Babies Here, There and Everywhere

August 30, 2006 | By | 5 Replies More

As reported by the St. Louis Post Dispatch, conservatives got together for a large rally in St. Louis this week.  One of the speakers, Catholic Archbishop Raymond Burke, argued that it was “the legalized destruction of human life.”  A radio executive chimed in: “Have you ever noticed that when the devil tries to sell you an evil idea, he usually wraps it in a lie?”

To what were they referring?  The killing of “babies,” they argued.  The speakers were arguing that a research procedure called “somatic cell nuclear transfer” (SCNT) was literally killing babies.

Never mind that the 5-day old babies they were talking about are microscopic clumps of cells (containing valuable stem cells).  Never mind that they can’t really be considered individuals; they could still split into more than one baby (until 12 days of age) or they might not grow into any baby at all (“God” himself spontaneously aborts hundreds of thousands of these babies every year).

Donn Rubin, the chairman of the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, the group promoting a ballot proposal promoting stem cell research in Missouri, condemned the conservative rally.  The Coalition’s website describes the Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative in detail.  For another description, see also here.  Rubin reminded the crowd that the ballot proposal has the support of more than 100 groups, including research centers, health care groups and patient groups. 

What is SCNT?  Is it really killing babies? According to the International Society for Stem Cell Research,

Somatic cell nuclear transfer, also called SCNT, is a technique in which the nucleus of a somatic cell (any cell of the body except sperm cells and egg cells) is injected, or transplanted, into an egg, that has had its nucleus removed. If the new egg is then implanted into the womb of an animal, an individual will be born that is a clone. The clone has the identical genetic material as the somatic cell that was transplanted because the nucleus that carries the genetic material.

This procedure is very inefficient and was first developed for agricultural purposes. However, in human medicine, this technique can be used to isolate embryonic stem cells from eggs that undergo nuclear transplantation. When the somatic cell is supplied from the cells of a person, the stem cells isolated from the developing eggs can be used to make a tissue that will not be rejected by that person, because they have the same genetic material. In this way, ‘customized’ embryonic stem cells could be made for everyone who needed them.

The Coalition provides additional information on SCNT: 

What’s the special importance of stem cell research involving SCNT?
SCNT is a recent medical breakthrough that provides a way to use a patient’s own cell, like a skin cell, and a donated, unfertilized human egg to make ES cells [embryonic stem cells] that match the patient’s genetic makeup. Because SCNT stem cells will be pluripotent ES cells, they will have the potential to turn into any cell or tissue in the human body. In addition, because SCNT stem cells will be made with the patient’s own genetic material, or DNA, they will match the patient’s genetic makeup. As a result, SCNT stem cells will avoid the need to find a genetically matching donor and the problem of immune system rejection – two limitations associated with both donated adult stem cells and ES cells from leftover fertility clinic embryos. This means that SCNT stem cells could provide cures for diseases and injuries that cannot be cured with adult stem cells – or with ES cells from leftover fertility clinic embryos.

In sum, the medical community proposes to create stem cells by taking an unfertilized human egg, removing the nucleus, inserting the nucleus from an adult human cell (e.g., a skin cell), letting the cell develop for a few days in a test tube, then harvesting the resulting stem cells to use in scientific experiments.  The ballot proposal itself provides that “No stem cells may be taken from a human blastocyst more than fourteen days after cell division begins.”

Scientists hope that, someday, they will be able to grow custom matched tissue that might save lives, including the lives of real children.

The conservative opponents of the research scientists argue that inserting a skin cell nucleus into an unfertilized egg, even when not implanted in a womb, immediately creates a baby.  It should be noted that one of those opponents, Archbishop Burke, dresses in medieval clothing and tells people they’ll go to hell if they use birth control pills.  He has also unsuccessfully supervised many pedophile priests in his career.  Moral certitude is his middle name. 

Actually . . . [LONG dreamy pause] After thinking about Archbishop’s noteworthy credentials, I decided that he must be a very smart man and I’ve decided to trust his judgment.  Now that I’ve thought about burning in hell, I’ve decided that I see the light on stem cells.  I now understand why we shouldn’t try to find all of the medical cures possible for all of the real (born) people with horrible diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, cancer, heart disease, ALS, sickle cell disease and spinal cord injury. 

Here’s what convinces me.  SCNT uses an unfertilized egg.  All you need to do is repeat the following several thousand times: unfertilized equals fertilized (now repeat this over and over!).

You see, in many religions, repetition over time takes on a logic of its own.  For instance, consider “a virgin had a baby.”  Repeated thousands of times over many Sundays by adults and children chanting together, this too starts to sound logical.

Therefore, keep repeating:  unfertilized equals fertilized.

But we’re not done yet.  You now need to repeat another phrase too:  A cell in a test tube equals a cell implanted in a womb.   Repeat this 1000 times, please.

Then let’s move on to a temporal aspect of the religious-logic (repeat this 1000 times too):  A 5-day old clump of cells is the same thing as a nine-month old baby.

