The English have decided that they will allow their scientists to combine human genes with animal genes to make embryos.

The embryos will not be a few human genes in an animal embryo, or a few animal genes in a human embryo, but a full blown merger of animal eggs and bird eggs to form a “chimera”, a mixed animal human being.

This type of research, producing semi human beings, has a huge “YUCK FACTOR”, to use Arthur Caplan’s term for medical or scientific deeds that repel the average person.

But the supporters say that the public supported the research:

An HFEA consultation showed the public were “at ease” with the idea when told it could pave the way for therapies for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

There are many lies behind this statement.

First of all, Alzheimer’s disease is caused by the accumulation of an abnormal protein. Scientists don’t think putting new cells into the brain will “cure” it, for as you know, they will be killed by the same abnormal protein. Research is now aimed at using drugs to stop the protein formation, and then helping one’s own neurons to regenerate.
Second, just adding cells doesn’t necessarily mean they will rewire themselves correctly…and if they don’t connect correctly, you haven’t cured anything. Or they may overgrow causing tumors or other neurologic diseases, such as happened with earlier experiments that were touted as “cures” for people with Parkinson’s disease backfired.
Third, there are ethical ways to get stem cells, both from brain biopsies and from other places: Bone marrow, cord blood. These experiments are still going on.

Even if only embryonic cells would work (which seems less likely with every passing month, as adult stem cells prove their malleability) it’s not clear why scientists need to form a human/animal embryonic stem cell would be preferred to an ordinary human stem cell. Indeed, the chance of rejection would be even higher.

Which brings us to the next step, one anticipated by all but not one that anyone is daring to say out loud.

The only logical reason for producing a chimera is to grow organ replacements.

Yes, I know. Just like Clones, the scientists “promise” to destroy the embryos before they are over 14 days old. That will settle the fears of primitives who worry that Fido might have a kid with their daughter’s egg.

But why do it at all? Why not mix Fido’s egg with one from Curious Georgette, and experiment on a Chimpanzee/dog embryo?

Well, one big reason might be to produce cheap organ replacements.

A lot of the cloning debate has a similar unspoken argument:

you need an organ.

The best organ would be one that matches your DNA.

So if you don’t have a twin, you could “clone” an embryo to grow your organ. You do a “partial birth” abortion, or you give a medicine to stop the fetal brain development, so that the child is born brain dead and can ethically used as an organ donor.

But this might cause an outcry, as happened ten years ago when the AMA suggested that live anencephalic babies could be used as organ donors. Scientifically, they were going to die anyway, and if they did not meet the criteria for brain death, they didn’t have much brain, so why not?
But a huge outcry of protests stopped that in it’s tracks. The YUCK factor at work. You just don’t take a baby who sucks and cries and poops and yank out it’s heart, even if the top of it’s brain is missing, said the public.

So logically, the next step would be a chimera.

Why not just make a non human source of such organs, say a pig. Pig organs fit humans in size, but don’t match genetically, so have a high risk of rejection. So if you make a pig/human embryo, and voila, organs to order on the hoof.

Think I am exaggerating? Think again…LINK

The researchers expressed aim is to find alternatives to organ donation, however as to the whether they are making human/pig hybrid embryos, it seems to be a matter of semantics.

“The application clearly asks for permission to patent a process enabling the transfer of a nucleus from one species into another species and the production of a transgenic embryo, , and there does not appear to be any restriction on whether the donor or recipient cell is human,” science legal expert Dr Dianne Nicol from the University of Tasmania told ABC Science Online.

All of this has a huge “YUCK” Factor, of course, but never mind. The human mind can get used to anything.

A Christian or Buddhist or a Greenpeace activist would note that this emotional response is the conscience, a warning that the deed is wrong.

But of course, in modern medical ethics, we are told it is an emotional response, and that we must steel our hearts and be logical about these things.

So into this strange brew of discussion (or non discussion: the average person would be horrified at some of the suggestions in bioethics journals) comes the Catholic bishops of England to put their two cents in.

And the Bishops say:

The bishops said they didn’t know why the “interspecies” embryos should be treated any differently than human embryos that are 100 percent human. “At the very least, embryos with a preponderance of human genes should be assumed to be embryonic human beings, and should be treated accordingly,” they said, according to a London Telegraph report.

“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,” they added.

“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,” they said.

Now we are getting into the realm of science fiction. From H.G. Wells Island of Dr. Moreau to Cordwainer Smith’s underpeople, the question is raised:
Does a Chimera have a soul? Do they have human dignity? Do we treat them as animals, to be used or exploited for our own needs, or do we treat them as brothers to be cared for and loved?
Catholic logic says a child conceived is nevertheless a child, whether it be conceived in horrible rape or in a test tube or in the act of love. And a child conceived of a human parent, even if part of it’s genes are non human, is nevertheless a child, loved by God.

You may not agree, but the answer is logical.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She has published in medical ethics. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket, and she writes medical essays at HeyDoc Xanga Blog.

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