Scientists’ plea to use new hybrid embryos
The government recently shifted its position on animal-human hybrid embryos: having been initially against the concept, it is now proposing to allow partial hybrids, where a complete set of human genes is inserted into an animal’s egg cell, for research purposes only, through a new Human Tissue and Embryo Bill aimed at overhauling the laws surrounding fertility treatment.
The move has prompted strong protests from some religious and anti-abortion groups that oppose any such research. Anti-embryo campaigners had said earlier this year it was appalling that the government had, in their view, bowed to pressure from ‘a random collection of self-interested scientists’.
The Catholic Church has made clear its opposition. Bishops told the parliamentary committee scrutinising a draft bill to allow the research to go ahead, that they opposed the creation of any embryo solely for research – they believe that all life begins at conception. They said they were also anxious to limit the destruction of such life once it had been brought into existence.
In a 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 be treated accordingly.’
Should religious organisations with a limited grasp of science have a say in the development of this sort of research? Such things are already scrutinised by ethics committees that make judgements based on the value of the research and any potential suffering that might be caused. In this case, there is the potential to relieve a lot of suffering caused by genetic diseases, or, at the very least, to understand them much better.
Hybrid embryos with human DNA are not the same as ‘embryonic human beings’. They will never become sentient creatures. They are no more than a cluster of cells, such as the ones that women frequently lose soon after conception without even realising it.