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I became a vegetarian a long time ago when I concluded it was not right to kill. So I used to have a big problem with abortion, since I used to believe life began at conception. [But I also did not believe I had the right to impose my believe on others]. Then I read the letter below and I no longer have a problem with abortion. Then I came across additional science articles that reinforced what the letter had said, that I am also including. I tried to get you to deal with this a few years ago but you ignored it. My position changed based on ‘facts’ and science not just ‘beliefs.’ I’m really wondering whether or not you will use the information below to really enlighten your interviews and future discussions or continue to present positions that are based on outdated ‘knowledge.’ When life begins is either a biological question [with out a soul] or a religious question if people are dealing with a soul. If a religious question then the government is constitutionally required to stay out of it or it endorses one religion over another. If biological, then the following letter indicates life does not ‘start’ but is simply transmitted. I am sad that this position is never dealt with. I would hope that in the future you would consider doing so rather than allowing yourselves to become part of this religious bias. This is the letter I appreciate Zacher's thoughtful letter, but he doesn't go far enough. The common assumption that life begins with fertilization simply goes counter to fact. Not only does fertilization not create life, there has been no "creation" of life for a good many millions of years. Instead, females of any species simply transmit the life they inherited from their mothers through their own ova. The notion that the sperm contributes to the formation of a new life is a purely sexist assumption. Admittedly, sperm have two very important roles to play- delivery of genetic information from the male and stimulation of cell division and development-but neither is formation of life. The ovum already contains the life [it is a living cell] and has the capacity to develop without fertilization into an adult, functioning animal [parthenogen]. Admittedly, no human pathenogens are certainly known; the one purported case in religious history is suspect because the sex is biologically wrong, but parthenogenic reproduction is commonplace in various invertebrate species and also occurs in birds. One rarely sees adult parthenogenic birds, but unfertilized avian ova regularly undergo a large number of cell divisions. Those embryos usually die while still in the egg, however, a research biologist named Marlow Olsen of the USDA Agricultural Research Service at Beltsville, Maryland, succeeded through a minor adjustment of incubation conditions in hatching several chicken and turkey parthenogens and then, by genetic selection, developed strains that produced large numbers of such offspring from carefully protected virgin hens of both species. Parthenogenic rabbits have also been obtained experimentally, and I suspect that live birth of human parthenogens could be made possible were it not for legal constraints on research with human reproductive material and for lack of interest in such a project in this male-dominated society: After all, human parthenogens would all be female. But the possibility is unimportant to the question. The simple fact is that the human ovum contains life transmitted from the mother, even if that life has little or no possibility of development and birth unless fertilized by a human spermatozoon. Since that is a readily available remedy, any woman who fails to attempt fertilization during any non-pregnant month between puberty and menopause could be considered guilty of negligent homicide. Now, whether such homicide is a crime or a sin are entirely different questions. It is obviously not a crime, since no law has ever been passed against it. Whether or not it is a sin depends on one of a number of unproved and unprovable assumptions, beliefs or values and usually involves some assumptions regarding an eternal soul, presumably attached to the life in question. If one believes, with the majority of the world, that the soul suffers a series of incarnations, then it seems to me that destroying or failing to foster the body [or the potential body] chosen for a particular soul would at worst be an inconvenience to that soul and on balance, hardly a sin. If, on the other hand, one believes, with somewhat fewer of his or her, [ones] contemporaries [i.e., the Christian world], that a newly created soul inhabits the new individual, then the consequences may be more serious but depend on the time of occupancy. In the extreme case, we could be talking about the millions of ova as they develop by a special form of cell division in the ovaries of the baby girl while she is still a fetus in uterus of her mother. Alternatively, soul occupancy might be delayed until ovulation, fertilization, some definitive development of the brain, birth [as Zacher chooses] or baptism [as others believe]. Any such delay would help to relieve our guilt feelings, but there is absolutely no basis in evidence or in rational philosophy for assuming that belief or accepting that relief. If one prefers to choose a later moment for the entrance of the soul, the problem is only quantitatively different. Suppose, for example, that one believes [as many do] that the soul enters at fertilization. Our concern with ovum death is reduced [or] but not [phrase added] eliminated, but it is well