Is hybrid embryo research “monstrous?”

May 19, 2008

embryo.jpgThe Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which MPs are debating today and on Tuesday allows the creation of four types of human-animal hybrid embryos for the purposes of research, including Cytoplasmic hybrids, created by transferring the nucleus of a human cell into an empty animal cell.

This is the main type of hybrid embryo that scientists want to use — because of a shortage of donated human eggs — to create embryonic stem cells to find cures for conditions like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.

Gordon Brown launched an impassioned defence of the need for hybrid embryos over the weekend, calling it an “inherently moral endeavour.” His younger son Fraser has cystic fibrosis, a condition which could benefit from such embryo research.

But some critics are horrified by such “Frankenstein science.”  Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland says hybrid embryo research is “monstrous” and should be banned.

Which side do you think is right?  

36 comments

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embryos used for havesting stem cells are all destroyed at 14 days anyway, so these hybrid animals will never grow to form a fetus, let alone a concious hybrid.

those presenting the opposition, if they have ever taken any sort of medication they are hypocryts. These have all been tested on animals, and if using an unconsious ball of cells is immoral, then animal testing certainly is.

Posted by martha lambert | Report as abusive

Good point Martha.

Embryo research is essential if we are to find cures for many of todays illnesses which cause so much suffering.

It’s stupid to not let this happen, it may upset a few million people who’re unable to see past their own noses, but it will save millions more.

Posted by Mike D | Report as abusive

Throughout history the church has tried to suppress the progress of science and for all the wrong motives – mostly to preserve its own power. One is reminded of how Galileo was put in prison for proclaiming the truth – that the earth is not the centre of the universe.

The Roman Catholic church in Scotland is at it again! Trying, on dubious moral grounds, to put a brake on scientific research by frightening people into believing ‘Frankenstein’ monsters will result from stem cell research. The leaders of the church are just as misguided now as they were in the First Century.

I’m a scientist (retired) and I believe research has to proceed. What results from it is the question, not the research itself, and appropriate legislation can control that. The church has had an undue influence on scientific progress for too long. Let the research proceed. Thousands of sufferers from Parkinson’s disease and other debilitating genetic disorders can benefit from this stem cell research. What does the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland have to say to them? “Let them die – it is God’s will?” The church has to accept reality and not bury itself in the times of the birth of Christianity. We have moved on into the 21st Century.

Posted by Harry Locksley | Report as abusive

I think that if the foetus is not intended to be grown then this research is imperative to scientific research and will be very useful. However the problem will only arise if the embryos are allowed to grow into concious “beings” which then will cause implications for the individual conscious hybrid concerned.

Posted by SUMAN GANGER | Report as abusive

Cardinal Keith O’Brien is speaking from a religious and therefore pointless perspective. He neither has the undestanding or the intellectual authority to speak on the subject and should be ingnored by all rational people

Posted by Steve Bowen | Report as abusive

I am a Christian and understand the argument made here in this discussion. I agree that the Church can negatively effect the progress of such amazing gifts as medical knowledge and as my father is a Parkinson’s sufferer i understand the potential good that can come from the bill. However my issue with this bill is more to do with the other sections of it. Such as ‘assisted reproduction’ which i think lessens the significant role of a father in a child’s life. It is a shame that the bill is a bulk of new plans and
I agree that we need to be able to develop our medical knowledge, but i think that it is a very thin line between greater good and abuse of creation.

Also i would like to add that the Church is organic and has had some bad ideas which haven’t been of God, but if you sift through the initial responses and comments you will see that people struggle with lessening the significance of life and the miracle of life, which these bills can cause.

Posted by J | Report as abusive

Perhaps if we spent more energy banning the church rather than trying to ban scientific progress the world wouldn’t be in the mess it is in today. Just about everything that is positive and progressive today is thanks to science and technology whilst just about everything that is in a total mess revolves around relegion. The church needs to keep it’s nose out of things it doesn’t understand – it really has no moral authority anymore. We have moved on from the fairy stories it would have us believe.

