Monday, May 26, 2008

Questions about a creating a "human-animal" Hybrid

In Greek mythology, Chimera is a monstrous creature of Lycia in Asia Minor, which was made of the parts of multiple animals. It was said to have the head of a lion, body of a goat, and tail of dragon. Chimera was one of the offspring of Typhon and Echidna and a sibling of such monsters as Cerberus and the Lernaean Hydra.

A Chimera is however made of parts of multiple animals. What if we mix 50% human genetic material and 50% chimpanzee genetic materials. What we get is not a chimera but a hydrid, a "humanzee". We have the technology. The question is "should we do it?"

Shall we create a humanzee?

David Albert Jones, Professor of Bioethics at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham answers the following questions:

1. Without appealing to religion, is there any reason to think that from fertilisation there is a new human life? Isn’t the early embryo just a ball of cells?

2. How can anyone seriously believe that the early embryo has the same moral status as a twenty-four week foetus or as a newborn baby? Isn’t it obvious that there is a gradual growth in value or moral status from fertilisation to birth?

3. If you can now create embryos from parthenogenesis (i.e. without the need for male fertilisation of the egg) – and potentially from any cell in the body by de-differentiation – don’t we have to think now about all human cells being ‘potential’ human lives? Doesn’t this fatally undermine the idea that there is something ‘special’ about the embryo?

4. Surely if the human-animal embryo is not human then it is better to use it than a human embryo? Shouldn’t you be welcoming this rather than objecting to it as a way of avoiding the creation and destruction of new human life?

5. Isn’t talk of live born animal-human hybrids scaremongering? No one is planning to bring them to birth and, as long as they are destroyed before 14 days, there is no problem.

6. Is the human-animal embryo even an embryo? After all, it does not originate from fertilisation in the ordinary way and it has no potential to develop if we do not implant it.

7. Is there any new moral issue here? Haven’t scientists been combining animal and human material for years? What about the ‘hamster test’?

8. In a pluralist society what right has a religious minority to impose religious views on everyone else?

9. Should those who oppose this research refuse to use any medical treatments that it produces?

10. Don’t we have an ethical duty to pursue this research if it might lead to cures for diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s? What real, ethical objection is there to keeping all avenues open, provided that all the research is done on very early-stage embryos?

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