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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Just a Clump of Cells?

[Today's post by Ben Williamson is part of our paid blogging program.]

It's well-established, as a scientific matter, that preborn embryos and fetuses are living human organisms. Nevertheless, many abortion advocates claim that the human embryo is not really a human being, but is merely a clump of cells, no more valuable than any somatic (body) cell in a human’s body.

For instance, in the July 11, 2001 edition of Reason magazine, author Ronald Bailey claimed: “Sure human embryos carry the full genetic code, but so do ordinary somatic cells. Using cloning technology, we can generate an entire human embryo from one of these cells, thus demonstrating that early embryos are no different in kind from any other bodily cell that’s routinely discarded.”

There are two fundamental problems with Bailey’s claim. First, Bailey makes the elementary mistake of conflating parts of a whole with the whole itself. Somatic cells are not an organism, but are merely part of a larger organism. A somatic cell, like a lone egg or sperm cell, will not turn into anything without outside intervention and will not produce anything if left to its own devices. Human embryos, by contrast, are already whole and distinct from their human parents. Moreover, their development is self-guided, as long as they have adequate nutrients. Second, the idea that human embryos are merely collections of cells is not only scientifically inaccurate but is rhetorically charged. The difference between a mere clump of cells and the human embryo is that clumps of cells alone don’t constitute a living organism. If a human embryo is to be a living human embryo, its body parts (cells and organs) have to be working together in a coordinated manner to guide its function and maturity.

The reason why a person is deemed to be clinically dead, even if some individual cells in his or her body are still alive, is that all of his or her bodily functions have ceased to operate due to the failure for the cells to work together in an integrated whole. The human embryo is a living organism because, in a healthy, stable environment, it is able to receive nutrition, and its cells are working together in a coordinated whole. If its cells fail to do that, then the human embryo will die, even though some of those cells will still be alive some time after the human being has died.

This concept was expressed well by Maureen Condic in Life: Defining the Beginning by the End:
What has been lost at death is not merely the activity of the brain or the heart, but more importantly the ability of the body’s parts (organs and cells) to function together as an integrated whole. Although cells of the brain are still alive following brain death, they cease to work together in a coordinated manner to function as a brain should.
Of course human embryos are made of living cells, but it does not follow that the mere presence of living cells is the equivalent of a human embryo. Condic concludes:
The critical difference between a collection of cells and a living organism is the ability of an organism to act in a coordinated manner for the continued health and maintenance of the body as a whole. Dead bodies may have plenty of live cells, but their cells no longer function together in a coordinated manner… Human life is defined by the ability to function as an integrated whole not by the mere presence of living human cells.

110 comments:

Chalkdust said...

So is it okay to flush unwanted IVF embryos? After all, without extensive outside intervention they aren't going to develop into anything either.

Purple Slurpy said...

Only about 6 out of 15 of your quotes mention "human" or "man", and some of them seem to be quite irrelevant to your claim, like the this one.

>> "I would say that among most scientists, the word 'embryo' includes the time from after fertilization..."

Um, so what? What does what scientists think about the definition of embryo in any way support your claim that an embryo is a whole, complete human being.

You say
>> Human embryos, by contrast, are already whole and distinct from their human parents.

I'm guessing the embryo still needs much more than just nutrients from the mother. In the womb, the mother must produce chemical signals delivered in the correct spatio-temporal pattern in order for correct development of the embryo. I quickly googled, and found a paper

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1096637402000187
"The role of growth hormone in fetal development."
which states "... with actions on both embryo/fetus and mother contributing to successful fetal development..."

This experimental observation would suggest that embryos are not completely "distinct" from their parents. An embryo is not a self-contained complete unit that merely can't get food on its own. Its not only nutrition that an embryo needs to continue developing correctly, its also needs "guidance" and instructions that are not contained in its own genome to develop correctly.

So I'm sorry, but here is one scientist (though not a biologist) who more agrees with the idea that an embryo is closer to a clump of cells than a complete human being.

kitler said...

I read about this the other day. Epigenetics!

Purple Slurpy said...

Yup, epigenetics. Mother still contributes much to the embryo in the womb aside from nutrients. Her input is still actually needed to guide correct spatio-temporal activation of genes in the embryo. An embryo is FAR from being a whole and distinct entity from the parents.

BTW, I quickly googled "Ben Williamson pro-life", and found out he is a very religious person. FINE. Nothing wrong with some Jesus. But this hints at why his argument is completely lacking in observational, scientific basis. He probably has a religiously based view that the "unborn" are gifts from god, and he needs some justification for this, since he is being paid to blog for a secular pro-life site. So he tries very hard to find support to his forgone conclusion, and ends up writing a blog post that puts words into the mouths of scientists. It's lying for Jesus, though hopefully not intentional.

kitler said...

A few of the writers here are religious and believe that every zygote has a soul. And the secular arguments that they often reference are written by the religious as well...

Now clearly, a religious person can make a secular argument, but I have noticed that "nature" or "unique dna" are simply euphemisms for "god" and the "soul".

Anne Hijme said...

To go on your claim it isn't a distinct human being because it is more then just nutrition needed from the mother. Babies and toddlers cannot develop correctly and need guidance in order to learn language and other skills. The first 3 years outside the womb is critical time of development.

So are they not distinct human being because of it? You do beg the question with your logic.

