Stem Cells: A Response to Ron Reagan-Part 1

By: ATRI Research Staff; ©2004
We are hearing a lot of misleading statements in the press today regarding the source of embryonic stem cells. Chief among them is that “no fetuses are created, none destroyed” during the process. Why is this statement, made by Ron Reagan at the Democratic National Convention wrong?

When Does Life Begin?

If you listened to Ron Reagan, son of the late President Ronald Reagan, as he addressed the Democratic National Convention, you heard him make these remarks about stem cell re­search:

…imagine going to a doctor who, instead of prescribing drugs, takes a few skin cells from your arm. The nucleus of one of your cells is placed into a donor egg whose own nucleus has been removed. A hit of chemical or electrical stimulation will encourage your cell’s nucleus to begin dividing, creating new cells which will then be placed into a tissue culture. Those cells will generate embryonic stem cells containing only your DNA, thereby eliminating the risk of tissue rejection….
By the way, no fetal tissue is involved in this process. No fetuses are created, none destroyed. This all happens in the laboratory at the cellular level.[1]

What Reagan is actually describing here is a technique known as “therapeutic cloning.” Remember Dolly the sheep? She was produced as a result of “reproductive” cloning:

This kind of cloning involves taking the nucleus of a body (somatic) cell and introducing it into an egg cell which has had its nucleus removed. The resultant cloned embryo is then implanted into a uterus to bring it to birth.[2]

The only difference between reproductive cloning—which results in the birth of a live sheep, or potentially in the future a live human being—and therapeutic cloning, is what happens to the embryo:

Therapeutic cloning, also called “embryo cloning,” is the production of human embryos for use in research. The goal of this process is not to create cloned human beings, but rather to harvest stem cells that can be used to study human development and to treat disease. Stem cells are important to biomedical researchers because they can be used to generate virtually any type of specialized cell in the human body. Stem cells are extracted from the egg after it has divided for 5 days. The egg at this stage of development is called a blastocyst. The extraction process destroys the embryo, which raises a variety of ethical concerns.[3]

A publication from the Family Research Council reveals that “[t]herapeutic cloning is some­times referred to as the ‘clone and kill’ technique.”[4]

In Vitro Fertilization

The National Institutes for Health publication “Stem Cell Information” reveals another source for embryonic stem cells:

Embryonic stem cells, as their name suggests, are derived from embryos. Specifically, embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos that develop from eggs that have been fertilized in vitro—in an in vitro fertilization clinic—and then donated for research purposes with informed consent of the donors. They are not derived from eggs fertilized in a woman’s body. The embryos from which human embryonic stem cells are derived are typically four or five days old….[5]

The White House “Embryonic Stem Cell Research Fact Sheet” expands on this theme:

Embryonic stem cells are derived from excess embryos created in the course of infertility treatment. As a result of standard in vitro fertilization practices, many excess human embryos are created. Participants in IVF treatment must ultimately decide the disposition of these excess embryos, and many individuals have donated their excess embryos for research purposes.[6]

Fetal Stem Cells

A third source for the embryonic stem cell is what is known as the “fetal” or “germ” cell. These are extracted from the ovaries and testes of aborted fetuses.[7]

Are the Embryos Human Beings?

So the most urgent question before us is when does life begin? Because if it begins at fertili­zation, the embryo, even in the pre-implantation stage (called a blastocyst) is still a human being. That would mean Ron Reagan’s remarks were, at best misleading (the embryo is killed before it can reach the fetal stage). At worst, it is a deliberate attempt to cover the truth.

Becky Davis, Paul Riccio and Meika Hashimoto make some important points in their article, “Ethical and Public Policy Issues Concerning Stem Cell Research”:

Erik Parens of the Hastings Center [states] that, “… It is ultimately (if not immediately) in everyone’s best interest to be as clear as possible about the facts. One of those is that ES cell research cannot be done without destroying embryos….” Human embryonic stem cells (hES) are obtained from embryos. Embryonic germ cells (hEG) are derived from the developing fetus. Stem cells created by somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) require an enucleated oocyte and in vitro fertilization requires both egg and sperm….[8]

But if nothing except time and incubation[9] separate the embryo from the live-born baby, where, along the line from conception (fertilization) to live birth does the embryo become a living human being? Below, we give an extended quote from our book The Facts on Abortion, in which we address the evidence for when life begins. The reader is urged to consider this information carefully.

