Britain is experiencing some dissent over research on human-animal hybrid embryos. One the one hand, you’ve got researchers and charities arguing that this is a technique to probe deeper into the genetic and molecular properties of developing organisms, and is key to developing treatments for genetic diseases and developmental abnormalities; on the other side, we have plaintive lowing from the do-nothings and ignoramuses about the “sacredness” of human life, and kneejerk rejection by the usual collection of suspects, the Catholic church.
In his Easter address today, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, will describe plans to allow hybrid human-animal embryos as “monstrous”.
I addressed this a couple of years ago when Bush wanted to ban this kind of research (by the way, we aren’t ahead of the Brits in this game; they’re at least discussing this, while our government has mostly acted to shut this work down, leaving little to argue over). This is not a science-fiction project to create half-human slave labor or anything silly like that — it is serious research in early development that puts human disease-related forms of genes into animal models so that we can try experimental treatments. “Monstrous” would be taking risks or doing experiments on Down syndrome children; humane would be inducing an analog of Down syndrome in mice so that we can figure out causes and treatments of health problems in an informed way. I would also put using ignorance and medieval dogma to prevent biomedical research in the “monstrous” category, but then, I put just about everything about the Catholic church in that bin.
Just so everyone knows precisely where I’m coming from, though, in addition to appreciating the practical value of hybrid research for alleviating human suffering, I also think all forms of reproductive biotechnology are just plain cool. Some people think the next revolution in humanity will be an outcome of advances in neuroscience and technology (the geek rapture), but I’m inclined to think that the most significant changes in how we think about who we are are going to arise from radical reproductive technologies.