Here is one on the negative effects on the brain from neglect or abuse:
https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/issue_briefs/brain_development/effects.cfm

And others on the importance of the 1st 3 years of development:

https://www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/documents/seccyd_06.pdf

http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/350/350-055/350-055.html

http://www.urbanchildinstitute.org/why-0-3/baby-and-brain

Sidenote your study link says several species like mouse. It didn't state humans and to further prove this. There is this from 1972 where they injected some HGH into the mother and it didn't pass on to the child therefore the child supplies it's own.

http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4684-3219-0_32#page-1

Purple Slurpy said...

Hello, Anne, thanks for the reply.

Just to be clear, I don't think there is a clear line of what makes a "distinct human being", because these are not the kinds of things science answers, but I think it is clear from scientific literature that an embryo needs more than nutrition - the correct chemical environment that can ONLY be given to it by the mother.

Yes, 1~3 year olds need a lot more than food to develop, but it is already a complete organism, and just to keep it biologically alive, food and water is all it needs. Further, the extra care needed for proper development can be given by anybody. Grandmother, nurse, a dude on the street. In this way, I think the "extras" needed by an embryo and a 1~3 year old are fundamentally different.

As for your link and criticism, sure the journal I posted only refers to non-humans. But the point remains the same as to the dependence of embryo on chemical and hormonal environment in the uterus needed for proper development. These are extras that are necessary beyond nutrition, and are determinants of future development outside of what the embryo has on its own. Hence, I think it is fair to say that the embryo is not really an independent and complete human being on its own.

Here is another one that seems to support this idea.

http://jn.nutrition.org/content/133/5/1741S.short

This article is NOT from 1972 (while I am not a biologist, A LOT of new knowledge has accumulated since then), and is in a journal with impact factor 4.2, a solid reputable journals, and has been referenced by 120 other authors, so I think its fairly solid.

Petr Svoboda said...

"First, Bailey makes the elementary mistake of conflating parts of a whole with the whole itself. Somatic cells are not an organism, but are merely part of a larger organism."

This is wrong. Somatic cells are organisms. They have independent metabolism and reproduction. Some types of human cells are more dependent on human organism as a whole than other types but most of them are capable of surviving our death. Some may even rebel and grow into tumors during our lives.

I am curious, since you seem to believe that living things are purposefully ordered and you claim to be irreligious, what or who is the purpose giver?

Tullia_Ciceronis said...

Can you provide me a scientific source that states that somatic cells are organisms? I seem to be unable to find one....

Tullia_Ciceronis said...

Whereas with zygotes....

"Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed.... The combination of 23 chromosomes present in each pronucleus results in 46 chromosomes in the zygote. Thus the diploid number is restored and the embryonic genome is formed. The embryo now exists as a genetic unity."
[O'Rahilly, Ronan and M�ller, Fabiola. Human Embryology & Teratology. 2nd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 1996, pp. 8, 29. This textbook lists "pre-embryo" among "discarded and replaced terms" in modern embryology, describing it as "ill-defined and inaccurate" (p. 12}]

myintx said...

It's not OK... Couples doing IVF should only fertilize what is needed. And either keep any leftovers (there shouldn't be many) in storage or put unwanted ones up for adoption (yes, some do 'adopt' ivf embryos).

kitler said...

Well I guess that makes the Sable Antelope and Reeve's Muntjac persons- since they have unique DNA and 46 chromosomes.

kitler said...

Just more proof that human organisms are not inherently rational beings considering all of the nurturing that is needed. Without nurturing, a human newborn will NEVER achieve rationality.

Tullia_Ciceronis said...

Well, are they human? Do they belong to species that have the potential for rationality like humans? Then yes..
This post was not addressing personhood-just whether or not the zygote is an organism...

Tullia_Ciceronis said...

According to the research that has been done before, gene expression (epigenetics) can be influenced by maternal behavior even after birth and throughout life.

Purple Slurpy said...

Hi Tulia,
yeah sure. Environmental factors will affect post-birth development. However, without those maternal hormones, embryo (probably) dies due to incorrect steps being taken mid-development. Therefore I still believe it is hard to argue that an embryo is already an independent entity apart from the mother, and therefore I would not classify it as a "human being."

Nulono said...

Did you even read the article? Several times, it acknowledges that the embryo needs a suitable environment to survive, just like you do.

Nulono said...

No, somatic cells are not organisms; they are part of a larger organism.

Nulono said...

Epigenetics doesn't stop at birth; you can affect your epigenetics right now by exercizing regularly.

Nulono said...

You are aware that DNA is a scientific, objectively observable phenomenon, right? And has nothing to do with a soul?

Petr Svoboda said...

That isn't mutualy exclusive. Organism can be a part of a larger organism. It goes even deeper. Eucaryotic cells contain mitochondria which are even smaller organisms.

Purple Slurpy said...

The point still remains, an embryo needs more than just nutrients from its mother during development in the womb. Without those chemical signals, I'm guessing body plan won't develop correctly and embryo dies. Therefore its difficult for me to see the embryo as a complete human being. A potential human being, but not one on its own.

Purple Slurpy said...

That's my impression I get from "secular" pro-life, just switching religious words for "scientific sounding" ones. Apparently Mr. Williamson also thinks Intelligent Design is a good theory. Reminds me of the Dover Trials
where in the textbook "Of Pandas and People" that was touted as an all new textbook of intelligent design, a botched find and replace of "creationists" with "design proponents" resulted in the hillarious gem "cdesign proponentsists". Needless to say, Intelligent Design was exposed as a rehash of a religious idea, sort of like this secular pro-life movement.

Petr Svoboda said...

