Procreation to personhood.
I was asked by my pastor to
help present some information about stem cells as part of a 14 June 2005 Wednesday night
group discussion of several topics. Even with the below genetic info, anyone who has known
identical twins knows that even they are different in every respect (we all differ & are
The tabulation at the end sheds light on how much has advanced with
ADULT (not embryonic)
The goal was to portray that a large number of biological factors
& facts are in play, and that Christians might rightly be perplexed as to how the ethics in
such issues could be clear and uniformly agreed upon in the face of complicated scenarios. That is,
what is the information that causes good people to differ...
information that is a basis as to why a black and white position for
believers to uniformly take is not reasonable? Since that topic is not directly part of what I do
as a pathologist, I had little idea how complex this and related issues are. The following is a
glossary of related terms. Related issues are abortion, artificial means of achieving pregnancy,
and postmortem sperm recovery and preservation, preservation of tissue for cloning, and issues of
tissue and organ transplantation. Thanks to Gail & Rich for help. Also,
readers may be surprised by this "life" timeline!
Abortion: Natural or artificial termination
of pregnancy. In the USA in 1990, out of 10,000 natural pregnancies,1855 make it to “live birth”
(18.6%); the rest are lost naturally (most extremely early, fail to implant properly & about
5000 very early as spontaneous natural abortions, almost all of these latter having failed to form
the embryo…"blighted embryo") and about 583 “legally aborted.”
Blastocyst: The fertilized egg divides each 24 hours through day #5.
The blastocyst is the very early phase of the embryo from about age 5-13 days of pregnancy and is
the phase which implants in uterus lining about 5 days after fertilization, just after "hatching"
at the end of day 5.
Cell: The eukaryotic (has a
nucleus) cell is the basic building block of all tissues (organs) in the body. Each
cell is like a hen's egg, having a sac (membrane) to hold the cytoplasm ("egg white") and
nucleus ("yolk") together as a unit. Sex cells are egg and sperm (each with half the
chromosomes..."haploid"). All others are somatic cells (46 chromsomes), some being
"stem cells". Embryonic stem cells make up the pre-embryo (a stage smaller than a grain of
sand). Adult stem cells (somatic stem cells) are in blood, bone marrow, brain, placenta, fat,
skin and other body tissues; these can be obtained from oneself and not require matching.
Stem cells are primitive re-creating cells. See reference #9, below.
Chromosome: One of the 46 physical structures found in the
nucleus of cells, each composed of DNA and proteins that form a string of genes like a necklace.
Humans have 46 chromosomes: half from mom and half from dad. Two of them are the sex
chromosomes…two “X” chromosomes in the case of females
or an “X” and a “Y” in the case of males
abnormality: A chromosome that has become damaged. The damage may be due to a break in the
chromosome’s linear sequence, a deletion of part of the chromosome, or movement of part of a
chromosome to a place where it is not normally found, such as the end of some other
Conceptus: The combined placental
and embryonic tissue from conception through about 4 weeks. The placenta (afterbirth) is the
baby's organ that brings baby's and mother's blood extremely close together to exchange
oxygen and nutrition.
(DNA): The chemical blueprint information molecule used by most biological systems to
construct genes, located in the cell nucleus and as the DNA in the mitochondria (bacteria-like
energy units) within cell cytoplasm.
Differentiate: To change or morph from a primitive
nondescript beginner stem cell into a "finished" or "specialized" cell such as muscle, brain, or
Embryo: The stage of the developing baby from zygote
to the end of about 8 weeks (56 days) of age (from fertilization). It is a "pre-embryo" prior to
day 14 (primitive streaks). The 8 week baby is about 1 ¼ inches in length. With the naked eye exam,
sex can't be determined on the outside but can be on
the inside (presence or absence of a visible uterus at about 7-8
Epigenetic: Factors making an influence on genes that are not actually intrinsic
Fertilization: One sperm penetrates jelly-like egg shell 1-2 days after ovulation
and instant chemical reaction almost always hardens and closes the shell to any more sperm…and then
6-10 hours elapses before sperm and egg chromosomes combine. After combining chromosomes, the cell
is then a zygote which now has its own unique DNA fingerprint and designation to be a boy or
The stage of the developing baby from the end of the embryonic period (beginning of 9th week of
baby's age) to birth. The age of viability (when baby can survive outside of momma) is generally
considered to be age 22-26 weeks (near end 2nd trimester), just over 1 pound (about 500 grams)…but
it depends on circumstances and technology where born.
