Human Exceptionalism

Human Cloning Obfuscation 8: A Blastocyst, Not an Embryo

Embryology text books will tell you that when fertilization is completed, an embryo is formed. That, is, a new individual organism exists–which remains the same organism until death. 

For scientific purposes, the developmental stages of the embryo are given different names. When it is one-celled, it is a zygote. When it is about 7-10 days along, it is a blastocyst. In human biology, the embryo is called a fetus after three months of gestation, and a new-born infant is called a neonate. But they all refer to the same organism, just at different stages of development.

The same holds true if the embryo comes into being asexually, as in SCNT cloning. But scientists and bioethicists who support the cloning agenda are obfuscating this scientific truth by pretending that cloned embryos aren’t embryos–just as they did about “leftover” IVF embryos that had not been implanted. In this edition, bioethicist Jonathan Moreno claims that a blastocyst isn’t an embryo. From his Huffington Post column:

Despite some confused media reports, the Oregon scientists did not clone a human embryo but a blastocyst that lacks some of the cells needed to implant in a uterus.

Confused, like in Nature? From it’s story on the successful cloning:

Therapeutic cloning, or somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), begins with the same process used to create Dolly, the famous cloned sheep, in 1996. A donor cell from a body tissue such as skin is fused with an unfertilized egg from which the nucleus has been removed. The egg “reprograms” the DNA in the donor cell to an embryonic state and divides until it has reached the early, blastocyst stage.

Also, let’s quote the Human Embryo Authority in the UK–which supports almost anything having to do with embryonic and cloning research–which accurately notes that a blastocyst is an embryo. From its Website:

A blastocyst is an embryo that has developed for five to six days after fertilisation.

Not only that, but James Thomson, the scientists who first derived human embryonic stem cell lines calls a cloned embryo what it is; an embryo. When an MSNBC reporter in a 2005 interview quoted scientists as suggesting–just as we see happening now–that SCNT cloning couldn’t really be used for “making a baby”, Thomson responded:

See, you are trying to redefine it away…If you create an embryo by nuclear transfer, if you gave it to somebody who didn’t know where it came from, there would be no test you could do on that embryo to say where it came from. It is what it is. By any reasonable definition, at least as some frequency, you are creating an embryo. If you try to redefine it away, you are being disingenuous.

Whether these particular cloned embryos could have been brought successfully to birth is unlikely because in monkeys, cloned embryos and fetuses have miscarried–although one gestated long enough to be seen with a heartbeat on ultrasound. But that is merely a matter of developing the proper technique–just as it was in the difficulties leading up to Dolly’s birth, and it was to creating human cloned embryos and maintaining them to the blastocyst stage.

The fact is, cloning creates an embryo asexually. Those scientists and bioethicists claiming it doesn’t mostly could care less if an embryo is destroyed for research. That is certainly true of Moreno.

Ah, but they think you do, so the terms are redefined to throw mud into the ethical debate. Redefining scientific terms for unscientific reasons–which we also saw ubiquitously in the embryonic stem cell debate–crassly politicizes science, which corrupts its purpose and makes what “the scientists” tell us less trustworthy.

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