That is because it isn't a scientific problem. You can try encyclopedias.

"A single cell is often a complete organism in itself, such as a bacterium or yeast. Other cells acquire specialized functions as they mature. These cells cooperate with other specialized cells and become the building blocks of large multicellular organisms, such as animals and humans."

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/101396/cell

I think it's quite clear, but it's important for you to realize science isn't the law. Words are not binding. There is no single source we all need to obey by.


When I say organism I understand a living thing which is capable of reproducing and metabolising independently. Not all somatic cell satisfy that definition but most of them do. If you want to question what am I saying don't argue semantics and show me they don't.

Petr Svoboda said...

Yes, it's an human organism with slightly different genetic material, but it's still just an human organism. That a fact without any ethical significance whatsoever.

kitler said...

Feral children never develop rationality. They stay clever animals. Without proper nurturing, no human baby will develop the capacity for rationality.

Clinton said...

No, that's not true. It will develop into an adult human being if placed in its proper environment (the womb). You might as well justify drowning someone because without outside intervention (say, a lifeguard) the drowning person won't develop anymore.

Clinton said...

Feral children have the inherent capacity for rationality, just like all other children do. It doesn't become presently-exercisable because it wasn't nurtured. I have the inherent capacity to speak French. But I won't be able to unless I go out and learn it.

Clinton said...

You've noticed incorrectly. God created nature, but an argument from nature is just that -- an argument from nature, that appeals to the secular person's ability to reason. And unique DNA was not coined by religious people -- embryologists use it because it's true of the new human zygote.

Tullia_Ciceronis said...

I asked you if any science textbook would define a somatic cell as an organism. You dodged my question. Bacteria and yeast are single-celled organisms...they do not have multiple cells that make them up as a whole. An organism is defined as a form of life composed of mutually interdependent parts that maintain various vital processes.
A somatic cell is genetically and functionally part of a larger organism. A zygote is not.

Tullia_Ciceronis said...

You do realize that after birth, genetic expression (i.e. epigenetics) continues to change the way that genes are expressed? Toxins, nutrition, and other environmental factors continue to influence how our genes express themselves throughout our entire lifecycle, from fertilization to old age.

Tullia_Ciceronis said...

Um...embryos can be grown in petri dishes until about 5 days after fertilization and do fine. Viability starts at 24 weeks gestation, or 22 at the earliest. The issue preventing viability between those two times is lung development, not epigenetics
Also, if being able to survive on ones own is key to being a complete human being, then I guess conjoined twins who can't be separated aren't human beings.

kitler said...

No they don't. If they had this inherent capacity, its development would have been inevitable. It quite clearly isn't, or else they would have developed it, or be able to develop it. But since they missed out on the necessary nurturing, they lost that chance forever.

kitler said...

Argument from nature = humans can't override nature in the case of pregnancy, cuz reasons.

And unique DNA is used by pro lifers as a stand in for the soul "look, the zygote has unique DNA, never seen before on this earth" - as if this is somehow proof of personhood. Well, lots of things have unique DNA. Its meaningless.

Clinton said...

That's not how capacities work. And no, they haven't lost the chance forever. Feral children can be rehabilitated. They have the inherent capacity for rationality, just like we all do. They belong to the human species, and humans have the inherent capacity for rationality. That doesn't mean that everyone will necessarily develop it, it just means that, all other things being equal, they will develop the present capacity for rationality because they are human and humans are the kind of thing that are rational. There are factors that may block it from developing, but it is there.

kitler said...

No, they cannot be. Some are completetly lost and pretty much spend the rest of their lives as pets.

Anne Hijme said...

First off the reason I'm hearing of why you do not consider an embryo a human being of worth: independent, distinct whatever term you wish to use, is the fact it needs the environment of the uterus to survive for an amount of time.

I love to point out we all have specific chemical (referring to oxygen and the various other needs that make Earth livable for us and not most other places) environments needed to survive. The hormones of ourselves are important and get influence by outside source (environment). Which is most of what the article was stating. That the mother's hormones determine what it gives the fetus and that the nutrients can affect the fetus's hormones of how much it produce and how effective it is.

I also want to quote from the article this line:

" Whereas IGF-2 is the primary growth factor underpinning embryonic growth,the dominant fetal growth regulator in late gestation is IGF-1 produced by the fetal
liver and other tissues (11)."

Once again my point it produce the hormones it needs and that it isn't hormones passed from the mother to child. Never once does it state that the mother gives a hormone to the child.

The closest I can get to your statement is when it mentions the various GHs which is 'believed to create a state of relative maternal insulin resistance that allows glucose to be transferred across the placenta and for the mother to undergo lipolysis more readily for her own metabolic needs.' From there it goes more iffy about what it may or may not due and that it is very unknown. That isn't really a transfer, but hormones giving signals to let body it's in to know what to do.

It does state numerous times that the hormones of the mother does influence what she does give the fetus for growth. That is what the IGF-2 seem to be a gene and hormone set that controls what she gives to her child so she doesn't overburden herself and can have more children in the future.

Also found this which goes over the fact the father gene seem to be chose the growth of the child passed on through the genes. Simply put. Mother puts limits, Father encourage growth.

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0085454

The whole point of the article you posted is that birth weight/growth of child is partly determine from the environment; just like people's growth is determine by our environment. Hormones are mentioned because the mother's hormones determine things, just like our hormones and genes determine such growth among other things.

