Ep 21 – That Clump of Cells is Just a Parasite!

Posted on Updated on

Thanks for joining me for episode 21!
Click here to listen to it in a new window.

Here is my claim:
The unborn is a living, human organism.
I will use this episode to defend this claim.

How do we know that the unborn is alive?

One of the reasons that we describe life is because it’s hard to define life. If we define it in a certain way, it might include something like a virus or a tornado, and those are things that we know are not actually alive. I have a coffee mug (see image) that accurately describes life in a way that coincides with most professional biologists on the topic.

Life can be described as having the following features:

  • Irritability
  • Growth
  • Propagation
  • Inheritance
  • Movement
  • Metabolism & energy conservation

All of these things are qualities that the unborn has, so therefore the unborn must be alive.

Counter claim: “Alright, the unborn is alive. But it’s certainly not human!”

How do we know that the unborn is human?
I recorded an episode on this exact topic. Visit for that.
But I have a few more thoughts on this.

One of the reasons pro-choice people think pro-life people are crazy is cuz they think that the human is constructed like a car, rather than developed. Human beings are developed from within (like a Polaroid picture), rather than constructed (like a car). This is a morally relevant difference because the entity developing in the womb is a whole human organism, unlike a car that may be considered a car when it gets the engine or the paint job or whatever.
There isn’t a heart added at 6 weeks, the unborn develops a heart at 6 weeks.

The unborn isn’t a potential human, it is a human with potential.
If someone claims that the unborn is merely a potential human, ask the question what is it before it becomes a human. If it is a potential X, it must currently be an actual Y. What species is it before it becomes a member of the species Homo sapiens?

Counter claim: “Alright, so the living human entity, but it’s just a clump of cells! Or it is alive in the same sense that a skin cell is alive!”

How do we know that the unborn is an organism, not just a clump of cells?
One of the more quick responses is to point out that technically we are all “clumps of cells”, but I think that might confuse things. The pro-choicer is suggesting that the unborn is a clump of cells that does not function as an organism. They believe it functions more like a bag of marbles rather than a living being.
Working  off of the fact that the unborn is human, we have to ask… what do we mean by “human”? Well, gametes, somatic cells, embryos, and toddlers are human in the adjective sense, only the newly created human organism is human in the noun sense.
A skin cell is human, but it is not A HUMAN.
A fetus is both human AND A HUMAN.

If the skin cell of a male gynecologist enters the woman’s uterus during an examination, no one thinks that she will become pregnant because of that. But if a human (in the noun sense) enters the uterus, she will likely become pregnant.

This is why it’s so stupid to suggest that masturbation is genocide, or that we ought to mourn every period.
It’s a confusion of parts and wholes.
It’s a confusion of adjectives and nouns.

So what is the difference between an organism and a clump of cells?

An organism is a collection of biological parts that function together to sustain the existence of the whole being that possesses the qualities of life.

A clump of something is often used to describe something that exists as a loose collection of things that do not interact for the good of the whole. When given time, nutrition, and the proper environment, an organism will mature into a more developed member of its species. But a clump of cells will not.
When the embryo begins to exist, it has a new goal-oriented development (or telos). It now has its own aim in development.  It is no longer like an organ or a part of the woman’s body because parts of the woman’s body participate in the function of the body as a whole. The new human being is a new organism that has its own ends that it develops towards.
It’s parts are working towards the good of its own whole.
My cells are my parts working towards the good of my whole.

This is one of the reasons I refuse to use the term “product of conception” when referring to the unborn. The unborn is clearly a human organism, that is not a part of the woman’s body. Plus, the placenta is technically a product of conception, and we have to distinguish between the unborn human organism and the placenta. It’s possible for the mother to live if the unborn child dies; likewise, it’s possible for the unborn child to live if the mother dies. This could not be so if they were truly one body. Additionally, a Chinese zygote implanted in a Swedish woman will always be Chinese, not Swedish, because his identity is based on his genetic code, not on that of the body in which he resides.

Counter claim: So if the unborn is alive, a human, an organism, and completely dependent upon the mother… wouldn’t it be reasonable to consider the unborn to be a parasite? 

Is the unborn a parasite?

