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Archive for the ‘Development’ Category

As we prepare for the best of all birthdays, a peek into the beauty of the womb, courtesy of the Endowment for Human Development. There are three separate videos. Just hit play for each below and enjoy.

Be sure to have your volume turned up for the narration.

1. Play Movie

2. Play Movie

3. Play Movie

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One of the greatest joys that I have had in life has been the process involved in becoming a scientist. In a sense, the process continues after the exams and graduation, when mastery of methodology yields the bumper crop of discovery. And it is the discovery of God’s creation that fills one with a sense of awe and wonder, the sense of smallness one feels when walking along the seashore, or gazing into a star-filled sky, contemplating that some of those stars are actually entire galaxies. And for all the smallness one feels when standing aside such enormity, one feels even smaller when contemplating the entire universe of complexity that is the inner working of the individual cell.

Tens of thousands of biochemical reactions occurring in any given instant, monorail systems built in for the transport and delivery of parts between neighborhoods within the cell, thousands of dish antenna-like receptors and transport machines built into the surface membrane, and the enormity of the complexity inherent in DNA.

We live in a time when so many of nature’s secrets are being revealed that giants such as Pasteur, Jenner, and Anton van Leeuwenhoek would have sold their souls to be a part of it all. It is beautiful, breathtaking and humbling, all at the same time. We are truly fearfully and wonderfully made by God.

Perhaps the most breathtaking of all have been the contributions of sonogram technology and embryoscopy over the past decade to our understanding of how it is that we come to be in our mother’s womb. The Endowment for Human Development has a stunning website, filled with brief 3D and embryoscopy videos from every stage of development. I link to their movie menu here. It is simply impossible not to be drawn in by the beauty of our complexity and the intricate choreography in the dance of life which directs that development.

The embryoscopy videos are narrated and leave one wanting more. This is where we must begin to instill a love affair with the embryo and fetus. These are family-friendly videos from a site that remains ethically neutral and simply invites all to take a peek behind the veil.

Go make a cup of coffee or tea and sit down for a scientific education that is simply riveting.

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This blog was begun with the purpose of advancing the discussion in several areas of pro-life bioethics. It’s purpose is to educate regarding the mainstream science, explore the ethical issues attached to the science, and to integrate all within the framework of authentic Christian anthropology as witnessed by the Catholic Church.

An ambitious agenda, to be certain.

Where to begin seemed a reasonable concern, considering the ground to be quarried. The basic biology of human development was one area covered. Another area seemed to be the effects of abortion on women’s bodies, most notably through the induction of breast cancer.

It also seemed a good idea to explore the lie of contraceptives, especially that of condom efficacy. as well as exploring the eugenics of Planned Parenthood founder, Margaret Sanger.

In the course of laying out the science, I produced a formidable list of quotes from leading embryology texts which state unequivocally that fertilization produces a new human organism, beginning with the single-celled stage called the zygote. Further, the texts state that this organism is no longer mere maternal or paternal tissue, but its own genetically unique organism, separate and distinct from its parents and engaged in directing its own development. If one were to take the hundreds of thousands of biologists and add up our collective years of research, the number reaches into the millions of collective years of research.

We’ve managed to come up with a great deal of certitude in all of that.

The certitude of the zygote’s unique organismal identity and status is one of those truths taught in all of the leading texts in the field. Yet, a pro-abortion visitor to this blog has managed to derail one thread after another with denials of the basic biology, claiming that the early embryo is not human, and suggesting that I was reading an agenda into those quotes linked to above. I present two of those quotes here:

“The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.”
[Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975, p. 3]

“Embryo: The developing individual between the union of the germ cells and the completion of the organs which characterize its body when it becomes a separate organism…. At the moment the sperm cell of the human male meets the ovum of the female and the union results in a fertilized ovum (zygote), a new life has begun…. The term embryo covers the several stages of early development from conception to the ninth or tenth week of life.”
[Considine, Douglas (ed.). Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia. 5th edition. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1976, p. 943]

What other kind of organismal being can come into being in a woman except a human being?