This is all like our own environment problems, if we don't get proper nutrients things happen negatively. Getting certain combinations of genes and environment can get us problems. It also goes over the fact that certain nutrients inhibit the growth hormones of the embryo, while others encourage it. Like the Vitamin D helps us absorb Calcium hence why a lot of milk products are enrich with more Vitamin D.

Petr Svoboda said...

Encyclopedia quote is not good enought for you? How is adding something else to my answer dodging a question?

Petr Svoboda said...

Somatic cells are still cells. Cells that aquire specialized fuctions are still cells. If some cells can be organism why they suddenly stop being organisms when start to work together? Is an single ant an organism?

Tullia_Ciceronis said...

Yes, they do. A cell which is functionally and genetically part of a larger organism is not a organism, it is part of an organism....a single ant is certainly an organism...

Petr Svoboda said...

Then you are inconsistent. Ants live in large colonies which consist of clone males with various specializations and a single queen. If you are so strictly fixated on sexual reproduction to define individual organisms then you should consider entire ant colony a single organism.

LN said...

Making IVF embryos and leaving them in an unsuitable environment would be no different than freezing a born human being for later use if it were possible (without their consent, mind you). If you make it, you're responsible for its growth and safety until they are old enough to make their own decisions.

LN said...

You really don't know what organism means do you?

kitler said...

Ant colonies are super organisms;

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121219092819.htm

Elizabeth Doecke said...

All your definition has stated is that there are some unicellular organisms. Not that all single cells are organisms. It's like saying all cows are brown, Bessy is a cow, therefore Bessy is brown.


The biological definition that I've encountered in scientific literature is 'one genome, one body'. Multiple cells in one body with identical genomes = one organism. Multiple cells together in a colony with different genomes = multiple organisms. One cell in one body with one genome = organism.


I'd be extremely surprised if you turned up a scientific source that claimed somatic cells were organisms, rather than part of a multi-cellular organism.

Elizabeth Doecke said...

Mitochondria are organelles, not organisms. Evolutionary theory postulates that they were once independent bacteria that existed in a endosymbiotic relationship with eukaryotic cells - but whatever they might have been once, they are no longer organisms in any sense of the word.

Elizabeth Doecke said...

I had a quick read through this article. It seemed more concerned with establishing the presence of foetal growth hormone receptors then the source of the growth hormone. A couple of things worth noting from it were:


1. Maternal GH does increase during pregnancy


2. Foetal growth is affected by maternal GH levels.


3. The known action of raised maternal GH is to increase the availability of glucose in the maternal circulation, and to increase transfer of it across the placenta.


4. Evidence of non-pituitary production of GH is present in non-human foetal tissues.


5. The placental produces GH, which is secreted into maternal circulation (which than directs maternal cells!).


Admittedly haven't deeply considered this, but I don't actually think it matters that much. If neonates required growth hormone in their milk-feeds in order to develop normally, we wouldn't be claiming that it made them a non-organism.


Also, Google informs me that human growth hormone cannot cross the placenta. So it's affects on the development of the foetus are indirect, and probably more related to increasing nutrient supply and placental function.

Elizabeth Doecke said...

This from this article:

"In humans, growth hormone and thyroid hormone have little significant role in the regulation of fetal growth due to receptor immaturity but begin to exert a limited influence after 36 wk gestation"

And this (it's kind of technical, but it does show that IGF-2 is produced by the foetus):

"There is a consensus that IGF-2 is an important systemic/paracrine coordinating factor in embryonic growth (32, 33). In mice and humans, the IGF-2 gene is imprinted and expressed from the paternal allele whereas the IGF-2 receptor is imprinted in mice only and expressed from the maternal allele. IGF-2 exerts its biological action by binding to the IGF-1 receptor whereas binding to IGF-2 receptor, which mainly acts as a clearance receptor, reduces the circulating levels of IGF-2. In cases of isopaternal disomy in humans, IGF-2 is overexpressed leading to the Beckwith-Weidemann overgrowth syndrome."



GH is hardly mentioned, except to say that the placenta becomes dominate mid-second trimester.


Funnily enough, I pulled up this article completely independent to you, so I must commend your search techniques :).

Elizabeth Doecke said...

I still remember the 'double-bum' fly with fondness. Not so keen on your slur on Christians and their calibre as scientists.

Petr Svoboda said...

If that the case when did they stop being endosymbiotic organism and became organelles? What criteria do you use to tell the difference?

Petr Svoboda said...

...which prove my point. Organisms can be part of larger organism. Now what does stoping us from looking at somatic cells as organisms?

Petr Svoboda said...

Perhaps my definition isn't common but it's at least consistent with what we know. Your definition have some absurd consequences. First of all single cell organism reproduce by division. They clone themself so any bacterial colony consist very likely of identical bacteria. Secondly there is rare condition called chimerism when multicellural organism consist of parts with different genetic information.

Suba gunawardana said...

What does it matter if the embryo is a clump of cells or a "human being"?

Why should either one be allowed to invade/occupy/use your body without your consent?

Elizabeth Doecke said...

Can you not see that the definition you quoted is drawing a distinction between cells that a complete organisms in themselves (unicellular organisms) and those are part of a multi-cellular organisms. 'Other' is the key word. No, they don't state explicity that these cells that are part of a multi-cellular organisms are not organisms in themselves, but - honestly- I strongly suspect that it because they'd be very surprised to hear that anyone would think it necessary.