established that some 70 percent of fertilized ova die spontaneously, usually so early that the mother doesn't realize that she was transitorily pregnant. That means, of course that any woman who sets out to become pregnant or who, through indolence, allows pregnancy to occur is, in the majority of cases, simply condemning a soul to hell. However, there is another way of looking at it. After all, the supposed predilection of God for hell-fire is a characteristic imposed on "Him" by some of "His" worshiper; it is no more proved or provable than the presumed behavior of souls around ova or embryos. I think "He" should sue for libel. Fred W. Lorenz, Professor Emeritus University of California Davis, CA ------ Egg's Head Start on Sperm NY Times 10/[3 or 10]/95 by Asso Press Scientists say they have discovered the first known person, a 3-year-old boy, to come from and egg that began dividing before it was fertilized by a sperm. As a result, the boy has genetically female blood. Normally, sperm delivers a half-set of the father's genes to a half-set of the mother's. The combination gives the egg a full set of genes that is passed on to each cell. But in the case of the boy, scientists believe the egg started dividing before the sperm showed up and fertilized it, said Dr. David Bonthron of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The details are not clear, but fertilization still occurred early in the embryo formation process, and perhaps even before the egg had completed its first splitting, Dr. Bonthron reported in the current issue of Nature Genetics. The delayed fertilization meant that the father's genes did not reach all the cells in the boy's body. ++++++++++++++ August 15, 2001 Stem Cell Issue Causes Debate Over the Exact Moment Life Begins By NICHOLAS WADE When does a life begin. Scientists' desire to study human embryonic stem cells has raised this ancient question to new prominence. The Catholic Church says that life begins at fertilization, when egg and sperm unite and that the embryo created from this union has the same rights due any person. Because embryos must be destroyed to generate embryonic stem cells, opponents of the research say it is morally unacceptable. But embryos have been destroyed routinely at fertility clinics for decades, long before the prospect of stem cell research came along. For some reason, perhaps the relatively recent origin of the human species, many human embryos are imperfect and fail to develop or implant properly in the wall of the uterus. Fertility clinics typically generate eight or nine embryos per pregnancy, of which only the healthiest looking are implanted. The rest are stored, and ultimately, most are destroyed. The number of embryos disposed of by clinics is not known because there is no national authority that gathers the statistics. In Britain, however, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority has reported that some 50,000 babies have been born through in vitro fertilization since 1991, and 294,584 surplus human embryos have been destroyed. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, about 100,000 children have been born in the United States by in vitro fertilization, or twice the number in Britain, implying that some 600,000 embryos would have been destroyed if American clinics followed the same five- year storage limit used in Britain. Only a small fraction of the discarded embryos would provide as many stem cells as researchers could use. But opponents of stem cell research, who condemn scientists for destroying embryos, seem less eager to criticize the clinics and the infertile couples who seek their help. Douglas Johnson, the legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said that in-vitro fertilization "is outside of our purview." His committee has not taken a position against fertility clinics, Mr. Johnson said, because "we don't get into passing judgment on the conception of any person." Richard Doerflinger, the chief lobbyist for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that the church's moral opposition to in vitro fertilization "has been pretty clear from the outset, but in terms of political action we have to choose the issues that are raised for us." Sean Tipton, the public affairs director of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said, "We have not seen any opposition from the Catholic bishops to put a stop to in vitro fertilization." Another possible answer to the question of when life begins, and one that does not imply criticism of the clinics' practices, is based on determining when the embryo can be viewed as having an identity. In the womb, the egg occasionally splits into two separate embryos that develop as identical twins. Very rarely, a second round of splitting occurs, leading to identical quadruplets. If individual identity does not begin until after the last moment when twinning can occur, then the starting point for life can be set at around 14 days after conception, or a week after implantation. Dr. Margaret A. Farley, a professor of Christian ethics at Yale University, said, "A lot of Catholic ethicists take seriously the finding of embryologists that prior to implantation, you don't have an individualized entity because it can twin." In the Jewish tradition, the embryo has no status outside the mother's body, a view that also finds no fault with in vitro fertilization treatments. A leading opponent of abortion, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, takes a similar view of the early embryos created for in vitro fertilization, but for different reasons. Senator