What does modern science conclude about when human life begins?

The scientific authorities on when life begins are biologists. But these are often the last people consulted in seeking an answer to the question. What modern science has concluded is crystal clear: Human life begins at conception. This is a matter of scientific fact, not philosophy, speculation, opinion, conjecture, or theory. Today, the evidence that human life begins at con­ception is a fact so well documented that no intellectually honest and informed scientist or physician can deny it.

In 1973, the Supreme Court concluded in its Roe v. Wade decision that it did not have to decide the “difficult question” of when life begins. Why? In essence, they said, “It is impossible to say when human life begins.”[10] The Court misled the public then, and others continue to mislead the public today.

Anyone familiar with recent Supreme Court history knows that two years before Roe V.Wade, in October 1971, a group of 220 distinguished physicians, scientists, and professors submitted an amicus curiae brief (advice to a court on some legal matter) to the Supreme Court. They showed the Court how modern science had already established that human life is a con­tinuum and that the unborn child from the moment of conception on is a person and must be considered a person, like its mother.[11] The brief set as its task “to show how clearly and conclu­sively modern science—embryology, fetology, genetics, perinatology, all of biology—establishes the humanity of the unborn child.”[12] For example, “In its seventh week, [the pre-born child] bears the familiar external features and all the internal organs of the adult…. The brain in configuration is already like the adult brain and sends out impulses that coordinate the function of other or­gans…. The heart beats sturdily. The stomach produces digestive juices. The liver manufac­tures blood cells and the kidneys begin to function by extracting uric acid from the child’s blood…. The muscles of the arms and body can already be set in motion. After the eighth week… everything is already present that will be found in the full term baby.”[13] This brief proved beyond any doubt scientifically that human life begins at conception and that “the unborn is a person within the meaning of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.”[14]

In fact, prior to Roe v. Wade, nearly every medical and biological textbook assumed or taught that human life begins at conception. That human life begins at conception was an accepted medical fact, but not necessarily a discussed medical fact. This is why many textbooks did not devote a discussion to this issue. But many others did. For example, Mr. Patrick A. Trueman helped prepare a 1975 brief before the Illinois Supreme Court on the unborn child. He noted,

We introduced an affidavit from a professor of medicine detailing 19 textbooks on the subject of embryology used in medical schools today which universally agreed that human life begins at conception… those textbooks agree that is when human life begins. The court didn’t strike that down—the court couldn’t strike that down because there was a logical/biological basis for that law.[15]

Thus, even though the Supreme Court had been properly informed as to the scientific evi­dence, they still chose to argue that the evidence was insufficient to show the pre-born child was fully human. In essence, their decision merely reflected social engineering and opinion, not scientific fact. Even during the growing abortion debate in 1970, the editors of the scientific journal California Medicine noted the “curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra­uterine until death.”[16]

Even 25 years after the abortion revolution that politicized scientific opinion, medical texts today still often assume or affirm that human life begins at conception. For example, Keith L. Moore is professor and chairman of the Department of Anatomy at the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine. His text, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, is widely used in core courses in medical embryology. This text asserts:

The processes by which a child develops from a single cell are miraculous.
Human development is a continuous process that begins when an ovum from a female is fertilized by a sperm from a male. Growth and differentiation transform the zygote, a single cell… into a multicellular adult human being.[17]

The reference to the “miraculous processes in a purely secular text is not surprising. Even a single strand of DNA from a human cell contains information equivalent to a library of 1,000 volumes. The complexity of the zygote itself according to Dr. Hymie Gordon, chief geneticist at the Mayo Clinic, “is so great that it is beyond our comprehension.”[18] In a short nine months’ time, one fertilized ovum grows into 6,000 million cells that become a living, breathing person.