It's not actually my definition, but one I've encountered in the literature. I see the same problems you have. I found this paper a good read on the topic: http://www.eebweb.arizona.edu/grads/mherron/publications/BR_08.pdf

They also raise your point that under some criteria, an individual body cell could be considered an organism. However, they also state more than once that the position of vertebrates as organisms is uncontroversial. If it were biologically accepted that somatic cells were organisms, you would find vertebrates described as super-organisms.

I stole the following answer about definition of organisms from here: http://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/3333/what-is-an-organism

"I prefer something which follows from an observation made by Ricard Dawkins in The Extended Phenotype (the following is my definition, but I think Dawkins had something similar in mind):

An organism is any system of components which depend on each other for survival and cooperate in proliferating potentially unboundedly.

A single-celled organism is by this definition an organism since it proliferates by coordination of its components.

A single-celled organism with organelles deriving from endosymbiosis (think mitochondria) is an organism: even though mitochondria do proliferate on their own inside the cell, they don’t do so outside of the cell, hence have a bounded proliferation only; and they depend on the cell as a host. On the other hand, they cooperate with the cell division.

Endosymbionts, on the other hand, are organisms because even though they depend on a host (and the host on them), they may theoretically switch host or even survive a limited time without a host.

Similarly, the cells in a multi-cellular organism can sometimes divide independently (in organs) but they cannot survive without the rest of the organism, and the unbounded reproduction of any organ in fact requires going via the germ line of said organism."



I think the point about reproduction is particularly valid, and it also answers your question about mitochondria. Also relevant regarding mitochondria is that the nuclear DNA encodes many of the proteins necessary for mitochondrial function, preventing the mitochondria functioning as an independent entity.

Simon Jm said...

Yes the French Wild boy wasn't able to learn speech in the end.

But as I've think we have argued before humans have a teleonomic basic blueprint that needs external environmental factors to fully develop. You could think of these as external genes. Teleonomically it is already an assisted self developing homo sapiens.

kitler said...

Which means that rationality is NOT inevitable.

Petr Svoboda said...

These encyclopedia entries are edited by multiple people and plus the fact scientist in general are very careful with their words makes me think it is very unlikely they would make something unclear by accident. If they wanted to say that somatic cells are not organisms they would say so explicitly. They wouldn't use "other". They would use something like "unlike other cell which are just ..." but I am certain they didn't use it because there is no scientific basis for such a strong distiction.


When I reading again my previous posts I realize I was a bit careless with my words. I shouldn't say that somatic cells are organisms. It would be suficient as a couter-argument to say just that somatic cell can be considered organisms.


That paper you found says that while many think concept of organism is useless they argue it can be usefull in some cases. Problem is non of those cases is a pro-life argument or ethics in general, is it? This definitions are simplified to suit one specific purpose. To use it outside of that pupose is an error.


If we want to make an ethical argument about organisms and the science is unclear then we should use the most inclusive definition and work from that point. To use some narrow definition devised for entirely different pupose which happen to agree with the preconcieved notion pro-lifers have is an intelectual dishonesty.

someone45 said...

Because to the anti-choicers the woman has no rights. Her life means nothing and all she is is an object designed to incubate the embryo/fetus until it can be born.

Petr Svoboda said...

Sorry I can't. I don't know anyone who would be known for saying that. I could reference that claim about most of human somatic cells having their own independent metabolism and reproduction which made me to say that they are organisms.


I don't agree that evolution give things porpose. It's a natural phenomenon, a blind deterministic process. To have a purpose you need some forsight but evolution has none.

Simon Jm said...

To be an member of our species the definition includes an ability to breed within that species. If you want to be so pedantically narrow in requiring active capacities all young 'humans' aren't members of the species either. So being able to breed isn't inevitable either yet they and those who are infertile are included in our species category.

This present capacity fixation leads to absurdities.

Elizabeth Doecke said...

Further from the Encyclopedia Britannica article:

"In a multicellular organism, cells become specialized to perform different functions through the process of differentiation. In order to do this, each cell keeps in constant communication with its neighbours. As it receives nutrients from and expels wastes into its surroundings, it adheres to and cooperates with other cells. Cooperative assemblies of similar cells form tissues, and a cooperation between tissues in turn forms organs, which carry out the functions necessary to sustain the life of an organism."

Honestly, I feel like the only way you can read this to suggest that somatic cells are anything other than parts of an organism is if you are trying really really hard.

The article I posted talked about the "three categories: genetic uniqueness, genetic homogeneity, and physiological autonomy" and further goes on to say that "entities that possess all
three attributes, such as vertebrate animals, are uncontroversial and are termed ‘‘unitary organisms’’". The embryo easily fulfills these and so is clearly an organism.



An evolutionary definition would be that an organism is a unit upon which natural selection can act. In this sense, humans are most definitely organisms (as our traits can be selected for), but a kidney cell is not (as its genotype expression is dependent upon the impact of that expression upon the phenotype of the whole for selection).


You have challenged my previously held idea that the concept of the organism was set in stone. However, I have not yet come across anything to suggest that there exists anywhere the idea that somatic cells constitute organisms, and the controversy over the matter seems to lie not differentiating the parts of vertebrates, but in categorising smaller (possible) organisms and super-organisms.


I wish there was a way to continue this conversation not via this comments thread, as I feel it would be much more conducive to carry it out one-on-one.

Petr Svoboda said...

We could move to facebook but I see no point in that. Formating is a bit off here but I can see massages fine in my email notifications.