Hatch said last month that he supported embryonic stem cell research and explained his views by referring to the practices at in vitro fertilization clinics, which he described as ethical and laudable. "To me a frozen embryo is more akin to a fertilized egg or frozen sperm than to a fetus naturally developing in the body of a mother," he said in a letter to Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of health and human services. He outlined the various ethical and legal difficulties with the proposition that life starts at conception. "He's saying there is something magical about the mother's womb," Mr. Doerflinger said in criticism of Senator Hatch. "In Mormon theology there is a belief that souls are pre-existent and are inserted into bodies at some stage by way of the parent, in a way that is not common in the various Christian denominations. I can't argue Senator Hatch out of his theological beliefs, but I don't think he should make the rest of us fund this research based on them." Though Mr. Doerflinger represents the views of the Catholic bishops, he has presented his arguments against embryonic research in ethical, not religious, terms. He caricatured Senator Hatch's view by saying that if life depended on the mother's womb, then people grown in artificial wombs, if that became possible, would be nonpersons who could be used as slaves. Senator Hatch said there was "definitely a difference between those who believe life begins when the sperm combines with the egg and those who believe that human life begins in the womb, that you must have a mother." He said he had not based his reasoning for a post-conception beginning of life on the phenomenon of twinning. A third response to the question of when life begins is that the "when" is impossible to pin down. That is the view of Dr. Brigid Hogan, an embryologist at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Hogan, principal author of a 1994 National Institutes of Health report on embryo research, is an expert on the mouse embryo, which is similar to the human embryo in its early stages. In her view, conception marks not the beginning of life, since both egg and sperm are alive, but merely an increase in complexity. Many people think of the embryo as a tiny homunculus that just grows bigger. To Dr. Hogan, the building of an embryo is a process like origami, except that the sheets being bent and tucked are made of cells instead of paper. The early embryo is "a flat little sheet that gets folded," she said. A pivotal event is when a spearhead of cells, called the node, loses contact with its neighbors and moves into the fold, sending out signals that give the embryo a polarity and structure. The visible structure was called the "primitive streak" by early embryologists. Biologists now know that it is at this time, some 14 days after fertilization, that specific genes are switched on, like goosecoid and brachyury, cordin and noggin — fanciful names devised by those who first found their counterparts in the fruitfly. Is the true beginning of life the moment when the goosecoid gene is first transcribed? "It's wonderful that the public is getting interested in embryology," Dr. Hogan said, in a tone suggesting a tinge of doubt that the subject's full intricacy would be appreciated. Wherever the line defining the beginning of human life is drawn, supporters of in vitro fertilization would like to avoid equating the clinics' practice with the killing of human beings. The anti-abortion movement "has tried to draw a clear and bright line at fertilization," said Dr. Thomas Murray, director of the Hastings Institute in Garrison, N.Y. "Until now, they have been able to avoid having the question called. Embryonic stem cell research has called the question for them. And what we are seeing is that some politicians who have strongly supported the pro-life position now acknowledge they do not accept fertilization as the clear and bright line." Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company ++++++++++++++ November 6, 2001 New Work May Provide Stem Cells While Taking Baby From Equation By ANDREW POLLACK LOS ANGELES, Nov. 5 — In a developmemt that may side step some of the ethical issues surrounding stem cell research a scientist here says he has created stem cells that can turn into nerve cells using a kind of embryo that cannot develop into a baby. The work, done in mice, is one of several recent experiments that explore the usefulness of asexual reproduction in deriving stem cells. The researcher, Dr. Jerry L. Hall, uses chemicals to coax an egg to grow into an embryo of sorts without being fertilized by a male's sperm. Such embryos, even if implanted into a womb, would not grow to become viable babies, Dr. Hall and other experts said. But the embryos can be grown in a laboratory for a few days, long enough to become a source of stem cells. Embryonic stem cells can turn into virtually all types of the body's cells, potentially providing replacement cells that can be transplanted into patients to cure diseases. But opponents say such research is immoral because deriving stem cells involves destroying embryos, which they see as nascent human life. Dr. Hall argues that if an "embryo" were not formed by conception and would not be able to turn into a child, that might make stem cell work more acceptable. "We feel that this really could circumvent a lot of ethical concerns," said Dr. Hall, an embryologist at the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Genetic Testing, a fertility clinic here. He presented his work