About stem cell “babies”

February 16, 2007 | By | 2 Replies More

This is one of those much talked about microscopic stem cell “babies”:  

 stem cells - smaller.JPG

This photo was published in the Feb 2, 2007 issue of Science.  

What are stem cells? 

Embryonic stem cells are undifferentiated cells that are unlike any specific adult cell. However, they have the ability to form any adult cell. Because undifferentiated embryonic stem cells can proliferate indefinitely in culture, they could potentially provide an unlimited source of specific, clinically important adult cells such as bone, muscle, liver or blood cells.

Therefore, the “baby” in this photo has no specialized cells.  No bone cells, therefore, no bones.  No blood cells, therefore, no blood.  No liver cells, therefore no liver.   No organs at all, becuse organs are made out of specialized cells.

This “baby” also has no nerve cells (neurons) and, consequently, no neural activity–no brain.  It would be physically impossible for this “baby” to have any thought or feeling without nerve cells.  All scientists who study nerve cells know this:  in the absence of nerve cells, there can’t be any nerve function, Without nerve cells, there can’t be sentience.  Without nerve cells, the qualities of awareness, emotion, cognition, hope, dreams, pleasure and pain that we associate with human animals simply cannot be.  

That is why we declare adults dead when their brain cells cease functioning to the point where that person’s body is longer sentient.  A full-grown human without any nerve cells is no more a functioning human being than is a wax museum replica of a human being.   On the other side of the scale, a microscopic clump of living human cells that totally lacks neurons cannot do any of the things that neural networks allow humans to do.  Not until those cells multiply and develop into millions of highly organized neural networks can such that organism have any form of sentience.  

People who disagree with me are those who believe that sentience can happen without brain cells.  Without any evidence, these people believe there can be thinking and feelings in the absence of the biological machinery that enables thinking and feeling.  Presumably, such people would believe that the brain has no significant cognitive function or, at least, that that brain cells have a function that is redundant to the function of an invisible undetectable soul floating around somewhere

What do these believers in the soul think when they are reminded that certain types of damage to the brain (due to a car accident or brain tumer, for example) always result in specific and predictable types of mental impairment?  They can’t deny this causal connection because it is too well documented.  It is noted in hospital emergency rooms every day.  But these people refuse to connect all of the dots.  They hold out hope that there is a soul out there that somehow empowers all higher cognition and sentience.  Some sort of invisible Guardian Brain that looks after the real brain.

These people who believe in souls are consequently believers in essentialism.  They seek to endow living tissue with qualities that the tissue doesn’t yet have.  It is the equivalent of endowing Terry Schaivo with “feelings” at the end of her life, even though she had none.  

These believers in souls argue that even though a clump of undifferentiated stem cells cannot be sentient, we must protect that tissue as though it already has human function.  

These people are practicing magic, not science.


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Category: Religion, Reproductive Rights, 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 (2)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    Indeed, their magic is their religion, which they claim is superior to science because they fear comparing the two on equal terms.

    In any case, their argument about stem cells is driven by a political agenda, not a religious one. Stem cell research is another form of the argument that human life begins at conception, which is the main argument in the campaign against reproductive rights. It is a defective argument, for reasons we have discused before (see, http://dangerousintersection.org/?p=912).

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Iran has announced a new $2.5 Billion dollar stem cell research program. http://www.payvand.com/news/08/nov/1059.html

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