A Philadelphia scientist who caused a furor when he told a Vatican bioethics conference in late 2007 that embryos are human, but not human beings, has been invited back to explain his thoughts some more.
Scott Gilbert of Swarthmore College will travel to Rome next month to make his case. The Philadelphia Inquirer said Gilbert isn't sure why he's been asked back, given the reception he received last time.
Gilbert has studied for decades how humans and other animals make the journey from fertilized egg to baby. The conference, held in late 2007 in Rome, was meant to address the church's view on the beginning of life - a question with huge implications for abortion policy, emergency contraception, and stem-cell research. Gilbert, author of the popular college textbook Developmental Biology, said he was the only speaker to suggest that very early embryos were not equivalent to human beings. That led to lots of yelling and gesticulating in Italian, not all of which could be translated for him.
... "I was yelled at for saying that there is no scientific evidence that the morning-after pill causes abortions," he said. "Or I think that's what I was being yelled at for." He said he agreed with the basic premise that human life is important and should be respected and protected. But he had issues with some scientific statements that Catholic authorities were making to support the position that an early embryo - even a fertilized egg - was a human being.
Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, an ethicist with the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, is unconvinced by Gilbert.
"Scott [Gilbert] somehow seems to be able to convince himself to overlook the key point for the discussion, namely, that he himself was an embryo not so long ago. Any destructive action directed against him when he was still in that stage of his growth would mean he never would have existed to write his poorly supported paper."
The Vatican released a report on bioethics late last year that reaffirmed the Catholic position that life begins at conception.