Further, medical dictionaries and encyclopedias all affirm that the embryo is human. Among many we could cite are Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary, Tuber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, and the Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health, which defines the embryo as “the human young from the time of fertilization of the ovum until the beginning of the third month.”[19]

In 1981, the United States Congress conducted hearings to answer the question, “When does human life begin?” A group of internationally known scientists appeared before a Senate judiciary subcommittee.[20] The U.S. Congress was told by Harvard University Medical School’s Professor Micheline Matthews-Roth, “In biology and in medicine, it is an accepted fact that the life of any individual organism reproducing by sexual reproduction begins at conception….”[21]

Dr. Watson A. Bowes, Jr., of the University of Colorado Medical School, testified that “the beginning of a single human life is from a biological point of view a simple and straightforward matter—the beginning is conception. This straightforward biological fact should not be distorted to serve sociological, political or economic goals.”[22]

Dr. Alfred Bongiovanni of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School noted: “The standard medical texts have long taught that human life begins at conception.”[23]

He added: “I am no more prepared to say that these early stages represent an incomplete human being than I would be to say that the child prior to the dramatic effects of puberty… is not a human being. This is human life at every stage albeit incomplete until late adolescence.”[24]

Dr. McCarthy De Mere, who is a practicing physician as well as a law professor at the Univer­sity of Tennessee, testified: “The exact moment of the beginning [of] personhood and of the human body is at the moment of conception.”[25]

World-famous geneticist Dr. Jerome Lejeune, professor of fundamental genetics at the Uni­versity of Descarte, Paris, France, declared, “each individual has a very unique beginning, the moment of its conception.”[26]

Dr. Lejeune also emphasized: “The human nature of the human being from conception to old age is not a metaphysical contention, it is plain experimental evidence.”[27]

The chairman of the Department of Medical Genetics at the Mayo Clinic, Professor Hymie Gordon, testified, “By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the mo­ment of conception.”[28]

He further emphasized: “now we can say, unequivocally, that the question of when life be­gins… is an established scientific fact…. It is an established fact that all life, including human life, begins at the moment of conception.”[29]

At that time the U.S. Senate proposed Senate Bill 158, called the “Human Life Bill.” These hearings, which lasted eight days, involving 57 witnesses, were conducted by Senator John East. This Senate report concluded:

Physicians, biologists, and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginning of the life of a human being—a being that is alive and is a member of the human species. There is overwhelming agreement on this point in countless medical, biological, and scientific writings.[30]

In 1981, only a single scientist disagreed with the majority’s conclusion, and he did so on philosophical rather than scientific grounds. In fact, abortion advocates, although invited to do so, failed to produce even one expert witness who would specifically testify that life begins at any other point than conception.[31]

Many other biologists and scientists agree that life begins at conception. All agree that there is no point of time or interval of time between conception and birth when the unborn is anything but human.

Professor Roth of Harvard University Medical School has emphasized, “It is incorrect to say that the biological data cannot be decisive…. It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception, when the egg and sperm join to form the zygote, and that this developing human always is a member of our species in all stages of its life.”[32]

In conclusion, we agree with pioneer medical researcher, Landrum B. Shettles, M.D., Ph.D., that, “There is one fact that no one can deny; human beings begin at conception.”[33]

Again, let us stress that this is not a matter of religion, it is solely a matter of science. Scien­tists of every religious view and no religious view—agnostic, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist, Christian, Hindu, etc.—all agree that life begins at conception. This explains why, for example, the Interna­tional Code of Medical Ethics asserts: “A doctor must always bear in mind the importance of preserving human life from the time of conception until death.”[34]

This is also why the Declaration of Geneva holds physicians to the following: “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception; even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity.”[35] These statements can be found in the World Medical Association Bulletin for April 1949 (vol.1, p. 22) and January 1950 (vol. 2, p. 5). In 1970, the World Medical Association again reaffirmed the Declaration of Geneva.[36]

What difference does it make that human life begins at conception? The difference is this: If human life begins at conception, then the process of harvesting stem cells, like abortion, is the killing of a human life.

