAA) and is available for sale in book or CD-Rom format at: http://www.thieme.com/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage.tpl&product_id=144&category_id=13&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=53. [Back]
6 Carnegie Stages of Early Human Embryonic Development, Stage One, at: http://nmhm.washingtondc.museum/collections/hdac/stage1.pdf. As Swiss human embryologist O'Rahilly put it: "In preparing this book, the authors have made full use of the [Carnegie Embryological] Collection and of the various published studies, whether by themselves or by others, based on what George W. Corner felicitously termed that "Bureau of Standards." ... Serious work in human embryology now depends on staging and the internationally accepted system of Carnegie embryonic stages (a term introduced by the senior author) has been adopted throughout." (Ronan O'Rahilly and Fabiola Muller, Human Embryology & Teratology (New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001), p. ix). [Back]
7 See the full chart of the Carnegie Stages at: http://nmhm.washingtondc.museum/collections/hdac/Stages_Table.htm; individual indepth scientific details of each Stage can be found at: http://nmhm.washingtondc.museum/collections/hdac/Select_Stage_and_Lab_Manual.htm. To access even more scientific details, click into the "text book" at the bottom left of each page. [Back]
8 Carnegie Stages of Early Human Embryonic Development, Stage One, at: http://nmhm.washingtondc.museum/collections/hdac/stage1.pdf. [Back]