Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Britain Prepares to Authorize Chimeras

From the is-there-anything-the-modern-world-isn't-crazy-enough-to-endorse file comes a news story my sister (recently back from Oxford) emailed to me about legislation being drafted for consideration by parliament to authorize the creation of human/animal chimeras so long as embryos are killed before reaching a certain age. (Some versions of IE seem to have trouble with the page -- FireFox doesn't.)
Human-animal hybrid embryos conceived in the laboratory - so-called “chimeras” - should be regarded as human and their mothers should be allowed to give birth to them, the Roman Catholic Church said yesterday.

Under draft Government legislation to be debated by Parliament later this year, scientists will be given permission for the first time to create such embryos for research as long as they destroy them within two weeks.

But the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, in a submission to the Parliamentary joint committee scrutinising the draft legislation, said that the genetic mothers of “chimeras” should be able to raise them as their own children if they wished.

The bishops said that they did not see why these “interspecies” embryos should be treated any differently than others....

The bishops, who believe that life begins at conception, said that they opposed the creation of any embryo solely for research, but they were also anxious to limit the destruction of such life once it had been brought into existence.

In their submission to the committee, they said: “At the very least, embryos with a preponderance of human genes should be assumed to be embryonic human beings, and should be treated accordingly.

“In particular, it should not be a crime to transfer them, or other human embryos, to the body of the woman providing the ovum, in cases where a human ovum has been used to create them.

“Such a woman is the genetic mother, or partial mother, of the embryo; should she have a change of heart and wish to carry her child to term, she should not be prevented from doing so.”
My number one reaction is to be appauled that the MPs are considering authorizing this kind of genetic horsing around in the first place. Why, in a Europe that has thought seriously about banning the use of growth stimulants in animals and genetically modified grains, do they want to then turn around and mess with the human creature is such a drastic way?

But I'm also wondering about the bishops' position on this. Clearly, it's a no-brainer that the creation of a human/animal chimera is a flagrant violation of Catholic moral teaching. However, I'm not sure where Catholic teaching leads after the creation of such a creature. I guess that in the sense that innocent life should not be taken, the reaction to the creation of a chimera would have to be what the British bishops are saying. But while I don't see how we could actively support killing such creatures, I'm also not sure about actively supporting bringing them to term. I suppose if you're looking some something which is the ultimate outcast and unloved product of a deranged society, this would be it. And so I understand why they feel that Christians should care for and protect such an outcast. But I find the idea of such a creatures existence disturbing enough it's hard to smile on an adoption scenario.

Perhaps there are some situations that are just so messed up it's hard to know what the correct response would be.


Literacy-chic said...

It does seem that, if a stand is to be taken, it should be taken against the creation of such a hybrid. It seems like late damage control to provide for the creatures' birth and upbringing--like admitting that they are already beaten on the core issue.

And with every mention of the "chimera," I think of a motif from late 19th-century Symbolist painting. Truly bizarre.

Foxfier said...

I view it as helping the children of rape.

They come into the world via a horrible attack on what is right, and (generally) are treated as somewhat less than human.

I am totally against either way of making a person-- but once that person exists, I'll fight tooth and nail to protect them.

Fred said...

Walter Miller's short story "Conditionally Human" anticipated the exact same position of these bishops. ~Fred

Darwin said...


Good point. And indeed, I think it would be very much the realm of the Church to offer care to any such creatures once created.

I guess the reason for my hesitance about the whole thing is that the creation of human/animal hybrids seems so far off the path, that it would potentially be hard even to know what you are dealing with.

Though perhaps, the point would be that it hardly matters. After all, the Church's position on abortion is what even though it doesn't know with full certainly when human life begins, that it deserves protection from the moment of conception just in case. A theoretical lack of certainly as to whether someone is "human enough" or "human yet" should never be taken as an opportunity to destroy life.