To deny this fact is scientifically impossible.[37]

How has modern technology shown that human life begins at conception?

Recent developments of medical technology such as sound imaging and fetoscopy have permitted us to look into the womb and observe fetal development even from the point of con­ception. In terms of what we knew before, the difference is like observing a person’s reflection in a pond compared to observing his reflection in a mirror. Modern fetology has given us an amaz­ing and incredible look at the growth of the tiny individual in the mother’s womb.[38]

Dr. Bernard Nathanson discusses how advances in modern technology caused him to radi­cally alter his pro-abortion beliefs. Once known as “the abortion king” because of his promi­nence in the field and his presiding over 60,000 abortions,[39] he is today a vocal opponent of abortion because recent scientific advances in fetology forced him to accept the fact that the fetus was really a living human being:

Ultrasound technology has been really the apparatus which has put the window in the womb. This was the first time we really could see the baby. Up till that time we never could. I mean, X-rays were static. You couldn’t really use X-rays to prove or disprove much of anything about the fetus. But ultrasound gives us these very clear, precise pictures, allows us to stimulate the child, see how it breathes, see how it moves, see how it swallows, see how it urinates, see how everything happens.
Now, there’s been a new advance in this ultrasound technology which is known as transvaginal sonography. It’s very exciting. [Before] the pictures were great, but they don’t compare to these pictures—it’s valuable for very early pregnancies.
We can see the gestational sac—the little sac of the pregnancy at two weeks following fertilization now with transvaginal sonography. [We] can see the heart beginning to beat at around 3 [to] 3-1/2 weeks now. So this has pushed back or updated a great many of our data about the unborn baby.

And I don’t doubt that there are new technologies coming even now; for example, color ultrasound which is going to give us even clearer, more vivid pictures and increase our knowl­edge about the unborn patient here.[40]

The reason why modern science has come to the conclusion that human life begins at con­ception is because sound imaging and modern fetology have supported this judgment dramati­cally.[41] Every scientific law known (e.g., biogenesis—that is, life comes only from life) and every scientific fact (e.g., at conception a genetically new and unique human individual exists) de­mands this conclusion.

All of this is why the origin of human life cannot be defined at any other point (e.g., viability) than conception.


