This week the MIT Technology Review reported that scientists in Oregon have become the first in the U.S. to edit the DNA of human embryos.
The MIT Technology Review writes,
The effort, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the gene-editing technique CRISPR, according to people familiar with the scientific results.
Until now, American scientists have watched with a combination of awe, envy, and some alarm as scientists elsewhere were first to explore the controversial practice. To date, three previous reports of editing human embryos were all published by scientists in China.
To call this research “controversial” is an understatement. It is unconscionable for two reasons.
First, in order to carry out their research, scientists created human embryos. These human embryos were living human beings–albeit very small, helpless human beings. Researchers in Oregon created these human beings; experimented on them; and then apparently killed them.
Ethically speaking, this is no different from embryonic stem cell research in which human embryos are created and then killed in order to harvest their stem cells for scientific use.
The second reason this research is unconscionable is that it could pave the way for “designer babies” in which embryos are edited to produce certain characteristics. Scientists who support this research say it could one day allow doctors to correct genetic abnormalities in unborn children, but it could also allow parents and doctors to engineer children with certain traits or enhancements.
It’s worth noting this is not the first time these researchers in Oregon have engaged in this type of activity. In 2013 they published research claiming to have cloned and killed human embryos in order to obtain their stem cells.
As we have said many times, human beings are not research material. All scientific research must respect the sanctity of human life. And we should not do anything that might encourage or allow doctors to produce customized “designer children.”
The National Institute of Health announced last week it is looking to end its ban on public funding for what some call “chimera” research–that is, research that involves combining human DNA with animal DNA.
In a nutshell, researchers are performing experiments in which human stem cells are inserted into modified animal embryos–such as modified pig embryos. The animal embryos develop with the human cells inside them.
Researchers believe they can refine the process so that eventually human organs can be “grown,” for example, inside animals and eventually “harvested” for people in need of organ transplants. They are asking the NIH to help fund their experiments, and the NIH appears to be planning to provide the funds.
If all of this sounds weird or ethically suspect to you, you aren’t alone. As Kansans for Life writes,
If the purposeful creation of human-animal chimeras is allowed for research purposes, it opens to door to abuse of the technique for reproduction, as well as creation of part-human organisms as bizarre designer humans or animals. It could produce an animal that produces human sperm or eggs. It could produce an animal with a human brain.
Some have criticized researchers for “playing God.” Others worry the experiments will lead to the creation of new, quasi-human species, and will further blur the lines between humans and animals. These are all valid points, but the immediate, ethical question this research raises is simple: Where will researchers get their stem cells?
This research involves injecting human stem cells into modified animal embryos. Human stem cells are often acquired by creating–and then killing–human embryos to harvest the embryos’ stem cells.
Research that uses human embryonic stem cells is highly unethical, because it kills unborn children in the process.
Other stem cells are acquired from aborted unborn babies, as we have written in the past. These stem cells are sometimes billed as “adult stem cells,” but they don’t actually come from adults. They come from aborted children.
It is possible to obtain stem cells ethically–without killing any unborn children–but it’s often difficult to know if researchers are using ethically-obtained stem cells. If the NIH begins funding research involving human stem cells, our first concern is that researchers will use embryonic stem cells or stem cells obtained from dead unborn children. That sort of research simply is not acceptable.
The National Institute of Health is accepting public comments on the proposed rule change until September 6. Please contact the NIH, and ask them not to fund or encourage this type of research. Click here to find out how to submit your comments.
Doctor Curtis Lowery refers to unborn children as “material” during official legislative hearing.
Yesterday the House Public Health Committee voted to pass SB134 by Senator Jason Rapert. The bill prevents abortion at or after the twelfth week of pregnancy if a fetal heartbeat is detected—except in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of or prevent grave physical harm to the mother. The bill passed easily, but what was bizarre was chilling testimony from a representative from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.