The NIH would like to create human-animal chimera embryos

I’m generally not opposed to animal testing where it’s the only way to advance medical science which benefits humanity and is done in the most humane way possible, but even I find this creepy. The National Institute of Health is looking at new rounds of experiments which would involve the creation of so-called “chimera” embryos which combine human DNA with that of animals. While assuring everyone that such Island of Dr. Moreau abominations would never be allowed to develop into fully functioning animals, the implications are still disturbing enough to raise a lot of resistance if an existing moratorium on such practices is lifted by the Obama administration. (NPR)

The federal government announced plans Thursday to lift a moratorium on funding of certain controversial experiments that use human stem cells to create animal embryos that are partly human.

The National Institutes of Health is proposing a new policy to permit scientists to get federal money to make embryos, known as chimeras, under certain carefully monitored conditions.

The NIH imposed a moratorium on funding these experiments in September because they could raise ethical concerns.

One issue is that scientists might inadvertently create animals that have partly human brains, endowing them with some semblance of human consciousness or human thinking abilities. Another is that they could develop into animals with human sperm and eggs and breed, producing human embryos or fetuses inside animals or hybrid creatures.

There have been advancements in medical science over the years using modified animal tissue which have been quite promising and I had no trouble supporting them. One of the most commonly discussed examples was the idea of using pig livers to keep human beings alive when a human donor wasn’t available. (One woman in Canada underwent that procedure until a donor liver arrived and went on to live a long, productive life.) There are many other examples of such innovative advancements, but as with anything else we need to ask if there isn’t someplace where we draw the line.

I’m willing to concede that it should be very simple to prevent any chimera created in this fashion from coming to term and being “born” as a self-sustaining creature. It sounds like it would be a monumental challenge to try to create such a living monstrosity even if you wanted to. But is that really the only objection? No matter where you come down on the issue of abortion and when life truly begins or what constitutes a person, few would argue that an embryo is “alive” in the most basic sense of the word. Should we truly be able to summon forth even the most basic roots of a creature created from a human being and a beast?

Our friend Steven Ertelt explores some of the moral and ethical quandaries surrounding this question and there are many of them. Even if such a hybrid never sees the light of day, I can’t get past the overall creepiness of it. In the end, it seems to come back to the fundamental objections raised by Jeff Goldblum’s character in the original Jurassic Park movie. Are our scientists becoming, so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should?

There’s something very wrong going on here. I won’t pretend to be enough of a scientist to debate the definitions of embryonic development with the NIH, but common sense dictates that we simply shouldn’t be doing this.

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