by Sophie Trist
An international team of scientists has created embryos that are part human and part monkey by injecting human stem cells into the embryos of macaque monkeys, which are relatively close genetically to humans. After a day, the scientists observed human cells growing in 132 of the macaque embryos. When they unveiled their discovery on April 15, the scientists explained that the monkey-human embryos could help in the quest to grow organs for those who require transplants. The demand for organs far exceeds the supply; every year, thousands of people die waiting for organ transplants. However, noble intentions do not make this form of embryonic research any less dehumanizing.
The Consistent Life Ethic holds that each human being is a unique, infinitely valuable individual from the moment of conception. Combining human DNA with that of other species is a violation of the dignity of these newly-conceived children. No human being, regardless of stage of development, should ever be treated as a means to an end or an object for scientific experimentation.
Research on human embryos has long made the public uncomfortable and stirred ethical debate. Many countries have laws (in the United States, they are not legally binding, just widely accepted research guidelines) which prevent scientists from keeping human embryos alive after two weeks, by which point the central nervous system begins to develop, the embryo can no longer split into twins, and it is considered an individual. In short, once embryos become too individualized, too “human,” they are destroyed.
This protocol is logically inconsistent because it operates on the premise that we “become” human at some point in our development, when the truth is that we will never be any more or less human than we were at the moment of conception. Because the human-monkey embryos were not fully human, they were not subject to the 14-day rule. The team of scientists was able to study them for 19 days.
Some bioethicists oppose the 14-day rule, arguing that since embryos used for research are destined to be destroyed anyway, scientists may as well study them for as long as they can keep them alive. This mentality of objectification makes the entire field of embryonic research anathema to the pro-life movement. Creating, mutilating, and discarding tiny human beings at will shows no regard for human life and reduces human beings to things that can be thrown away when no longer useful. Any research conducted on human beings must always hold dignity and the greatest respect for human life at the center of every endeavor.
Science cannot make true progress unless and until it abandons all forms of aggressive violence against human beings, and that includes destructive embryonic research. This type of research dehumanizes, objectifies, and discards preborn children in horrific numbers. Figuring out how to grow organs in a laboratory will doubtless save countless lives, but it must be done ethically, without destroying other human lives in the process.