Gamete: Father's sperm cells (have nuclear but not
mitochondrial DNA) and mother's egg cells (have both nuclear & mitochondrial DNA) are the two
forms of gametes. These sex cells have the special property of carrying only one copy of each
chromosome instead of two copies that somatic cells carry. These cells contribute to the next
generation, and they and their precursors are called
“germ line” cells. Sperm cells get to the egg within 5-30 minutes
after male ejaculation in the sex act.
Gene: A DNA-containing segment of
a chromosome which corresponds to the blueprint-like biological information that describes
production of a single protein (proteins are "action molecules").
Gene expression: Not every gene
is expressed (is “active”) in every cell. Expression refers to whether the protein coded by a
gene is expressed (actually produced) or not.
Gene therapy: The introduction of
DNA (or other agent or therapy) into a cell or animal to cause the expression (“turning on of
production”) of a particular protein, often one that can replace a missing or defective
protein that may be responsible for a disease.
Genotype: The particular array of
genes a person is “dealt” (as to the underlying “blueprint” for any trait or feature). At
about the 3rd day following fertilization, the embryo's gene expression fades from mother's
influence to its own influences on gene expression which results in a
Heterozygous genes: Describes the
situation where cells or organisms carry two different copies…versions (alleles)…of a given
gene. For example, one of the copies of a gene may be the normal version and one an abnormal
Homozygous genes: Describes the
situation where both copies of a given gene are the same.
Life: Begins biologically at
conception/fertilization, though the biological wheels are in motion sooner (mother's eggs
present and containing chromosomes since before that mother's birth).
Ovulation: Release of "ripe" egg from ovary about 14 days after
last day of menstrual bleeding.
Penetrance: The degree to which the genotype gene “blueprint” coding
results in a similar phenotype. There is a spectrum of possible phenotypic manifestation of a trait
from undetectable phenotype to “full blown” phenotype…the degree of
Phenotype: The actual
manifestation of what the underlying genotypic “blueprint” codes for. In, for example, twins:
the nucleus genetic DNA ("genotype") is identical; but the mitochondria in the egg cytoplasm
from the mother unevenly populate the divided fertilized cell. As we all know, identical
twins do have differences. And these differences have to do with the combined effect of (1)
differences in penetrance of genetic and mitochondrial DNA blueprint info in the two twin
persons and any (2) differences caused by epigenetic factors that affect one embryo but not
the other. The two are said to differ in "phenotypic expression"...each has a slightly
Pregnancy: Most define the state
of pregnancy as from the time of fertilization to the time of delivery; some date it from the
estimated date of the ovulation of the egg that got fertilized to the date of delivery of
baby. Some define pregnancy as from implantation onward…the joining of mother and baby.
Implantation is usually inside the uterus; if any other location, it is an “ectopic
pregnancy”. at about age 3 weeks, embryo blood forms (God hates hands that shed innocent
The primary component of cells. A string of linked amino acids whose order is specified by a gene.
Proteins build up most of the structures in cells and act as little machines that work together
inside of cells to accomplish most of the things cells do, the cells ultimately being coordinated
into what humans
POC (products of
conception): The aggregate of embryo, placenta, and any other tissue removed by abortion
(natural or artificial).
RNA (ribonucleic acid): the nucleolus situated
within the nucleus is made up of protein & ribosomal DNA (rDNA & ) & produces ribosomes
(made of ribosomal RNA) exported to & residing in the cytoplasm as protein
Soul: Does human and Biblical life begin in the
conceptus at the biological beginning or at implantation or later when the soul enters…when does
the soul enter? Would souls be placed during a phase of at least 50% natural loss of pregnancy
(conception through 8 weeks)? Is that when personhood begins?
"Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you…" (Jeremiah 1:5). Or, is
the soul put in at the age of viability or as the baby is being born? I don't know of any evidence
from the Bible. timeline
Zygote: The name for an embryo
from conception to about 64 cells...which now has its own unique DNA fingerprint and
designation to be a boy or girl.
