August 26, 2016
In his late 19th century novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau, H.G. Wells
tells a chilling, futuristic story about a doctor on a Pacific island who is
performing horrific experiments to craft animals into human beings.
While Dr. Moreau's world might be far-fetched for now,
the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a federally-funded medical research
agency, wants to start funding research on human-animal chimeras that could
move us in that direction.
On August 4, 2016, the NIH announced that it will
begin spending taxpayer dollars on the creation and manipulation of new beings
whose very existence blurs the line between humans and animals. We're not
talking about using a pig's heart valve to fix a human heart. Nor are we
talking about growing human cancer tumors in mice to study disease processes. These
non-controversial practices have been going on for decades and don't pose any
serious ethical problems.
The research NIH wants to fund is fundamentally
different and ethically problematic for several reasons. First, it relies on
the killing of humans at the embryonic stage to harvest their stem cells. Second,
it involves the production of animals that could have partly or wholly human
brains. Third, it involves the production of animals that could have human
sperm or eggs (with a stipulation that precautions are taken so such animals
are not allowed to breed).
Finally, introducing human embryonic stem cells into
very early animal embryos will make it very difficult to know the extent to
which human cells contribute to the final organism. This is another key moral
problem with the NIH proposal: If researchers can't know for certain whether
the resulting being has human status or characteristics, they won't know what
their moral obligations may be toward that being.
Furthermore, the NIH proposes to transcend this very
serious ethical boundary apparently having given little, if any, consideration
to the ethical and moral implications. When the NIH issued a moratorium on
funding human-animal chimera research last September, it pledged to "undertake
a deliberative process to evaluate the state of the science in this area, the ethical issues that should be considered,
and the relevant animal welfare concerns associated with these types of studies"
Yet in announcing its intention to rescind the
moratorium on August 4, 2016, the NIH mentioned holding only one workshop, in
November 2015, in order "to review the state of the science and discuss animal
welfare issues." It mentioned nothing about any discussion of the "ethical issues"
involved in creation and manipulation of partly human animals.
The public needs to
contact the NIH and strongly object to the use of our tax dollars for this
grossly unethical research. But we need to do so quickly. The NIH has only
allowed 30 days for comments. The deadline is Tuesday, September 6th. For sample comments and instructions on how to submit them, visit the bishops' Human Life Action center (goo.gl/DISFOA).
Greg Schleppenbach is Associate Director for the
Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For
more information about the bishops' pro-life activities, visit www.usccb.org/prolife.