Re: [asa] scientific fact vs. ideology?

From: Austerberry, Charles <>
Date: Wed Mar 11 2009 - 12:26:09 EDT

Two open-access (I think) references re. when personhood begins:

When Personhood Begins in the Embryo: Avoiding a Syllabus of Errors
<> by Scott
F. Gilbert (author of a widely used developmental biology textbook).

Human embryo: a biological definition
<> by a host
of authors in Australia.

My two cents worth:

Gilbert and others make some interesting points about the biology, but
then Gilbert argues that because in biblical times the most obvious
milestone was birth, today only after birth should humans gain full
status as persons. It's ironic that he would chide the Church for not
incorporating the latest scientific knowledge about early human
development, but then suggest that theological and ethical conclusions
regarding personhood be based on pre-scientific understandings.

Though I'm not Catholic, I think the Catholics' position is the most
internally consistent, as shown by their opposition to IVF as well as
hESC harvesting, abortion, etc. The problem with the Catholic position
is its speculative theology of "creationism" (in the older sense of the
word, having nothing to do with Genesis 1 or anti-evolution but rather
with the doctrine that a human soul is infused at the moment of
conception). Gilbert and others correctly point out that conception is
a process rather than a moment, that the majority of humans die before
or soon after uterine implantation, that in some cases two souls would
have to fuse into one while in other cases one soul would have to split
into two, etc.

I think embryo(s) or fetus(es) in an established pregnancy deserve more
protection than embryos that have not been (and often cannot and/or will
never be) implanted and gestated. Nonetheless, I respect the Catholic
position, even if I do not precisely agree in all its details.

Here in Nebraska the public medical school is again the focus of debate
over whether its researchers should use some of the many newer hESC
lines that Obama made available on Monday to labs using federal funds.

State law prohibits Nebraska researchers from destroying embryos to
harvest hESCs, and Congress would have to act anyway before federal
funds could be so used to establish new hESC lines, but hundreds of
lines have been established by others, and I hear they are a lot easier
to grow than the few early cell lines Bush allowed.

My employer (Creighton University) has not, does not, and will not use
hESCs obtained through a process that destroys human embryos.
Furthermore, Creighton argues that human induced pluripotent stem cells
(hiPSCs) make the use of hESCs unnecessary, especially now that the few
genes needed to convert adult cells to hiPSCs can be introduced without
the use of viral vectors. Creighton spokespersons note even if hiPSCs
fall short of hESCs' potential, for moral reasons Creighton still will
not use hESCs. I'm not yet convinced that hiPSCs are completely
equivalent to hESCs, but they appear close enough to substitute for most
every application.

Charles (Chuck) F. Austerberry, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Biology
Hixson-Lied Room 438
Creighton University
2500 California Plaza
Omaha, NE 68178
Phone: 402-280-2154
Fax: 402-280-5595

Nebraska Religious Coalition for Science Education

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Received on Wed Mar 11 12:27:13 2009

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