(my voice goes up in pitch during this part of the episode and I have no idea why. lol)

It’s interesting that so many people think that in order to be a distinct entity, the unborn child must be detached from the mother. Yet in the same breath they describe the unborn as a parasite, which is a distinct entity that lives off of the host.
You can’t have it both ways. Either it’s an organism or it’s not.
And clearly it is, as we’ve demonstrated.

Before diving into the science of parasitism, let’s ask a philosophical question.
Is a parasite the kind of entity that has a right to life?
Clearly not. In fact, we do our best to rid ourselves of parasites!

So the argument at this point could go either way.
Either we can rightly classify the unborn as a parasite and therefore it does not have the right to life, or we cannot rightly classify the unborn as a parasite and therefore we cannot kill it without proper justification. If you don’t want to get into the science, ask your interlocutor this question:
Do you agree that every adult human being has the right to not be killed? So do I.
But what exactly is it that makes that right something that all human beings have? It can’t be consciousness, IQ, brain development, or anything else that exists on a gradient. You cannot ground an unchanging right to life on something that exists on a gradient, because that would entail that some people have more of a right to life than others.

So what is it that gives all human beings a right to life?
It is the fact that they are all human.
And if the unborn is human, the unborn must have a right to life.
And therefore the unborn must not be a parasite, because a parasite is something that does not have the right to life.

Perhaps your opponent will remain unconvinced.
No scientific or philosophical backing.
It’s a dehumanizing factor.
Time to bust out the science.

What do we mean by parasite?

Technically it does not have to be a separate species, which is contrary to what a lot of pro-lifers claim. There is something called intraspecific parasitism. One of the more obvious examples is usually referred to as brood parasitism, and birds do it to other birds. Cuckoos will lay their eggs in the nests of other birds (either other cuckoos or another species) and the mother will feed that chick like it’s her own.
Ultimately this is a degree of dependency argument because a parasite is completely dependent upon the host. Arguably, if we can place the fetus in this category, we can also call newborn babies a parasite.

I have a microbiology text sitting in front of me, as well as multiple websites from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the national library of medicine (NLM), and absolutely none of them list the fetus as a parasitic organism. I like this summary of the difference between a parasite and the unborn baby:

A parasite reduces the fitness of its host; a baby increases the fitness of its parents.

There may be a superficial similarity between the baby and a parasite, but when you actually get into the details, those similarities fade away.
If you look at the way a host and parasite typically act, the host is trying to get rid of the parasite by increasing its immunological defenses. The parasite then responds by evolving more complex attacking mechanisms that circumnavigate the host’s immune system. But the relationship between the mother and the baby is intrinsically cooperative. We have even discovered that the unborn child’s stem cells can be used to help heal the mother’s hearts.

Ultimately, it all depends on what the goal of the two organisms is. In a host-parasite relationship, the host’s primary desire is to rid itself of the parasite while the parasite fights off the host’s immune system. In a parent-child relationship, the goal of both is the survival and development of the child. It get a little interesting because of the rH factor, but that is actually considered a misfiring; a mistake. The mother’s body isn’t performing correctly when her immune system attacks the baby.

Alright! I hope you enjoyed this episode!
Don’t forget to share the show with your friends. And if you review the show, I will totally give you a high-five if I see you.

Newly Discovered Functions of Pseudogenes – Elijah’s Blog

Posted on Updated on

This was a paper I wrote during the 2013 semester in my undergrad. I was particularly interested in the trends in genetics that pointed towards a more holistic understanding of the genome; a perspective that was evolving based on new information. Genes that were previously thought to have been left-over evolutionary relics were (and still are) the focus of much research and fascination. Given that it is 2016, these discoveries are still relatively new, but there certainly much newer discoveries.
Enjoy 🙂


photo-1458040937381-49c067dfd49aResearchers have noted that there are portions of the DNA that look similar to functional genes, but contain lesions or premature stop codons. These genes have been assumed to be largely non-functional, but recent research suggests that many of these ‘pseudogenes’ are actually functional.  This paper is an overview of some of the research done in the area of  pseudogene functionality. I address several recent advances in the  area of genetic research regarding pseudogene functionality  chronologically, starting from one of the first discoveries of a  functional pseudogene and ending with a paper from this year (2013). Broadly speaking, it would seem that the assumption of non-functionality has been overturned regarding many pseudogenes, and the evidence suggests that many more pseudogenes may have a function that has yet to be discovered.