Posted by Marc | Report as abusive

There is only one question here. And it is a moral one. Is this process ethical? It hangs on the nature of the admixed cells, do they have the same significance as say a skin cell or a neurone, or are they closer to an embryo. And if the latter you must decide on what rights you think an embryo has. This will all be coloured by your religeous/spiritual/scientific convictions of course. If it is not ethical then regardless of the potential benefits it will remain unethical. No one would advocate harvesting kidneys from convicted criminals, or enforcing sterilisation in overpopulated countries in spite of the the benefits these actions might bring. This is not a matter of church versus science. It is a matter of right and wrong and each of us must decide for ourselves.

Posted by Keith Jones | Report as abusive

There is really no argument here because there is no “human-animal” embryo being created here. The egg cell is completely devoid of DNA. It maybe came from an animal, but the embryo would have zero animal DNA. This article is just meant to arouse anti-stem cell research sentiment.

There have been many times, recently, when one animal species was cloned within another species.

Posted by Adam | Report as abusive

The point is that ethics question is being raised by people not familiar with the process. They (critics) should familiarise themselves with the technique proposed prior to jumping to conlusions and attaching “Frankenstein tags” to the proposal. We should maintain the leadership position in the field as the results will overshadow any and all inventions of the 20th century. For instance by year 2030 with the current rate of progress in the field- the best cure for any malfunctioning organ is to replace it with a new one grown from a piece of your skin. If this were left to hypocryts we would still be treating cancer with a quick prayer.

Posted by Ruslan | Report as abusive

Just because a question is ethical in nature does not make it the province of religion. Harvesting kidneys from third world countries is unethical whether we have a soul or not. Informed scientific opinion is all that is necessary to decide on the ethics of hybrid embryos, not superstition, the church should get out of debates they have no valid input into (which is pretty much everything in my view but…)and especially in science.

Posted by Steve Bowen | Report as abusive

The anti-cloning crowd is being ridiculous. They obviously don’t understand the research at all.

The scientists are not creating an animal with human and animal traits. They are taking a human set of genomes and putting them into the cell structure created by an animal. The result would still grow to be human, with no animal traits.

Posted by Patrick | Report as abusive

it sounds pretty messed up, but the whole thing on religious people “enraging” over the talk is non sense. God wouldn’t have gave us the ability to do it if he didn’t want us to have the ability. We cannot percieve the concept of what heaven is like, or even eternity, because he made it unconcievable to the human race. this is just a new idea that is extremely scary, but other than ethical reasons, why not try it?

Posted by caylie | Report as abusive

The technique under discussion involves enucleating a mammalian egg and replacing it with the nucleus from a human somatic (skin etc rather than a gamete)cell. The theory is that the egg reprograms the human nuclear DNA such that it can divide as a normal embryo. The only animal DNA is in the mitochondria of the egg which are semi-autonomous organelles which have their own genome (a bit like captive bacteria which from an evolutionary perspective is exactly what they are). To be clear we are not talking about an embryo from fusion of human sperm and egg; this is not a baby. it is an artificial construct would never normally be expected to develop into anything. The dividing cells in vitro are to be stopped at 14 days in any case. It’s not scary, it’s not frankenstein and there is no God to play at being.

Posted by Steve Bowen | Report as abusive

It’s the old man made lie; “let’s do evil that good may come of it.” and like most things scientists do the work is immoral & impure. After all, nature baulks at the idea, let alone God.

So far there’s no evidence that any sickness has been cured by such research. The Church is not opposed to stem cell research but research on human embryos, whom it considers to be living humans which is true.

The scientists & politicians want to legalise murder, what’s more they want praise for it. Not from me mates!

A few years ago this debate would not have happened, not sue to scientific factors, but because it would have been widely accepted as a step too far. Because we fail to use a constant yardstick or what is morally right and morally wrong, decisions become based on the moving emotion of what we now feel is right. If it used to be morally wrong, it should still be morally wrong. We have lost our compass. Just watch, in 20 years time those stem cells killed after 14 days will be allowed to go much further in development.

Today is the time to make a mark (not in the shifting sands of crowd consensus) to say this is a path we should not go down morally. Having made that decision then to focus all scientific energies into finding alternative solutions to those illness. You will not find them if you only look at stem cells as the answer.

