Subscribe now

Article

More in this category:

Hybridising humans

March 2008

Hybridising humans

A series of parliamentary votes in January opened the way for the creation of animal-human hybrids for research purposes. Researchers will be allowed to insert human DNA into empty animal eggs in order to create a hybrid embryo. This embryo can be experimented upon but must be destroyed within 14 days.

Christian lawyers have called the legislation an attack on ‘the very core of who we are as a society, what we value as human beings, and how we view the unique dignity of humanity’. It means that scientists in Britain – alone amongst western democracies – can create entities which are neither truly human nor entirely animal.

The experiments involve transferring nuclei containing DNA from human cells into animal eggs that have been stripped of their own cell nuclei (thus removing most but not all of the animal cell’s genetic information). The resulting embryos are more than 99% human, with a small animal component.

The embryo would be grown in the lab for a few days, then harvested for stem cells – immature cells that can become many types of tissue.

Animal eggs

The creation of hybrid (officially, ‘human admixed’) embryos was first suggested to overcome the shortage of human eggs available for research. Also, experts claim that using human-animal hybrids is less cumbersome and gives better results.

Embryonic stem cells can assist the study of genetic diseases. For example, DNA from a Parkinson’s disease sufferer can be inserted into an animal egg to make stem cells having the genetic defects that cause this illness.

Professor Chris Shaw of Kings College London says: ‘We think there is nothing illegal, immoral or unethical about this. While we understand the concerns, we think they are largely founded on misinformation. People think we are generating some sort of hybrid animal. This is just cells, just for science. No animal is ever going to be created’.

It will remain illegal to create hybrid embryos by fusing human sperm with animal eggs (or vice versa) or to implant human-animal embryos in the womb or bring them to term.

Lords’ arguments

Christian organisations and human rights observers applauded Members of Parliament who worked to thwart the progress of the bill. However, their efforts failed to overcome powerful lobbying by doctors, scientists and medical research companies – the pro-life amendments were emphatically defeated. For example, a change proposed by Lord Alton that would have banned the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos was defeated in the House of Lords by 96 to 268.

Several peers spoke in favour of a ban, arguing that such research was both unnecessary and crossed an ethical boundary.

Lord Alton declared, ‘Parliament is dazzled with misleading claims about therapies and cures; there have been none anywhere in the world … If we permit the creation of these predominantly human interspecies embryos and full hybrids, we will be crossing an important ethical line – crossing human and animal. But for what? For the sake of a technology that we know will not be the future’.

Lord Tebbit argued: ‘Once we get into the business of creating entities which are halfway, or somewhere along that spectrum, between animal and human, we have a deep ethical dilemma …

‘I am also worried about the attitude of the scientific community which, while it is always willing to accept that there should be limits … on ethical grounds, always seems to assume that the limits should be somewhere just beyond what is scientifically possible and what it wants to do – and those limits keep moving’.

Ethical boundaries

It is right to speak of ethical boundaries. The protestation that hybrid embryos will be ‘more than 99% human’ misses the point. Once this particular door is unlocked, who can doubt that, little by little, it will be pushed further open?

Merely because it is scientifically possible to do something, does not mean it should be done. Even the prospect of new treatments for certain diseases or particular individuals is not necessarily for the greater good of society as a whole.

Past generations have dallied with eugenics in an effort to create both a master-race and a slave-race. Fortunately, they lacked the genetic tools to accomplish their purpose – but what if these tools now become available?

In addition to these ethical considerations, Christians also have biblical warrant for opposing such research. There are strong theological grounds for preserving the uniqueness and sanctity of human life. We most oppose any interference with, or manipulation of, the processes of procreation, lest the boundaries between man and beast become blurred.

It is specious to claim that hybrid embryos are not animals but ‘just cells, just for science’. Many creatures such as protozoa consist of single cells and no one denies them membership of the animal kingdom.

God’s image

The justification for creating hybrid embryos is based on a hidden premise – namely, that all forms of life are biologically equivalent. If this is so, as evolution teaches, there can be no moral objection to the mix-and-match approach. But even the celebrated evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky spoke of ‘the biological uniqueness of man’.

The Bible teaches that mankind is made in the image of God and, like all God’s creatures, is mandated to reproduce after its kind. All human life is a gift from God and is to be valued, preserved and protected. Unlike the animals, man has a spiritual nature and an eternal destiny.

Defacing the image of God in man by mixing human DNA with animal tissue (including small amounts of animal DNA) – and thereby producing sub-human living entities for whatever reason – is a flagrant breach of our duty of care to our own species and contrary to God’s express command.

When God breathed breath into Adam, he became a living soul. That soul is eternal and accountable to God, and every new soul created at conception by human procreation is likewise answerable to God.

But what of human-animal embryos? Does a hybrid embryo, with the potential to grow and develop into a recognisable life-form, possess a soul? And is the purposeful destruction of that entity a breach of God’s commandment not to kill?

Denied status

Our society’s abandonment of God has led to a denial of our own status before God. Evolutionary theory, so beloved by the godless, has laid the foundation for the production of creatures yet unknown.

Such creatures are being offered as a solution for the diseases of our bodies and the means of staving off physical death. Yet in mindlessly seizing these benefits we could compromise the essence of our humanity – our spiritual nature and our eternal souls.

Yet Christian believers are comforted to know that God is sovereign over all the works and ways of men. We may despair at the perversity of man and fear its consequences, but God neither despairs nor fears.

Whatever consequences may follow from man’s attempts to manipulate life, God’s purpose for mankind in Christ will be fulfilled.