I have repeatedly stated that the bioethical issue of personhood status is framed by the observation that the rights enjoyed by an organism are determined by the kind of organism the thing is. In the case of human organisms, embryology has determined what the zygote is: It is a new human organism, a new human being, as quoted above.

This is the basis for advancing our bioethical argument against abortion. Knowing this, our friend here has deliberately denied the fundamental science, inserting his own (opposite) opinion as coequal in merit and therefore deserving equal consideration. He has had two months.

Last week, I declared an end to the flat earth mentality, the denial of scientific truth, the substitution of mere personal preference (agenda driven) for mainstream science. Contrary to this individual’s protestations, not everything in science is open to doubt and ready to be disproved (DO NOT TEMPT GRAVITY WHILE ON A LADDER). Those who suggest such mistaken ideology have little understanding of science and the certitude with which certain issues are taught, based upon their irrefutability.

No one in the lab handles HIV, hepatitis or caustics without gloves. It’s common sense. We know well the material we handle and what it can do. Similarly, when human egg and sperm join, we know that a new organism, internally directed toward development of the organism’s mature form (in adulthood) begins and proceeds though many developmental stages.

In the interest of moving the conversation forward, I have been forced to moderate the discussions by removing posts which deny the truth of science. If the field of embryology is not to be believed and lacks credibility in the eyes of one pro-abort, how much less credibility does that individual’s conjectures about embryology contain?

If science can teach us nothing, then bioethics becomes an academic version of Oprah or Montel Williams.

Not here.

This blog welcomes strenuous debate in the area of bioethics. The matter of definitive science is closed to truth denial.

This train has left the station.

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Building on the quotes from medical and biological texts posted below yesterday, there is a need to answer some common mischaracterizations of exactly what a human embryo and fetus is, and what it is not. Some fundamental biology will clear up the confusion.

A commenter on the post No Handicapped Allowed has this to say,

“If I were married, and my wife were pregnant, I would want to get the amnio test, but ultimately I would have to respect her choice if she declined. I would fully support her decision to abort if there were clear (not maybe 1%) evidence of Down’s syndrome, or particularly of anancephaly. I don’t think of that as killing a baby. I think of it as removing tissue that will grow into a baby with severe disabilities, or even with no brain at all. Again, if she declined, I would have to respect her decision. The body often spontaneous miscarries such tissue — I have no problem with human intervention if the body doesn’t recognize the problem in time.”

It’s an understandable position until one sees the developmental stages.

The commenter mentions amniocentesis and the baby at that stage being mere tissue that has potential to become a baby in the future.

Typically, amniocentesis is performed between 16-20 weeks of development. By then the baby has developed substantially with all of its organ systems in place. When the term ’tissue’ is tossed around, it is almost universally used incorrectly.

16 Weeks Photo: MedicineNet.com

A Primer On the Hierarchy of the Human Body’s Organizational Levels:

Cells. There are approximately 200 distinctly different types of cells that comprise the human body.

Tissues. Different types of cells aggregate to form specialized functions and are called tissues. The human body is comprised of four main tissue types: Epithelial, Connective, Muscle, Nerve.

Organs. These are composed of two or more tissue types to perform special functions. Examples: Stomach, intestines, pancreas, liver, heart, etc.

Organ Systems. These are two or more organs that act in a coordinated fashion to perform a common function. For example the digestive system is composed of several organs, including the stomach, pancreas, sall and large intestines, etc., whose coordinate function is the digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Organism. This is the whole and complete animal, made up of all the organ systems functioning as a coordinated whole.

See these video and 4-D ultrasounds of developing embryos and fetuses at The Endowment for Human Development.

20 Weeks Photo: MedicineNet.com

It must be stressed, however, that even in the single-celled stage of development, the zygotic stage, there exists a brand new human organism, whole and complete in form and function for that developmental stage.