1. ELCA web file: http://www.elca.org/socialstatements/
2. Dr. Gail Whitman-Elia's (West Columbia)
3. Augusta long-term sperm & pre-embryo
frozen storage: http://www.xytex.com/
4. CDC fertility center stats file: http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/ART02/
5. on-line "apologetics"
6. "There are now
 about 2000 clinical trials underway exploring therapies based on the use of
adult stem cells, nearly one third of which involve autologous, where the donor and the recipient
are the one and the same." (Robin Smith, MD, CEO of NeoStem, "Health Insurance
You Can Count On". July/August 2008 issue of
7. measures to select having boy or girl...gender
selection...this website just for you to check out the topic (note fees page) [here].
8. genetic measures to estimate fertility age span...biological
clock...for women (some are "super-breeders" and fertile into late forties)...June 3 2005 report
9. some 66 diseases & 6000 cases have been treated by
placental cord blood adult stem cells [Heritage Foundation, Robert Mofitt, PhD]
10. about stem cells from Answers.com [here]
11. saving umbilical cord blood when your baby is born: few parents are doing this and
obstetricians in the Carolinas are not advising it because (a) a company would then have a sample
of child's (and family) DNA without guarantee it would not get into the wrong hands, and (b)
because the likelihood of ever needing it is so
slim...hard to justify the cost. Yet, if you want to do it, many hospitals can
12. saw a Discovery Health program the week on 15 August 2005,
Medical Incredible, "Skinned Alive", in which a patient reacted to an antibiotic & lost all
skin to a dramatic disease called TEN and was covered in a wrapping containing adult stem cells
grown from newborn baby foreskins...saved her life!
13. I attended a Palmetto Family Council supper 22 September 2005; guest speaker Michael Medved noted that many medical breakthroughs are occurring with
adult (somatic) stem cells but not one human has been cured of anything with embryonic
14. Aug. 2005 announcement that Harvard researchers found a way
to use existing lab-grown embryonic stem cells to reprogram an individual's own donated skin
somatic adult stem cells into an embryonic-like "personal" stem cell which exactly genetically
matches that person. [ Chad A. Cowan, Jocelyn Atienza, Douglas A. Melton, and Kevin Eggan,
Nuclear Reprogramming of Somatic Cells After Fusion with Human Embryonic, Science 26 August 2005;
15. 24 Aug. 2006 announcement in journal Nature misrepresented
that single embryonic stem cells can be removed from embryos & "coaxed" to grow into colonies
for experimentation. The announcement left the impression that the embryos were not harmed &
failed to disclose that no embryo survived the procedure.
16. 11 October 2006 issue of Journal of the American Medical
Association (JAMA 296 :1775-1778) A review of the
theories of how the "morning after" birth control pill...MAP...an over-the-counter (OTC) brand of
which is "Plan B". Depending on when taken, it may affect the sperm or implantation.
17. late 2006 & early 2007...excellent series about "in the
womb" on National Geographic channel...see their website.
18. On 7 June 2007, newspapers announced that researchers have
been able to convert skin cells into embryonic stem cells. I think there will be no problem
translating this research to human skin conversions. Nov 2007, two publications: the journal Cell
Volume 131 Issue 4: November
16, 2007, and Science magazine Vol 115 the discovery of methods to induce stem cells from skin cells.
Charles Krauthammer notes in a 12/2/07 op ed piece that James A. Thomson was the discoverer of
"stem cells" about 1997 and said then, "If human embryonic stem cell research
does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable,
you have not thought about it enough." Thomson is one of those, above, recently discovering how
to produce & harvest this "skin" source. With this discovery, Krauthammer has pronounced the
moral debate as "over".
19. From the 8/22/07 e-issue of Chuck Colson's BreakPoint
letter, the story of Carron Morrow, "Your Own [adult] Stem Cells Work!" [read a version here] Her own adult stem cells (or a placebo) were injected
in her disastrous heart 10/2006 (it turned out when the study code was broken in 4/07 that she
had gotten her own stem cells). As Colson goes on to note, "the list of people being helped or
cured by adult stem cell procedures has become almost too long to keep track of. Medical
advances just in the last few months include using adult stem cells from bone marrow to create
heart valves. They've been used to successfully treat children with juvenile diabetes, and
patients with lupus, liver cancer, paralysis, and Parkinson's. Absolutely
***give me your comments about this
check out the Highest
(posted 15 June 2005; latest
addition 15 September 2008)