The British Parliament on Monday voted down a ban against human-animal hybrid embryos, which result from inserting human DNA into an empty animal egg. The egg is then stimulated to divide and become an embryo, from which stem cells can be extracted. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has supported stem-cell research, saying that it can save millions of lives. The science-monitoring group Human Genetics Alert says that the laws could lead to the creation of genetically modified "designer babies." (International Herald Tribune)
What the commentators said
The ends do not justify the means, said the blog Atheism Analyzed. This is a prime example of the slow "creep" of "ethical relaxation." Starting with one set of standards, an "unacceptable" standard is introduced, "until a compromise is reached." This "occurs repeatedly," dragging ethical standards farther and farther downhill.
But "human-animal hybrid embryos are the best means for us to do stem-cell research that might be used to treat diseases like Alzheimer’s," said the science blog The Plummet Onions, and "the reality is that there are far too few human eggs donated to do the research." Some call this "Frankenstein" research, but let's be clear: the government must approve all research in this area, no such embryo would be implanted in a human, and they must be destroyed within 14 days of their creation. So where is the ethical compromise?
"What is crucial to understand is that these embryos are not likely to be used for treatment," said Jim Jackson, the CEO of Alzheimer Scotland, in The Scotsman. They will be used to better understand stem cells and how they work. The research in question is not the creation of chimera and centaurs—it is an investigation of a new technique, and "this is one well worth exploring."
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