Human-Animal Hybrid Embryos
Science gone bananas?
“Scientists should be on tap but not on top” – Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965)
As of 6th September 2007, we are faced with the reality of human-animal hybrid embryos, as science's latest ‘promise' of a breakthrough with notorious diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
The government of the UK banned such work in December 2006. This was in response to public outcry. However, the voice of vested interest has now prevailed upon the government to make the UK the first country to allow this bizarre ‘science'. I quote from:
“The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has finally bowed to sense by allowing the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for use in scientific research. It marks a victory for science after an almost year-long battle, which began in December last year with the proposal to outlaw the creation of hybrids in a government white paper on fertility. In February, then health minister, Caroline Flint, said that the government's opposition to the hybrid embryos was based on a public consultation – unfortunately that highly-unscientific exercise was criticised for being hijacked by pressure groups.”
The correlation with humans of such ‘creatures' has been variously quoted as 98 – 99%. Chimpanzees share approximately 99% of our genetic pattern, yet are very different creatures. They were used in AIDS research for years, yet the tiny genetic differences are great enough to allow them not to contract the disease, even when infected and to render them useless for research. Has ‘science' finally gone bananas? Why should we take the promises of scientists to find a breakthrough any more convincing than before, when they have made similar promises in the past?
What of the rights of such individuals to life? To what age might they be allowed to live? Could mistakes ever happen, allowing such a creature to survive? We presumably are supposed to be re-assured by sciences record in such matters, e.g. the bio-security leak at Pirbright. Of course, were a mistake to happen, we have a precedent for the way science behaves in such circumstances: “we only invented the bomb, we didn't drop it“.
This ‘advance' could be the banana skin of the century and should spark the creation of a new annual award – the ‘Science Banana‘.