Posted by Duncan | Report as abusive

There’s no question that this is immoral and unethical but we’ve reached the crossroad where it has become a necessity. The way forward is for tight independent regulation enforced on the scientists using these methods to ensure that we don’t come even close to what everybody is fearing. The religious question is a paradox, would the higher power(s) want us to preserve millions of lives by killing something that never even moved? The desire to see people die of what could become curable illnesses is an extremely sinister aspect of our society that needs to be eliminated.

Posted by Graham | Report as abusive

The important thing is that there is a genuine debate which takes into account all aspects of human behaviour and beliefs and results in a consensus opinion for or against. I shudder to think that politicians are the people responsible for crystalising that opinion in reaching a decision, as they are by definition subject to partisan loyalties and the majority of them will vote accordingly, but that concern is neither here or there as the flawed system we have is the only one we’ve got.

I have serious doubts about anyone who claims to base their opinion on either “faith” or “rational thought”. On the one hand we have the nasty swine who killed millions in the name of “religion” and on the other hand we have the nasty swine who killed millions in the name of “society”. A pox on both.

Posted by Mike T | Report as abusive

I like the quote from Jurassic Park: “We were so busy doing it, that we never considered whether we should.”

Posted by Hormiga | Report as abusive

I shouldn’t know why not to try to find cures for human diseases.
But we are not god.
People should always use ethical values to their creations.
If you can cure cancer…perfect.
But don’t complain when there are 10 billion people on this planet.
Then we all get to know new diseases and hunger.
Nature calls!

Posted by dennis emmers | Report as abusive

As the saying goes, “God helps those who help themselves..” and I believe that by using our brains and skills to better ourselves is a great thing. We have been given the freedom of choice. But abuse it, and I believe that hurt or destroy ourselves morally and physically.

Posted by bob | Report as abusive

All these are fair points…as both a Catholic and a molecular and cellular biology major, and future doctor, we must learn that there can be no science without religion, and no religion without science. Since the beginning of both disciplines, they have not been able to live together in a harmonious balance. Still, science progresses, and religion exists. Imagine a world where religion didn’t “stick its nose” into the matters of science. We really would have hybrid animal/people walking around. In theory, religion is watching its own back, because if we start to put all our hope and faith into science, whats the point of religion? I think it would go against human nature and intuition to devalue any type of life, be it human or animal. In my opinion, all embryos, that would otherwise go to waste, should be used for the preserving of life. Does the church not find it moral or ethical to stop the suffering of millions? Even if the church and/or a government impose bans, science will continue to evolve, be it public or clandestine in nature (remember Da Vinci’s secret anatomy studies). There is no doubt that superficially, science would be able to flourish if religion didn’t put its two sense into the mix, but upon closer inspection, where does one turn in times despair and destruction? Rarely science and technology, and almost always religion.

Posted by sammy | Report as abusive

I know it is still baseless to say that it will do no-harm nor getting some ideas from some of the horror movies we have all watched. But there’s always a possibility that these cells/whatever will turnout to be something which might harm mankind or even other species in the future. If this is resulted by natural evolution of the ecosystem, then we have no control. But if it’s created by humans, then we have full responsibility for any future consequences.

Posted by anonymous | Report as abusive

Much of the laws of the civilisation we live in was based upon the moral compass of those who had a true faith. If we all had that faith now, none of us would be having this discussion.
If you don’t believe in God, then you don’t fear God.
But for Christians and others: ‘the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom’.

Without the moral compass of faith, the goal posts have not only moved, but are permanently moving. Not just in science, but in the way we bring up children and conduct our own lives. We have now arrived at the place where we think we know everything and nothing from the past, including faith in God, has anything to say to us.
Science is a great assistance for this, because to those who know little of the relevent sciences, science tells them what they need to know, namely that God is irrelevent. However science has an unpleasant habit of proving itself wrong, time and time again. What happened to the big bang theory?

Posted by Tony | Report as abusive

That’s why its called a ‘theory’ Tony. Science is constantly evolving as we grow older and learn more. Old theories are updated or dis-proven with new ideas. That’s the beauty of science, versus religion which is stuck in a time of myth and superstition. Dis-prove a scientific theory with something newer and more viable and you get acclaim. If you try to disprove some thing written by a man 2,000 years ago, you get burnt as a witch.

