On Bioethics

catholic moral standing on the special ethics of life

Archive for HYBRIDS

HYBRIDS HAVE A RIGHT TO LIVE, SAY CATHOLIC BISHOPS

Coming from a different angle, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales have told a parliamentary committee that human-animal hybrid embryos conceived in the laboratory should be regarded as human and their mothers should be allowed to give birth to them. The government is currently studying legislation which will allow the creation of chimeric embryos so long as they are destroyed within 14 days. However, the bishops do not see why “interspecies” embryos should be treated any differently than others.In their submission to the committee, they said: “At the very least, embryos with a preponderance of human genes should be assumed to be embryonic human beings, and should be treated accordingly. In particular, it should not be a crime to transfer them, or other human embryos, to the body of the woman providing the ovum, in cases where a human ovum has been used to create them. Such a woman is the genetic mother, or partial mother, of the embryo; should she have a change of heart and wish to carry her child to term, she should not be prevented from doing so.”

However, the bishops still oppose the creation of chimeras — and most of the other provisions in the proposed legislation — as a violation of human rights. ~ London Telegraph, Jun 27   

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MIXING HUMAN AND ANIMAL GAMETES MAY BE NECESSARY

The UK’s leading medical research group says that creating hybrid embryos from empty animal eggs and human genetic material is “vital” for the fight against disease. As usual, media reports stressed that the resulting cell would be 99.9% human and only 0.1% animal. “There are no substantive ethical or moral reasons not to proceed with research on human embryos containing animal material under the [current] framework of regulatory control,” says Professor Martin Bobrow, a spokesman for the Academy of Medical Sciences.The Academy’s support for the Blair government’s overhaul of fertility legislation was essentially old news. However, astonishingly, Professor Bobrow also advocated creating true hybrids by mixing human and animal gametes. (These would be destroyed within 14 days, of course, as is currently the practice.) This scenario, when mooted by opponents of therapeutic cloning, has consistently been ridiculed as an absurd fantasy by science journalists and researchers. However, it is clearly on the Academy’s agenda.

“We found no current scientific reasons to generate ‘true’ hybrid embryos by mixing human and animal gametes,” the report said. “However, given the speed of this field of research, the working group could not rule out the emergence of scientifically valid reasons in the future.” This may be the first time that this controversial possibility has been flagged publicly by a leading scientist.

The report prepares the ground for these developments by dismissing ethical objections against human-animal hybrids. For one thing, it is not contrary to human dignity, because human dignity this does not exist. The Academy seems to have been paging through Peter Singer’s ruminations on “speciesism”: “On a more fundamental level, we judge it unlikely that ‘human dignity’… derives simply from species membership. If the concept of ‘human dignity’ has content, it is because there are factors of form, function or behaviour that confer such dignity or command respect.

“Either hybrid creatures would also possess these factors or they would not. If they do possess these factors, they would also have a specific type of dignity analogous or identical to human dignity that other creatures lack; if not, they would not. Either way, the distinction between creatures that possess dignity and those that do not remains as it is now,” says the report.

Dipping their toes into the “wisdom of repugance” debate, the Academy dismisses the notion of “unnaturalness” as a reason for banning hybrids. “Not only is it very difficult to specify what unnatural’ means, but it is not clear why ‘unnaturalness’ should be bad; IVF is an ‘unnatural’ process, but it has few contemporary opponents. Vaccination and antibiotic therapy, and nearly all of modern medicine, represent a scientifically informed intervention in nature.” ~ BBC, Jun 17   

BRITISH PRESSURE TO ALLOW EMBRYO HYBRIDS

Pressure is growing on the British government to permit the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for stem cell research. After a recent public consultation, it appears that the government is preparing to ban it, but there have been noisy protests from scientists and MPs. The Association of Medical Charities has sent a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair signed by 223 medical foundations and patient groups.

Whatever the public might feel, suggests the letter, the views of scientists should prevail: “They highlight the need for this work because of the shortage of human eggs for medical research and because they see it as a vital avenue of inquiry which could greatly increase our understanding of serious medical conditions and ultimately lead to new treatments.”  

Within Parliament, members of a science and technology select committee are giving hybrid embryos vigorous support. “Ministers have never provided a rational basis for their ban and their only supporters are pro-life groups and anti-science campaigners who oppose all embryo research,” says MP Evan Harris.

However, Josephine Quintavalle, director of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: “Despite the enthusiasm of this small committee, worldwide there is more opposition than support for the creation of such entities, and within the United Kingdom as well. The public should now demand an extensive and objective consultation at the highest democratic level, and by this we mean Parliament itself.” ~ BBC, Apr 5; AMC website