Anyway I don't think one needs to read hard into the text at all to see that. The fact that they use words like "cooperate" or "comunicate" clearly indicates they see cells as individual living things in other word organisms. Nobody use this kind of language to speak about mechanic parts.


It's true that natural selection acts upon people as a whole but not exclusively. Sexual reproduction speeds up evolution because it provides more variety in each generation, but random mutations do still occur and they occur in individual cells. Individual cell are being selected in that case.


Current evolutionary biology recognise individual genes as fundamental units natural selection work with. Organisms are just vessels for survival of genes. This is the idea behind Richard Dawkins's Selfish Gene.


The reason why is the definition you are talking about is used so often isn't because its the correct one it's because it's the most simple one. Scientists love to simplify things whenever they can.

kitler said...

All humans have the capacity to be murderers. Therefore, we are all murderers, even if we haven't expressed it yet. Better lock everyone up!!!

Simon Jm said...

Non sequitur

kitler said...

Not at all. You are stating that because *some* humans have thr tratit for rationality , that all humans must share that trait, simply because of species membership.

Simon Jm said...

It depends on how that capacity is grounded and expressed. Some are accidental while others are more strongly tied to the teleonomic expression and I was referring to a deeper type classification.


Again to be member of a species is to be able to breed with other members of that species. Yet infants belong to our species even though they don't currently breed. Clearly a present capacity isn't needed. Why?


Whereas being able to murder members of a social group is a accidental capacity and not linked to a more fundamental capacity or classificatory type.


Being a murderer depends on doing that thing whereas some classificatory types just need future actualization through the capacity for teleonomic expression.

kitler said...

Humans are actually quite an aggressive species. We have more in common with chimps than we do with peaceful bonobos. It has something to do with what side of the river our ancestors evolved on in Africa - we evolved amongst lots of other critters, with massive competition for resources. We became warlike as a result.


Since 'aggression' seems to be an integral part of being a human, I can only assume, that because you belong to h.sapiens, that you too are highly aggressive and murderous, and are simply not expressing it right now. But, that doesn't change the fact that you ARE a murderer, due to species membership, and because of this, I should treat you like one!


Anyways, you are wrong about the inevitability of rationality. Our big brains give us the capacity for this rationality, but without proper nurturing, we can never FUNCTION as rational beings. If you were to take a bunch of babies, and place them in the Savannah to grow up and fend for themselves, they would grow up to be nothing more than clever animals. They might learn some tool use on their own, but it wouldn't go much further than that. The ONLY reason that we humans can exhibit this' rationality' is because of tens of thousands of years of knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation. Our most primitive ancestors gradually learned to use tools, and that knowledge was passed on to their offspring, and the knowledge was accumulated. Our big brains only give us the *capacity* to store large amounts of knowledge and learn abstract concepts, they do not CREATE it.

Simon Jm said...

You should have a read or listen to a talk by the author of Sex At Dawn he argues aggression is more to do with agriculture accumulated wealth and civilization that some inherent nature of our species. & that we more like Bonobos for the overwhelming majority of our history.

& you haven't addressed my question. Why is it that a baby is a member of our species when it hasn't the capacity to breed when that is part of our species definition?

Nor do I say the capacity is inevitable. What I'm saying that for most healthy Homo sapiens they have the teleonomic capacity to be persons and since this is partly self development that is what they are.

Oh and yes I'm quite aware of the need for learning. IMO learning for us and many species means we are all types of super or extended organisms. As super or extended organism systems we have cultural or learning genes from our social groups.

If you designed an artificial system to do what we do they would be self assembling super extended modular systems A.I's that rely not only on individual internal instructions but collective external instructions as well. The definition could be refined but I hope you get the gist.

kitler said...

A hydatidiform mole is part of our species because it has H.sapiens DNA.

Its that simple.

Simon Jm said...

You do a disservice to your self. Being a member of a species as an organism in its own right and being a constituent part, genetically belonging to that species, is very different.

So you still haven't addressed while a non breeding child is part of our species.

kitler said...

Hydatidiform moles are not constituent parts.

Simon Jm said...

Nor is it an organism in its own right as a Homo Sapiens.

kitler said...

Then neither is a zygote

Simon Jm said...

To an embryologist it is. This is a contested topic. Philosophy is using dated concepts and biology lacks a teleonomic systems perspective.

kitler said...

Embryologists don't all consider zygotes to be people, let alone rational beings

Simon Jm said...

I didn't say they think them persons but they do see them as Homo Sapiens. Others have posted quotes showing that here many times.

kitler said...

Of course they do. That has not been up for debate

Simon Jm said...

I've put the question to biologists and those ones saw the problem of children being members of the species. Plus as I've said there are embryologists who claim this and it has been shown here on numerous times. So your claim is false.

kitler said...

Oh, you mean this:

http://www.askabiologist.org.uk/answers/viewtopic.php?id=5399

If you notice, Paolo Viscardi says that this is true ONLY if you strictly follow one definition of species:

"However, from a purely philosophical position the formulation of the BSC
requires reproductive viability and a zygote simply can't cut the
mustard..."

If we actually read up on what is a species, we find this:

""Practically, biologists define species as populations of organisms that have a high level of genetic similarity""

A zygote is not yet a member of a species population, and neither is it capable of breeding. But, it has the *potential* to do so, and it does in fact share genetic similarity with actual members of the population.

anon said...

The scientific distinction between a multi-cellular organism and a cell or cell tissue is that organisms display "organized" growth directed towards a higher level of development (development of tissue, organs), cells do not. You are confusing the definition of "life" with the definition of an organism. Outside of single celled organisms, cells and cell cultures are not organisms.