  1. Ron Reagan’s speech at the Democratic National Convention,>. Emphasis added.
  2. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Stem Cell Research, Cloning & Human Embryos (Family Research Council, 801 G Street NW, Washington, DC 20001), p. 4.
  4. Pacholczyk, Stem Cell Research, p. 5.
  5. National Institutes of Health, “Stem Cell Information,” Note that this same site defines “embryo” as: “In humans, the developing organism from the time of fertilization until the end of the eighth week of gestation, when it becomes known as a fetus.”
  7. Pacholczyk, Stem Cell Research, p. 2; cf. Christian Medical & Dental Associations, Stem Cell Overview,
  8. Becky Davis, Paul Riccio, and Meika Hashimoto (Scott Gilbert, ed), “Ethical and Public Policy Issues Concerning Stem Cell Research,” Parens quote from Erik Parens, “Bio­technology and Biosciences Research Council.” Accessed May 3 2002. <>. Emphasis added.
  9. Incubate: To maintain (eggs, organisms, or living tissue) at optimal environmental conditions for growth and development. (
  10. Lawyer Cooperative, U.S. Supreme Court Reports, vol. 35 (1974), Roe v. Wade, 410 US 113, p. 181; 410 US 113 at 159; cf. Harold 0. J. Brown, Death Before Birth (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1977), p. 81, cf. pp. 73-96; John Warwick Montgomery, “The Rights of the Unborn Children,” The Simon Greenleaf Law Review, vol. 5 (1985- 86), p. 64.
  11. Motion filed in the Supreme Court of the United States, Oct. 15, 1971 (Re: No. 70-18 and No. 70-40), titled Motion and Brief Amicus Curiae of Certain Physicians, Professionals and Fellows of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Support of Appellees, Dennis J. Horan et al., United States District Court 1971, pp.19, 29-30.
  12. Ibid., p. 7.
  13. Ibid., pp. 13-14.
  14. Ibid., p. 64, cf. pp. 19-20, 58-64.
  15. Television program transcript, “Abortion,” Chattanooga, TN, The John Ankerberg Evangelistic Association, 1982, p. 2.
  16. California Medicine, vol. 113, no. 3 (Sept. 1970), p. 67.
  17. Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Sanders, 1982), p.1, emphasis added.
  18. Thomas W. Hilgers, Dennis J. Horan, Abortion and Social Justice (Thaxton, VA: Sun Life, 1980), p. 5.
  19. Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health (Philadelphia: W.B. Sanders Co., 1978), 2nd ed., p. 335.
  20. The Subcommittee on Separation of Powers, Report to Senate Judiciary Committee S-158, 97th Congress, First Session, 1981.
  21. Ibid., cf. Richard Exley, Abortion: Pro-life by Conviction, Pro-choice by Default (Tulsa, OK: Honor Books, 1989), p.18; Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics: Options and Issues (Grand Rapids, Ml: Baker, 1989), p. 149.
  22. Landrum B. Shettles, Rites of Life: The Scientific Evidence for Life Before Birth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983), p. 114.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid.
  26. The Subcommittee on Separation of Powers, Report to Senate Judiciary Committee S-158, 97th Congress, First Session, 1981; cf. Richard Exley, Abortion: Pro-life by Conviction, Pro-choice by Default (Tulsa, OK: Honor Books, 1989), p. 18.
  27. Ibid.; cf. Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics: Options and Issues (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), 1989, p. 149.
  28. Ibid., Report to Senate.
  29. Ibid., and Richard Exley, Abortion: Pro-life by Conviction, Pro-choice by Default (Tulsa, OK: Honor Books, 1989), p. 18.
  30. Dr. and Mrs. J. C. Willke, Handbook on Abortion and Abortion Questions and Answers (Hayes Publishing Co., 1985), p. 40.
  31. Shettles, Rites of Life: The Scientific Evidence for Life Before Birth, p. 113. A few held that life may begin at implantation. However, implantation, while important, in no way defines life.
  32. The Subcommittee on Separation of Powers, Report to Senate; cf. Exley, Abortion: Pro-life by Conviction, Pro-choice by Default, p.18; Geisler, Christian Ethics: Options and Issues, p. 149.
  33. Landrum B. Shettles in Abortion: Opposing Viewpoints (New York: Greenhaven Press, 1986), p. 16, emphasis added.
  34. Hilgers and Horan, p. 317.
  35. Ibid.
  36. Ibid.
  37. But to accept this fact and maintain that taking human life is not morally wrong is incredible. It is even reminiscent of Nazi Germany and yet today such arguments are increasingly accepted (e.g. Biomedical Ethics and the Law by James M. Humber and Robert F. Almeder, page 16; cf. note 3).
  38. John C. Fletcher, Mark I. Evans, “Maternal Bonding in Early Fetal Ultrasound Examinations,” New England Journal of Medicine, February 17, 1983.
  39. Bernard N. Nathanson, “Deeper into Abortion,” New England Journal of Medicine, Nov.28, 1974, p. 1189.
  40. Initial transcript, The Ankerberg Theological Research Institute, Is Abortion Justifiable? televised program, Jan.1990, p. 7.
  41. Geisler, Christian Ethics: Options and Issues, p. 140.2SIStaff0804 Stem Cells: A Response to Ron Reagan—Part 1

Read Part 2


  1. […] When Does Life Begin? By: ATRI Research Staff […]

Leave a Comment