What do Nobel prizewinners, the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the Commons science and technology committee, and the government’s chief science adviser, Sir David King all have in common? They believe it’s high time that scientists were allowed to create chimeras – human/animal embryos for scientific research purposes.
The process is, in scientific terms, rather simple. A human cell is inserted into an empty animal egg and voila: mutato!
The process can also be done by fertilizing animal eggs with human sperm, but focus groups have tended to pooh-pooh this idea.
There are a number of reasons that chimeras make sense for research:
- embryonic stem cells can be extracted from the chimeras
- stem cells can potentially be used to treat spinal injuries, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s
- There is a severe shortage of human eggs in laboratories to use for such testing
Under the newly proposed legislation, embryos would have to be destroyed after a 14 day period, and could not be implanted in a womb.
Groups that are fighting the new legislation claim that this begins to blur the line between human and animal. Duh.
Look, if you are of the opinion that life is a result of a series of random mutations that have brought us to this point in history, it would be irresponsible not to push the envelope in all areas of scientific testing and exploration. If there are ways to improve the quality of life, heal diseases, and ‘see what man can create’ then why not.
If on the other hand, you believe that all species were created in their kind, and that a specific designer has a purpose for people and animals alike, you probably don’t think scientists should be screwing around with the precious human genome.
We don’t have to look back too far in our history to realize that many of man’s experiments with and towards nature have resulted in some disastrous results. You also don’t have to look too far back to see that choosing the biggest bull to breed with your best milk-producing cow is also a form of genetic engineering.
They cynic in me tends to think that a third type of person is out there too. This is the man or woman who can hear the cash register chiming. Let’s face it. Whoever comes up with the first effective gene therapy or quick-fix stem cell remedy is going to cash in big time. We’re probably talking about billions of dollars. If people knew that a stem cell injection would fix their paralysis, heal their grandpa’s dementia or shaking, they’d pay through the teeth. I don’t pretend to have answers to this ethical/moral question, and yes I think it is an ethical question. What I do believe strongly, however, is that ethical decisions shouldn’t be made by the guy with the blank cheque. That isn’t good business practice, and it certainly isn’t sound ethics.