The science journal Nature pushes the brave new world agendas of cloning and embryonic stem cell research with gusto and zealotry. That is why I find the below quote from a 1987 editorial that decried the use of the phony term “pre-embryo” so interesting. From the editorial, “IVF remains in legal limbo,” Nature 387 (1987): 87 (no link, my emphasis):
In other words, an embryo is a human life, a living human organism, and an honest ethical debate would acknowledge that fact and then analyze it from there.
Another [action of British government] might be to ban the use of the word ‘pre-embryo’, used by the voluntary authority as a synonym for a fertilized human ovum not yet implanted in a uterus. Put simply, this usage is a cop-out, a way of pretending that the public conflict about IVF and other innovations in human embryology can be made to go away by means of an appropriate nomenclature. The fact is that a fertilized human egg is as much deserving of being called an embryo as is a fertilized frog’s egg.
The essence of the controversy over the new human embryology centres rests on the question when, in the course of development, an embryo commands the legal respect to which free-living people are entitled. The issue turns on the necessity of implantation for development, on analogies (necessarily less persuasive) with the randomness of what happens in real-life procreation and on arguments about the realtiy of the soul (which to many is a figment of the human imagination). Even those who share the British self styled voluntary authority’s eagerness that IVF should be more widely and efficiently practiced, will acknowledge that, on the issue of nomenclature, the Vatican is philosophically the more consistent.”
Nature was right then, and that opinion remains correct today. Alas, more scientists and bioethicists then ever are playing the sophistic and political game, “Spin the Lexicon” to obtain the public policy outcomes they want. That tactic—and that is what it is, it isn’t “science”—may win them the day. But in the long run, such crass politicization will harm science by reducing it in the public’s eye to just another special interest. Indeed, I believe that devolution has already begun.
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