Pseudogenes have been typically understood as portions of DNA  that have lost their function and remain in the DNA as a relic that  signifies past functionality. The prefix ‘pseudo-‘ indicates that  something is fake or false, and a pseudogene is a portion of DNA  that looks like a functioning gene, but is not actually functional. Pseudogenes have been placed in the ‘junk DNA’ category, ‘dead’, non-functional by-products of evolution. If a pseudogene is transcribed at all, it is often considered to be largely a neutral process that hasn’t been weeded out by selection. However, recent evidence has shown that many pseudogenes have very important functions in the genome of nearly every organism, humans included. There are very good reasons to revise the definition of ‘pseudogene’ to include a wide variety of biological functions, from gene expression and cellular function to gene regulation and tumor suppression. The newly discovered functions are making the term ‘pseudogene’ notoriously ambiguous. This review will analyze a small handful of functions discovered for pseudogenes that were previously assumed to be non-functional byproducts of genome evolution. It is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment of newly discovered pseudogene functionality. Functions are being ascribed to pseudogenes on a fairly regular basis in contemporary genetics literature, and some of the literature is reviewed in chronological order. Read the rest of this entry »

Cancer. What the Heck is it? – Elijah’s Blog

Posted on Updated on

Many of you have likely encountered a kind of hype that is based almost entirely on the ignorance of the readers. People get a small glimpse into something they [rightfully] see as important, but because they don’t really understand it… they end up drawing erroneous conclusions.

Lets face it: many people don’t really understand cancer. And that’s why one of the topics I chose to research during my undergraduate studies was cancer; and this post is an adaptation from that study.
Cancer is a difficult disease to understand, and people will often assume that there is some easy cure ‘out there’ and it is being concealed/ignored because cancer research facilities are just in it for the money (or some other equally implausible conspiracy theory).

The first step in correcting this misconception is to understand what cancer is. With a proper understanding of the complexities of cancer, we can (hopefully) communicate this with people who do not understand it.

Cancer – What the Heck is it?

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-1-55-14-amCancer is the name given to a large group of diseases  that behave in a variety of different ways, depending on the type of cell from which they originate. Broadly speaking, cancer is associated with at least two  primary symptoms: uncontrolled cell division and metastasis. In normal cells, the cell cycle is a tightly regulated system that is highly controlled and  managed by proteins, enzymes and the corresponding  genes on the DNA molecule. In some cells, however, the regulations of normal cell processes are interrupted/altered by mutations. These mutations cause many genes to be expressed inappropriately, and this can lead to cancer.

In a normally operating cell, the cell cycle typically goes through several phases of growth and reproduction, and if everything goes “according to plan”, it will live its life until it undergoes a “programmed cell death”, known as apoptosis. However, when a normal cell becomes cancerous, it is because there is an accumulation of mutations in critical portions of the DNA that are vital for normal cell functioning. There are many parts of the DNA molecule that are vital for normal cell functioning, including proto-oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. These two genes play a particularly important role when diagnosing cancer.

Proto-oncogenes are genes that code for transcription factors, which stimulate the expression of other genes that control different aspects of the cell cycle. The proto-oncogenes are turned on and off, depending on the cell’s needs. In cancerous cells, proto-oncogenes are mutated into oncogenes (cancer-causing genes), resulting in constant expression of the gene that was previously only turned on when needed. This signals to the cell to constantly divide by giving it a constant “green light”, resulting in uncontrollable division.

Tumor suppressor genes are genes that “keep an eye on” the cell cycle, and initiate the process of apoptosis when needed. In a normal cell, proteins coded for by the tumor suppressor genes will inspect the cell cycle at certain checkpoints, making sure everything is in working order. If the cell needs to die, a properly functioning tumor suppressor gene will initiate the process. However, when the cell becomes cancerous, the tumor suppressor gene is turned off, and apoptosis is not induced at the appropriate times during the cell cycle. There is uncontrolled cell growth in the cancerous cells and, as the name suggests, tumors are no longer suppressed.