When was the last time that god spoke to you and what exactly did he say?

What a load of twaddle!

The only question should be is it cruel to the creatures involved? Does it cause pain or suffering? If the answer is no then it should be done.

Gods and religions are a constructed idea to give power hungry individuals the ability to control large groups of people. Usually followed by telling these groups what to think how to live and who to attack, while suppressing truth.

If you want to be religious its because you have been brainwashed from birth or are weak and unwilling to take control of your own life, why else would it be necessary for you to be told what to think rather than do what you know to be right

DO WHAT YOU WILL THAT IT CAUSES NO HARM.

Posted by Ian | Report as abusive

Why does God have to come in to anything?
Can someone not ask themselves what they feel, without having to relate it to something and someone else, can they not take there own mistakes on their own shoulders, or must they always having someone else that they can blame?
But as an atheist I must have no soul…
But if I ask myself morally is it right, I
know that within my morals, my own, no one elses,
it is.
Because can something without a concious, that has never moved, and has no sense of its own being, be alive, scientifically it is, but can it be aware of its own existance.

and to tell you the truth ‘bob’ can go screw himself,
‘god helps those who help themselves’, almost every atheist has tried to be religious, but if one has so much of an open mind, the majority of them will dismiss it due to the fact that if there is a god, who gives us free will, how can he stand and watch some one die of Motor Neurone Disease, which is by all means not self inflicted. How gracious of him. Because i am sure, that anyone who has or has seen someone affected by a degenrative disease or cancer, will have prayed and hoped, even if that person is not religious, tried to make a bargin with whatever god there is, and i found, along with countless others, he never answered, so we must rely on science.

All those opposed, following the basic human instinct, would turn to science as soon as they are effected or someone they love is effected. Pure Hypocrosy

(excuse the spelling, dyslexic 16 year old)

Posted by martha lambert | Report as abusive

Why everyone can express his opinion, except the church?
Is this true democracy?Who are you to decide this?

Posted by marcello | Report as abusive

Resorting to cultivating stem cells from homunculi zygotes may just be a political stunt to advance human stem cell research; any opponent of it can agree that human stem cell research is more moral than hybrid stem cell research. This may just be a ploy to reframe the debate, however disgusting and immoral it is.

Posted by masato | Report as abusive

the church can, but all these millions of other people who just insult immaturely. that is not democracy, its an online shouting match

Posted by martha lambert | Report as abusive

What a great idea to develop gene therapy, and not have to use conscious human aborted embryos for the research, that would be immoral, the use of structure and not actual fetus is a great idea, if you’re pro choice or not. And how in the world are all of you people turning this perfectly good idea into a church vs state issue. I have a full write up on my page on this topic.

half of you have just written comments that are not totally irrelevant, and that are longer than the blog itself *applauds sarcastically*

yes masato, that does mean I think you’re incorrect in your accusations.

Yes, it is monstrous. It is idiotic to assume that there will never be fully developed embryos- other countries will jump on that and take it as far as possible. When they do, diseases that have only afflicted animal populations will have a direct means to infect humanity; ‘rights’ will become an issue for such creatures, and people will never know if their son or daughter is dating someone who is part rat, part lizard, part spider, part shark. Once that populace begins to breed (and make no mistake- they will AND they will ferociously protect their young, unlike we humans), these manipulations will NEVER be removed from the human genetic stream. This is irreversible, it is dangerous, it is reckless in the extreme, if only on the scientific level.

Margaret
You clearly do not understand in what sense a hybrid embryo is part animal. For brevity it is in the mitochondria only.
It is highly unlikely at this stage that hybrid embryos could develop into a viable foetus even if someone was daft enough to try implanting one in a surrogate mother.
Even if it happened the resulting person would be human so rights issues do not apply.
The problem is that even today many people are scientifically illiterate so they happily believe that we could have minotaurs running around if we let the scientists have their way. To make matters worse the religious lobby know this and abuse the population’s ignorance to push their point of view.

Posted by Steve Bowen | Report as abusive

Steve Bowen:
Your comment makes me want to shake your hand. Thank you.