at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Orlando, Fla., late last month. But Richard M. Doerflinger of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the technique was unlikely to end the opposition the Roman Catholic Church has to embryonic stem cell work. The real question, he said, is whether these are really embryos. If they are, "the fact that these beings would not survive to birth does not answer the question," he said. "Our teaching about the embryo does not rely on it having been created by fertilization." Numerous scientific questions remain as well about the work, which has not been published in a scientific journal. Dr. Hall, who did the research with Dr. Yan-Ling Feng of the Center for Reproductive Research and Testing in Rockville, Md., said they had not determined whether the stem cells could turn into other types of cells, or even whether the nerve cells were normal. Dr. Hall said he had not yet tried to derive human stem cells this way. But others are getting closer to that. The University of Massachusetts has applied for a patent on using the technique to derive stem cells from primates, including humans. The work was done with Advanced Cell Technology, a stem cell and cloning company in Worcester, Mass. Scientists at the university and the company derived a line of stem cells from monkeys that could be maintained for months and that spontaneously differentiated into many types of cells including beating heart cells, according to the patent application, which has been published in Europe but not yet granted. Dr. Michael West, chief executive of Advanced Cell Technology, would not comment when asked if the company had tried this in humans. He also would not discuss the company's work in detail, saying he did not want to jeopardize an upcoming publication in a scientific journal. The work takes advantage of a phenomenon known as parthenogenesis. It is known that some species of flowers, insects, lizards and snakes can reproduce asexually, with the female's egg growing into a baby without being fertilized by a male.. Parthenogenesis, which is from the Greek for virgin birth, does not occur naturally in mammals. But for decades scientists have known how to trick the eggs of mice, rabbits and other mammals into developing as if they had been fertilized by subjecting the eggs to various chemicals or to temperature changes, needle pricks or electrical shocks. The resulting embryos are called parthenotes. It has not been reported that this has ever been done with human eggs, however, and it would raise ethical questions. An egg has a full number of chromosomes right up until fertilization, when it ejects half of them and receives a half set from the sperm. So if this ejection is suppressed, an egg will have the full number of chromosomes. The embryos created this way would not be clones of the woman, Dr. Hall said, because the chromosomes in an egg are somewhat different from the woman's set. Still, he said, the tissues derived from stem cells from such embryos would be close enough to a woman's own tissues that they would not be rejected if transplanted back into the woman. Another possible way to develop such compatible tissues is to use stem cells made by cloning the patient's own cells. The idea, known as therapeutic cloning, is to take genetic material from a patient's cell and fuse it with an egg that is missing its own nucleus, creating an embryo that is a genetic copy of the patient. But because an embryo made through that method would in theory be able to develop into a person, Roman Catholic authorities and other abortion opponents have objected. To create the parthenotes, Dr. Hall and Dr. Feng bathed the mouse egg cells in alcohol and then exposed them to a chemical called cytochalasin D. About 30 percent of the eggs were activated and 40 percent of those went on to form a blastocyst, a several-day-old embryo from which stem cells can be taken. The stem cells were treated with retinoic acid to turn them into nerve cells. Dr. Azim Surani, a professor of biology at Cambridge University, said the work was not surprising since he and others had derived parthenogenetic stem cells more than a decade ago and saw evidence that they would turn into nerve cells. But he said it was unclear how many other types of cells could be created this way. "They don't form muscle cells very easily," he said. Dr. Surani also said the parthenotes and any tissues derived from them might be abnormal. That is because in normal embryo development, certain genes from the father but not the mother, or vice versa, are turned on. But parthenotes don't have genes from the father, so this process, called imprinting, would go awry. Lack of imprinting is also probably the reason that parthenotes do not develop into babies, he said. Still, Dr. West said it might be possible one day to produce human babies through parthenogenesis. Male parthenotes could be created, too, he said, by replacing the DNA in an egg with the DNA from two of a male's sperm cells. But male and female parthenotes have shown differences, said Dr. Jose Cibelli, vice president for research at Advanced Cell Technology. Stem cells derived from male parthenotes tend to turn into muscle cells, while stem cells from female parthenotes turned more often into brain and nerve cells, he said. Dr. West said that if this process could be used to produce live offspring it would open up vast new reproductive possibilities. A woman could give birth by herself. Or two men may be able to each contribute one sperm to have a baby together. Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company