Simon Jm said...

Yes but if you acknowledge the whole context there is no agreement on what system to use and even some think a there are no species as the genetic boundaries/similarities are to amorphous.

In this context when there is no agreement on what a species even is there is no definitive argument as to whether a zygote is or isn't a member of the species.

Plus I know of one sociologist who looked at the big picture and thinks all our cells are the Homo Sapeins.

& if genetic similarity is what ones wants to use then a zef fits that bill and an infant is much a 'potential' when it comes to full development as a adult breeding Homo Sapeins.

vulgarism said...

Remember Marlise Munoz, the dead woman whose body was on life support?


Yeah. That actually backs up your point - without the hormone showers from a pregnant, living woman, the fetus will NOT develop normally. She was dead, her body was not functioning as it should, and mere 'nutrients' alone were not enough.


One of the SPL'ers actually compared her to a goldfish bowl...ick

vulgarism said...

It doesn't exist until it is exists.

Elizabeth Doecke said...

I apologise for the long delay in reply. As they say, 'life happened'. What I'd like to do is clarify some things before we move on, because I think that would be very helpful to the discussion. Can you tell me if your line of argument falls into one of the following:


1. The foetus is an organism, but so are somatic cells. Therefore the status of organism is nothing special and is irrelevant to the abortion debate.


2. The foetus is not an organism, because in order to classify it as an organism, we would also have to classify somatic cells as an organism. Since they are not organisms, neither can the foetus be one.

Petr Svoboda said...

Yes the first option was what I was going for but we got stuck on the first part.

Elizabeth Doecke said...

So is there then any need to debate (at this present time) whether or not the foetus is an organism? Or can we focus on somatic cells?

Petr Svoboda said...

No, you don't have to convince me that featus or embryo is a living thing or an organism.

Elizabeth Doecke said...

Exams are over, so back to it! So you've brought up the Encyclopedia Britannica entry, but is there anything else that had led to you to this position that somatic cells are organisms?

Elizabeth Doecke said...

Your comment on neurons suggests that you recognise that there are some single cells that are not organisms. Is this right?

From reading the above, and your earlier comments, can we say that your criteria for an organism is that it:
1. Can metabolise independently (i.e. when able to access an appropriate energy supply).
2. Can reproduce independently.

Are there any more criteria you would require before you would agree that a particular cell is an organism?

Also, can you give me some examples of this: "they often do [survive] when the organism dies."?

Petr Svoboda said...

I do not see any clear distinction. Neurons would be considered to be just functional parts of our bodies or to be organism extremely dependent on a very specific environment of our brains.



I am not sure if that is a proper definition of organism but I think we could use it for sake of this discussion.


As for the example cell living after death. Death can be defined as fatal organ failure. There is no reason why all cells should instantaneously die when the body dies. You know how organ donations work, right? Undemaged organs are removed after death and can be stored for many hours. Skin and bone cells can survive days. Another example would be cancer strains researchers use. They are grown from removed tumors and can survive outside the body indefinitely because they constantly reproduce.

anotheranonymous said...

If you don't care whether it's human or not and would eliminate it either way, then there is no point in discussing anything with you. Our worldviews (one that all humans have rights; the other that humans that are unwanted do not have rights) clash so completely that we cannot see eye to eye.

Gaiuse Strome said...

Only persons have rights

Suba gunawardana said...

-Why are these rights limited to humans?

-Why should some humans have rights AT THE EXPENSE of others?

anotheranonymous said...

True. And the government defines persons. Just as it once defined only landholding men as persons, and then only men as persons, and then only whites as persons. And now only humans outside the womb as persons. Seems like a fairly flexible definition. And that the government is not always right.

Gaiuse Strome said...

What is the difference between a landholding man, a woman, a toddler, a black man and a zygote?

anotheranonymous said...

The government says all but one are persons? Oh, that's not what you're looking for. One is in the womb and the others are not? Oh, not the right answer again. One does not yet have a clearly definable genetic blueprint...no wait, that's definitely not right. Not quite sure what you're looking for but I assume it has something to do with being "completely developed."

(Your comment takes the form of a joke...so I assume you will have a clever punchline).

Gaiuse Strome said...

Not quite sure what you're looking for but I assume it has something to do with being "completely developed."


There's a lot more to it than that. List the differences.

secularprolife.org said...

The unborn child did not choose to be in a woman's body who doesn't want him/her. You use rhetoric that makes it seem as though the unborn child violated the woman's rights. Abortion violates the unborn's rights by murdering him/her.

secularprolife.org said...

So? The "unborn child" has no right to the woman's body without explicit and ongoing consent.

Also, you act as if conception = kidnapping.

secularprolife.org said...

By saying the rapist's penis has no right to the woman's body without consent-well first of all the woman cannot give consent at all because once the penis is in her body it is in her body-the point is though the rapist has a unique right to life that transcends the choice of a woman. This argument is rooted in my belief that the right to life trumps liberty. If you think liberty is more valuable than human life then yes your position is correct, the rapist should not be allowed to exist without the woman's "consent" (once again which doesn't make sense since the rapist's penis is already in her body with or without her consent). But in my opinion life trumps liberty-look for example to quarantine law, seatbelt laws, etc.




FTFY

secularprolife.org said...