Generally speaking, cancer is caused by an accumulation  of genetic mutations in certain portions of the DNA (as  discussed above). However, there are a variety of ways that  an individual could accumulate these cancerous mutations:  genetic predispositions, sun (UV light) exposure and  carcinogens. If someone has a genetic predisposition to  cancer, this does not mean that they will definitely get cancer, because ultimately the mutations are random. However, this does mean that there is a higher likelihood that that individual will get cancer. The reason they are more likely to get cancer is because they may already have a mutated copy of a vital gene (allele), given to them by one of their parents. People without a genetic predisposition do not have an allele of the cancerous gene, and are therefore less likely to get cancer. However, both people are susceptible to cancer.

Over exposure to UV radiation is another way that someone may get cancer. The UV radiation has the ability to penetrate the cell in a way that other forms of light cannot, causing mutations in the DNA. In some instances, the UV radiation causes two nucleotides (thymines) to connect with each other (instead of the corresponding adenines), creating a “thymine-dimer”, which is one of the primary causes of skin cancer.

Carcinogens are another hazardous way that someone may get cancer. Like the UV light, carcinogens directly cause mutations in the DNA by interacting with it on the molecular level. Relatively common carcinogens include cigarette smoke, asbestos, engine exhaust, and viruses such as human papilloma virus.

In general, cancer is a relatively un-curable disease. It is treatable at the moment, but because cancer is a fundamental change at the DNA level, cancer only ever goes into remission. There may be some advancement in cancer research in the future, but for the time being, all we can do is understand what causes cancer and how we can prevent exposure to these things.

Why You Should Genetically Engineer Your Children – Elijah’s Blog

Posted on Updated on

This was the paper I read during episode 5 of the podcast. I moved it here because it made sense to be a part of this website, and because I’m trying to phase out my old blog and much of that content here. This was the one of the longest research projects I did during my undergrad bioethics class, under the advisement of biology professor Dr. Amy McMillan and philosophy professor, Dr. Jason Grinnell. It has been highly edited in order to be submitted to Ball State’s Undergrad Philosophy Journal… but, unfortunately by the time it was submitted, I no longer qualified as an undergraduate. And so, here it is.
On my website! I guess that’s almost as good, right? 😛

photo-1475716220633-d3f9c6073750Most of us would do anything to help our children have the best future possible. We would make sure they had the best prenatal environment, the best diet and be sent to the best schools, all so that they could have the best possible future opportunities. But what would we do if we could, before they were born, alter our child’s genes in order to guarantee that advantage? The choice of genetically engineering our children is rapidly becoming a scientific reality, and we are faced with the question: If we are able to safely engineer a child at the genetic level… should we?

Genetic engineering is a topic that is greeted with a combination of curiosity, skepticism and apprehension. Those in favor of genetic engineering have been accused of “playing God”, whereas those opposed have been characterized as being against scientific progress. Many people view genetic engineering as something confined to the domain of science fiction; something so far in the future that it needn’t be worried about. However, with the advance of modern technology, this attitude towards genetic engineering is not only misguided, but can be dangerous.

Nearly every advance in technology comes with unanswered questions, and genetic engineering is no different. What should we do? What will happen if we make certain decisions? How will our decisions affect society? If we have the ability to do it safely, is it ethically permissible to genetically engineer our children? Is there an ethical difference between genetic enhancement and genetic  therapy? As people living in the time where genetic engineering is a real possibility, it is vital that we address the bioethical issues surrounding this controversial topic. If we procrastinate in this area and do not address these issues before they  come up, we will inevitably make poor decisions that could have been avoided. Like  many advancements in science and technology, genetics provides us with an  opportunity to be good stewards with what we have. But it also offers us a unique  opportunity as well; “… we can begin to determine not simply who will live and who will die, but what all those who live in the future will be like” (Harris & Burley, 2004) Read the rest of this entry »

Episode 11 – Is the Unborn Biologically Human?

Posted on Updated on

iTunes LogoHey guys!
To listen to this episode in a separate window, click here.
Not much of a show notes page for this one, but there are a few links that I want to include:

My post at Is the Unborn a Biological Human Being?

Democrats Adopt National Platform Forcing Americans to Pay for Free Abortions

Texas Observer’s interview with Cecile Richards

Hillary Clinton’s Pro-Abortion Nightmare

Thanks for listening! Don’t forget to rate and review the show, and tell your friends 🙂