The same holds true for every stage thereafter. That’s because even at the single-celled stage, the zygote is intrinsically ordered toward mature organismal development and is proceeding along that trajectory. At birth, the baby lacks full maturational development, and will not attain such until adulthood. This developmental reality renders all argument to the contrary an expression of whim, of personal desire, with no bearing on the biological reality of organismal development.

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Compliments of Princeton Pro-Life

“Development of the embryo begins at Stage 1 when a sperm fertilizes an oocyte and together they form a zygote.”
[England, Marjorie A. Life Before Birth. 2nd ed. England: Mosby-Wolfe, 1996, p.31]

“Human development begins after the union of male and female gametes or germ cells during a process known as fertilization (conception).
“Fertilization is a sequence of events that begins with the contact of a sperm (spermatozoon) with a secondary oocyte (ovum) and ends with the fusion of their pronuclei (the haploid nuclei of the sperm and ovum) and the mingling of their chromosomes to form a new cell. This fertilized ovum, known as a zygote, is a large diploid cell that is the beginning, or primordium, of a human being.”
[Moore, Keith L. Essentials of Human Embryology. Toronto: B.C. Decker Inc, 1988, p.2]

“Embryo: the developing organism from the time of fertilization until significant differentiation has occurred, when the organism becomes known as a fetus.”
[Cloning Human Beings. Report and Recommendations of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission. Rockville, MD: GPO, 1997, Appendix-2.]

“Embryo: An organism in the earliest stage of development; in a man, from the time of conception to the end of the second month in the uterus.”
[Dox, Ida G. et al. The Harper Collins Illustrated Medical Dictionary. New York: Harper Perennial, 1993, p. 146

"Embryo: The early developing fertilized egg that is growing into another individual of the species. In man the term 'embryo' is usually restricted to the period of development from fertilization until the end of the eighth week of pregnancy."
[Walters, William and Singer, Peter (eds.). Test-Tube Babies. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1982, p. 160]

“The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.”
[Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975, p. 3]

“Embryo: The developing individual between the union of the germ cells and the completion of the organs which characterize its body when it becomes a separate organism…. At the moment the sperm cell of the human male meets the ovum of the female and the union results in a fertilized ovum (zygote), a new life has begun…. The term embryo covers the several stages of early development from conception to the ninth or tenth week of life.”
[Considine, Douglas (ed.). Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia. 5th edition. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1976, p. 943]

“I would say that among most scientists, the word ‘embryo’ includes the time from after fertilization…”
[Dr. John Eppig, Senior Staff Scientist, Jackson Laboratory (Bar Harbor, Maine) and Member of the NIH Human Embryo Research Panel -- Panel Transcript, February 2, 1994, p. 31]

“The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.”
[Sadler, T.W. Langman's Medical Embryology. 7th edition. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins 1995, p. 3]

“The question came up of what is an embryo, when does an embryo exist, when does it occur. I think, as you know, that in development, life is a continuum…. But I think one of the useful definitions that has come out, especially from Germany, has been the stage at which these two nuclei [from sperm and egg] come together and the membranes between the two break down.”
[Jonathan Van Blerkom of University of Colorado, expert witness on human embryology before the NIH Human Embryo Research Panel -- Panel Transcript, February 2, 1994, p. 63]

“Zygote. This cell, formed by the union of an ovum and a sperm (Gr. zyg tos, yoked together), represents the beginning of a human being. The common expression ‘fertilized ovum’ refers to the zygote.”
[Moore, Keith L. and Persaud, T.V.N. Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects. 4th edition. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1993, p. 1]

“The chromosomes of the oocyte and sperm are…respectively enclosed within female and male pronuclei. These pronuclei fuse with each other to produce the single, diploid, 2N nucleus of the fertilized zygote. This moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development.”
[Larsen, William J. Human Embryology. 2nd edition. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1997, p. 17]

“Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed…. The combination of 23 chromosomes present in each pronucleus results in 46 chromosomes in the zygote. Thus the diploid number is restored and the embryonic genome is formed. The embryo now exists as a genetic unity.”
[O'Rahilly, Ronan and Müller, Fabiola. Human Embryology & Teratology. 2nd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 1996, pp. 8, 29. This textbook lists "pre-embryo" among "discarded and replaced terms" in modern embryology, describing it as "ill-defined and inaccurate" (p. 12}]

“Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote)… The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual.”
[Carlson, Bruce M. Patten's Foundations of Embryology. 6th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996, p. 3]

“[A]nimal biologists use the term embryo to describe the single cell stage, the two-cell stage, and all subsequent stages up until a time when recognizable humanlike limbs and facial features begin to appear between six to eight weeks after fertilization….
“[A] number of specialists working in the field of human reproduction have suggested that we stop using the word embryo to describe the developing entity that exists for the first two weeks after fertilization. In its place, they proposed the term pre-embryo….
“I’ll let you in on a secret. The term pre-embryo has been embraced wholeheartedly by IVF practitioners for reasons that are political, not scientific. The new term is used to provide the illusion that there is something profoundly different between what we nonmedical biologists still call a six-day-old embryo and what we and everyone else call a sixteen-day-old embryo.
“The term pre-embryo is useful in the political arena — where decisions are made about whether to allow early embryo (now called pre-embryo) experimentation — as well as in the confines of a doctor’s office, where it can be used to allay moral concerns that might be expressed by IVF patients. ‘Don’t worry,’ a doctor might say, ‘it’s only pre-embryos that we’re manipulating or freezing. They won’t turn into real human embryos until after we’ve put them back into your body.’”
[Silver, Lee M. Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World. New York: Avon Books, 1997, p. 39]

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Six week old human embryo. Photo:Getty

Chris, a commenter in the embryonic stem cell post passes along these great quotes from medical texts. Many thanks Chris!

“Zygote. This cell, formed by the union of an ovum and a sperm (Gr. zyg tos, yoked together), represents the beginning of a human being. The common expression ‘fertilized ovum’ refers to the zygote.”
- Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects. 4th ed. 1993, p. 1

“The chromosomes of the oocyte and sperm are…respectively enclosed within female and male pronuclei. These pronuclei fuse with each other to produce the single, diploid, 2N nucleus of the fertilized zygote. This moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development.”
- Human Embryology. 2nd edition. 1997, p. 17

“Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed…. The combination of 23 chromosomes present in each pronucleus results in 46 chromosomes in the zygote. Thus the diploid number is restored and the embryonic genome is formed. The embryo now exists as a genetic unity.”
Human Embryology & Teratology. 2nd edition. 1996, pp. 8, 29.

“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 … resulting in the formation of a zygote containing a single diploid nucleus. Embryonic development is considered to begin at this point… This moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development.”
Essentials of Human Embryology 1998 1-17.

“[The Zygote] results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm. A zygote is the beginning of a new 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 called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.”
The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 6th ed. 1998, pg. 2-18.

“Fertilization is an important landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed… Fertilization is the procession of events that begins when a spermatozoon makes contact with a secondary oocyte or its investments… The zygote … is a unicellular embryo…”
Human Embryology & Teratology 1996 pg. 5-55.

To these I add this one:

Developmental Biology by Scott Gilbert is arguably the leading text in the field. Gilbert is on faculty at Swarthmore College.

“Traditional ways of classifying catalog animals according to their adult structure. But, as J. T. Bonner (1965) pointed out, this is a very artificial method, because what we consider an individual is usually just a brief slice of its life cycle. When we consider a dog, for instance, we usually picture an adult. But the dog is a “dog” from the moment of fertilization of a dog egg by a dog sperm. It remains a dog even as a senescent dying hound. Therefore, the dog is actually the entire life cycle of the animal, from fertilization through death.”

If that can be said with such certainty of one vertebrate, it can be said of all vertebrates.

Hope these are helpful. We’ll be building on them in the future.

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