And that is what's called a red herring! Thank you sir for demonstrating to everyone a textbook logical fallacy. And shame on you for heartlessly and brutally equating a living, breathing human being to a rapist's penis. You are nothing then but your fathers penis-we are all just "a clump of cells." Learn how to intelligently respond to my examples of quarantine law and seatbelt laws where we violate choice for life and then come back. Maybe this discussion is too mature for you.

secularprolife.org said...

But sweetie, that *is* your argument - that once something is inside your body, you cannot remove it, and that the right to life always overrides the right not to have your body used and occupied against your will.

secularprolife.org said...

No my argument was that since the unborn child didn't choose to be in the body of a woman who doesn't want that child, we can't deny that child right's based on the fact that the woman never gave her consent. A woman never says to the child "I give you consent to be in my body." But my main argument-which you refuse to respond to, perhaps because you can't-is the argument that life trumps choice-if you disagree with that argument you should oppose pilot drug tests, quarantine law, and seatbelt laws. And you haven't provided evidence showing the unborn are not human beings.

secularprolife.org said...

Right...

So you support..

1) mabdatory blood and organ donation

2) forcing rape victims to give birth

secularprolife.org said...

Ok this is getting ridiculous. You refuse to respond to any of my arguments. Should we or should we not have quarantine's of infected persons against their CHOICE to save life? Should we or should we not force pilots of airlines to have no drugs or alcohol in their system before flying a plane, violating their control over what they put in their body? Answer those questions or your case is finished. But even though I asked first I'll answer your questions. Yes I do think rape victims should give birth, that's my whole point, life trumps choice and abortion doesn't right the wrong done to a woman by rape. As for mandatory blood and organ donation, I'd probably support that as long as it didn't threaten the health of the donors.

secularprolife.org said...

You don't think thay life trumps choice otherwise you would advocate that all citizens regardless of age, or sex be forced to donate body parts to save the lives of others.

You apparently only want to deny women their bodily autonomy and threaten them with psychological harm, up to and including permanent disability and death..

A rape victim did not choose to be raped, yet you would subjugate her as a slave for a mindless single cell? What crime is the rape victim guilty of that she must lose her freedom, suffer great pain and possibly death on behalf of another? Her rights will be violated - without due process- all because she committed the unforgiveable crime of being born with a uterus.

Its easy for you, a male, to pretend that pregnancy is a minor inconvenience, because you will never have to suffer for 9 months, least of all be tortured every day for that period if you were impregnated by a rapist. It will NEVER happen to you, so the harm caused to women is a big joke in your view.

And what if a pregnant rape victim is suicidal? Should she be tied to a bed and force fed for 9 months so that she does not kill your precious mindless zygote?

secularprolife.org said...

Your right to protect your body is NOT negated by the invader's innocence or "lack of intent".


No individual's "right to life" extends to the use of another person's body without their consent.

secularprolife.org said...

I'm sorry that your emotions are overwhelming your logic. Stop trying to make this a men vs. women issue. Your misogynist anti-male rhetoric obscures the real debate which is life vs. choice. You keep referring to unborn children as "single cells" and "mindless zygotes." You haven't offered any scientific evidence for such a laughable claim. Here's some evidence further confirming the personhood of the unborn.

[5] Keith L. Moore and T.V.N. Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Co., 1998): 77, 350.

The zygote is composed of human DNA and other human molecules, so its nature is undeniably human and not some other species.

The new human zygote has a genetic composition that is absolutely unique from itself, different from any other human that has ever existed, including that of its mother (thus disproving the claim that what is involved in abortion is merely "a woman and her body").[5]

It is also quite clear that the earliest human embryo is biologically alive. It fulfills the four criteria needed to establish biological life: metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction

.[7]

Carl Sagan, Billions and Billions (New York: Random House, 1997): 163-179. See The American Heritage Medical Dictionary: "The property or quality that distinguishes living organisms from dead organisms and inanimate matter, manifested in functions such as metabolism, growth, reproduction, and response to stimuli or adaptation to the environment originating from within the organism." The American Heritage Medical Dictionary, reprint edition (May 7, 2008), s.v. "Life."

secularprolife.org said...

Also I absolutely refuse to continue this debate until you actually respond to a single thing I've said. You obviously can't refute my examples of quarantine law, pilot drug tests, and seatbelt laws-instead you simply use ad hominem's (look it up in the dictionary) and red herring fallacies to obscure the debate.

secularprolife.org said...

Because, pilot drug tests, quarantine law and seatbelt laws do not *intimately* violate people's bodies, and they also serve a role beneficial for *public health*

You may not be familiar with Mcfall vs. Shimp, which basically asserted that a person's bodily autonomy cannot be violated to sustain the life of another:

For our law to compel the defendant to submit to an intrusion of his body would change the very concept and principle upon which our society is founded. To do so would defeat the sanctity of the individual, and would impose a rule which would know no limits, and one could not imagine where the line would be drawn. This request is not to be compared with an action at law for damages, but rather is an action in equity before a Chancellor, which, in the ultimate, if granted, would require the submission to the medical procedure. For a society, which respects the rights of one individual, to sink its teeth into the jugular vein or neck of one of its members and suck from it sustenance for another member, is revolting to our hard-wrought concept of jurisprudence. [Forcible] extraction of living body tissue causes revulsion to the judicial mind. Such would raise the specter of the swastika and the inquisition, reminiscent of the horrors this portends

http://www.ucs.louisiana.edu/~ras2777/judpol/mcfall.html


To demand body parts, or temporary use of the body of a person, in service of another, *is* a form of slavery and a violation of that person's constitutional rights.