It’s important to this exercise that you don’t consider any information from Satan (i.e., don’t think of anything other than what I’m telling you.  If a random contradictory thought pops in your brain, please smack yourself in the head). Especially important: don’t consider that the stem cell research might cure people who are suffering and dying of horrid diseases.

If you repeat these three phrases over and over, every day, for five years, you’ll begin to understand that a tiny unfertilized 5-day old clump of cells in a test tube is exactly the same thing as a fertilized ovum that, over nine-months in a womb, has already developed into a baby. 

After working through my carefully designed repetition exercise you can see, as I can, that each of the cells in our adult bodies, each of my skin cells, for example, constitutes a baby waiting to be inserted into an unfertilized egg, then implanted in a womb . . . wait nine months, then voila!

I can already imagine all those babies squealing with joy.   Wait!  Actually, every one of my skin cells thus is already a waiting baby.  I am covered with babies—up and down my arms and legs.  Babies all over my face, abdomin and back.  You are covered with babies too!  Babies everywhere, just waiting for their chance, if only we could take over those SCNT labs!  No need to cure the walking talking children, those already born, those who are suffering from horrible diseases.  No, we’re going to be much too busy raising those millions and trillions of babies created using SCNT and our skin cells. 

For more on the Missouri Ballot Initiative (Constitutional Amendment 2), see here.  For a related post, see here.


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Category: Health, Politics, Religion, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. Jennifer says:

    Very good point about God aborting "babies". I'd never thought of it that way before, but it certainly does put things in more perspective, doesn't it?

  2. Jason Rayl says:

    Unfortunately, it doesn't cut any ice with the fundies, since they are utterly convinced that god is within his rights to kill us at any time, anywhere, and in any way he wants, no questions asked. "He works in mysterious ways. It must be for a purpose."

    If we "usurp" that right (something we, incidentally, do ALL THE TIME in other matters) then we are categorically wrong. You can't win.

  3. grumpypilgrim says:

    I've begun to realize that social conservatives in America have their own version of the English language that sometimes has nothing in common with the version the rest of us use. When a priest uses the word, "baby;" when a Republican uses the word, "compassionate;" when Bush uses words like "terrorist," "victory," "progress," "patriot," etc.; these folks aren't using any definition you'll find in Merriam-Webster's. Accordingly, we need to toss out our dictionaries, and our science books, and all the other books on our shelves, and just read our Bibles and believe our priests. Then all of their terminology that sounds so bizarre to us today will soon make a lot more sense.

    As regards all the people who have horrible diseases, it's all very simple: we need to understand that this is God's will. God gave these people horrible diseases for a reason, just as he gave Bush the presidency and Tom DeLay power in Congress. It's all God's will. Of course, the rockets and bullets that American troops are firing at Iraqis are also God's will, but the IEDs that are killing American troops are the work of Satan. Osama's attack on 9/11 — which killed 3,000 innocent people — was the work of Satan, while Bush's invasion of Iraq — which has officially killed over 50,000 innocent people, and unofficially over 100,000 — is the work of God. See, it all makes sense.

    OK, I'll take my tongue out of my cheek now.

    In debates such as the one Erich describes, I sometimes wonder if the Catholic church takes these bizarre positions just to make itself appear relevant. By making these extreme claims, they get a lot of attention, and they force debate about issues that common sense would otherwise resolve with little fanfare. And if they must distort the meaning of words and contradict the facts of science, well that's no skin off their noses. As long as they can spout nonsense and still have a vocal bloc of American voters say "Amen" in unison, why should they change for the sake of a secular world? Heck, it took the church 300 years to "forgive" Galileo for discovering that the earth is not the center of the universe. It will take them centuries, if ever, to come around on the issue of stem cells. As long as their reticence gives them a seat at some important table, they'll remain that way. After all, it's worked for them for 2000 years, so why would they change now?

    BTW, speaking of the conflict between science and the church, when Ben Franklin invented the lightening rod — which helped prevent buildings from being destroyed by lightening — the church opposed that, too, on the grounds that it would "usurp the will of God." Of course, they came around eventually…probably when they realized that tall church steeples were inviting targets for "the will of God."

  4. Erika Price says:

    Fortunately, stem cell research has enough of an emotional pull to win the hearts and minds of many Americans. With the exception of the Catholic Church and a few absolute nutters, people do give more weight to millions of living victims of disease and injury than to a cluster of hypothetical baby cells.

  5. Deb says:

    Grumpy's comments about the Roman Catholic church (I always qualify the word "catholic" when used to refer to that denomination. The word "catholic" means all encompassing or universal, and they can't count me in!) and their long delay in admitting they were wrong about Gallileo brings to mind another of their policy.

    It took a papal bull in the late 1500s (1580?) to determine that the native inhabitants of the new world were humans. Prior to that, the Roman Catholic church considered us to be animals. Making a guess from what happened following, the Romans didn't get the message and neither did the protestants.

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