Holy morula! (But how many souls does a morula contain?)

Quick question. Does anyone understand the ethics of "separation and reaggregation of blastomeres of cleavage-stage embryos"?

Because that or something similar is what I (a hopeless layperson) suspect is going on with this breakthrough development:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A company that devised a way to make embryonic stem cells using a technique it said does not harm human embryos reported on Thursday it has grown five batches of cells using this method and urged President George W. Bush to endorse it.

Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology has been working with a method sometimes used to test embryos for severe genetic diseases. Called preimplantation genetic diagnosis, it involves taking a single cell from an embryo when it contains only eight or so cells.

The method usually does not harm the embryo, which is frozen for possible future implantation into the mother's womb. The ACT team also froze the embryos and used the single cell that was removed as a source of human embryonic stem cells.

Dr. Robert Lanza, ACT's scientific director, said it provides a way to create mass quantities of embryonic stem cells without harming a human embryo. Current stem cell technologies require the embryo's destruction.

"This is a working technology that exists here and now. It could be used to increase the number of stem cell lines available to federal researchers immediately," Lanza said by e-mail. "We could send these cells out to researchers tomorrow."

What I want to know is when the embryo "contains only eight or so cells" isn't it so that at that stage of development that each one of those eight could still (at least in theory) become an octuplet?

How would we ever know? I mean, just because the other six or seven might not separate into septuplets or sextuplets, can we really be sure?

I'm sure that there are those who would consider the destruction of a possible octuplet to be the destruction of a human being. I think it only highlights the illogic of the argument. For, if you don't know how many people an "embryo" might in theory become, then who knows how many souls would have been lost? If we see potential souls as real souls, the possibilities are limited only by the imagination.

At some point in October of 1953, a sperm cell from my father managed to penetrate one of my mom's eggs, and a blastomere was formed. That blastomere divided repeatedly, soon becoming group of cells called a morula, then a blastocyst and eventually these cells united into the fetus that became the infant me. Here's what "I" looked like when I was a morula:

Morula.jpg

For reasons of honesty, I had to put the word "I" in quotes, because "I" was not yet me, and "I" might have been more than one me.

Suppose some scientist had stolen one of "my" cells and left the rest to continue to divide and unite (yeah, I know that's a mouthful of contradictions, but this is a contradictory process). I'd still be me, right? When scientists bisect blastocysts, they can theoretically create as many as they want:

The blastocysts were bisected symmetrically so as to leave a cellular bridge between the sister half-embryos after the softening of zonae followed by or without the trypsin/EDTA treatment. Transfer of 47 monozygotic (MZ) pairs of half-blastocysts to nine recipients resulted in four pregnancies. A litter of nine fetuses was obtained from seven MZ pairs of half-blastocysts, demonstrating that at least two pairs of MZ twin fetuses were produced. It is thought that the procedure for bisecting blastocysts developed in this study is one of the potential methods of producing porcine MZ twins.
Fertility specialists who implant human blastocysts are well aware of the potential for unwanted twinning, tripletting, or quadrupletting, and take pains to guard against it.

But how do we know that because of some quirky sort of hegemonic behavior at the cellular level, some of my cells at the morula or blastocyst stage stopped what would have been my twin (or even triplets) from developing? Might "I" have been complicit in this murder of one of my "cell" mates before I was born? Might I have even cannibalized my potential brothers, and forced them to become part of that human monster that I call me?

Perhaps original sin starts before birth after all.

posted by Eric on 01.10.08 at 02:47 PM










Comments

Why, bless you, you looked just like your daddy.

Bleepless   ·  January 10, 2008 9:19 PM

Well, at that stage we both had lots of potential. At least as much as our potential soul brothers.

Eric Scheie   ·  January 11, 2008 10:08 AM

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