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Apologetics Press :: Sensible Science

The Danger of Xenotransplantation
by Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

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Those familiar with the popular C.S. Lewis series The Chronicles of Narnia are acquainted with the Minotaur—a creature that possesses the head of a bull and the body of a man. While the Minotaur remains mythological in nature, many find the idea of combining human and animal genes tempting. Ever since Watson and Crick published the three-dimensional structure for the DNA molecule, the possibility of manipulating that structure has existed. Scientists long have sought to discover which pieces of DNA control specific traits and which genes lead to certain diseases. By cutting genes and splicing in new genetic material, scientists hope to abolish many of the ailments humans face today. However, many scientists have abandoned the hope of curing diseases and, instead, are now in full pursuit of creating human-animal hybrids. Commonly referred to as chimeras, these creations possess genetic material from two genetically distinct species. Oftentimes, these experiments are not publicized by the mainstream media and, as such, researchers rarely feel the heat of public pressure. The lack of legislative guidelines and silence from the general public has emboldened many researchers to pursue a sort of “brave new world.”

Consider the realities that exist when the inherent value of human life is downgraded to “animal” status. The mainstream media continue to report stories declaring man to be the evolutionary product of ape-like ancestors. Abortion clinics continue to extinguish life as a matter of convenience. The elderly, who are no longer “productive” or able to care for themselves, are considered expendable. Our children listen to news reports of gunfire being exchanged in city streets over something as trivial as a bag of potato chips. And now, humans try to assume the role of God as they create new human-animal hybrids. But thankfully, not everyone is remaining silent.

A report published by the Scottish Council on Bioethics (see “Embryonic, Fetal...,” 2006) recently maintained that researchers should not be allowed to create human-animal hybrids. They proposed fifteen recommendations that deal with the creation of embryos, hybrids, and the use of human genetic material. In defending their decision, the council cited the following horrific examples of human-animal hybrids:

  • In 2005, U.K. scientists transplanted a human chromosome into mouse embryos. The newly born mice carried copies of the chromosome and were able to pass it on to their own young.
  • In 1999, the company Advanced Cell Technologies reportedly created the first human embryo clone by inserting a human cell nucleus into a cow’s egg stripped of chromosomes. The result was an embryo that developed and divided for 12 days before being destroyed.
  • In 2003, Panayiotis Zavos, the operator of a U.S. fertility laboratory, reported that he had created some 200 cow-human hybrid embryos that lived for about two weeks and grew to several hundred cells in size, beyond the stage at which cells showed the first signs of developing into tissues and organs.
  • In 2003, Hui Zhen Sheng of Shanghai Second Medical University, China, announced that rabbit-human embryos had been created by fusing human cells with rabbit eggs stripped of their chromosomes. The embryos developed to the approximate 100-cell stage that forms after about four days of development (“Human Animal Mixing...,” 2006).

These examples are only a small sample of the research that has been performed. For instance, one year after the Massachusetts company Advanced Cell Technology reported their creation of a human/cow hybrid, New Scientist published a report about Setsuo Iwasaki, a Japanese researcher from Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, who created 27 of these cow-human hybrid embryos. His stated goal was to isolate embryonic stem cells, which would have meant culturing the hybrid embryos for a minimum of five days until they formed a hollow ball known as a blastocyst. But, Iwasaki reported, most of the embryos did not develop, and none went through more than three cycles of division (see Hadfield, 1999). Additionally, the March 13, 2001 issue of the New Zealand Herald reported that Australian scientists at a Melbourne company, Stem Cell Sciences, reportedly produced a cloned human embryo in 1999 by combining an empty pig egg with a human somatic cell (Beston, 2001).

These studies clearly demonstrate that some researchers already are sliding down the slippery slope. The value of human life has been diminished, as researchers set their aim on new human-animal hybrids. This unregulated ethical time-bomb is what prompted a response from the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, which included the following recommendations:

1. National Ethics Committees of the Council of Europe member states should initiate, as soon as possible, an extensive consultation and reflection relating to the complex ethical questions arising from the creation of animal-human mixtures.

2. The Parliamentary Assembly and the Steering Committee on Bioethics of the Council of Europe should address the ethical issues arising from the creation of animal-human mixtures, as soon as possible, in a Recommendation and/or a legally binding Convention.

3. The placing of a live human embryo into an animal should be prohibited.

4. The placing of live human sperm into an animal should be prohibited.

5. The placing of a live animal embryo into a woman should be prohibited.

6. The placing of live animal sperm into a woman should be prohibited.

7. The creation of an embryo containing cells made up of both human and animal chromosomes should be prohibited.

8. The insertion of a human cell nucleus or chromosomes into a non-human egg stripped of its chromosomes enabling an embryo to exist should be prohibited.

9. The mixing of animal and human gametes should be prohibited.

10. Xenotransplantation (transplant of animal tissue into a human—BH) should only take place if the procedure respects all national and international legal instruments such as the Council of Europe Recommendation 10 (2003) of the Committee of Ministers on Xenotransplantation.

11. The incorporation of human stem cells into post-natal animals should proceed with extreme caution. Moreover, such a procedure should only take place if it can be demonstrated that the cells cannot contribute to the germline or give rise to specifically human brain functions in the animals.

12. The incorporation of human stem cells into post-blastocyst stages of non-human embryos should only take place if it can be demonstrated that they cannot contribute to the germline or brain cells of the animal.

13. The incorporation of non-human stem cells into post-blastocyst stages of human embryos should only take place if it can be demonstrated that they cannot contribute to the germline or brain cells of the human being.

14. The incorporation of human pluripotent or totipotent stem cells into a non-human blastocyst or its preliminary embryonic stages should be prohibited.

15. The incorporation of non-human pluripotent or totipotent stem cells into a human blastocyst or its preliminary embryonic stages should be prohibited (see “Embryonic, Fetal...,” 2006).

These recommendations follow a 2005 interdisciplinary study performed in the United States that focused on the ethics of grafting human neural stem cells into the brains of non-human primates. Mark Greene and his colleagues posed an interesting quandary when they observed: “Overall, we think it unlikely that the grafting of human cells into healthy adult NHPs (non-human primates—BH) will result in significant changes in morally relevant mental capacities” (2005, 309[5733]:385). However, they were not sure. Their research questioned the very nature of the moral status of a being when human neural cells were introduced into non-human primates.

Dr. Calum MacKellar, director of research at the Scottish Council, observed: “The fertilization of animal eggs with human sperm should not continue to be legal in the UK for research purposes. Most people are not aware that these kinds of experiments have been taking place in the UK and find it deeply offensive” (as quoted in Johnston, 2006). However, Ian Wilmut, the creator of Dolly the cloned sheep, argues that researchers should be allowed to continue. Wilmut contends: “By casting a negative light on a number of important research opportunities, this report may limit medical progress” (“Debate Rages...,” 2006). We must ask: What progress can be made when humans are no longer considered to be made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27), and suddenly become fodder for bizarre experimentation? Surely the creation of a pig-human hybrid is not considered progress to rational individuals. Why are we seeking to mix genes in the first place? While the Scottish recommendation is a step in the right direction, it should not be viewed as formal regulations placed on the scientific community. Only when the scientific community acknowledges an absolute moral standard—the standard delivered by the Creator—will the sanctity of human life be maintained.

REFERENCES

Beston, Anne (2001), “Human Clones: Down the Road of No Return,” New Zealand Herald, March 13, [On-line], URL: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/search/story.cfm?storyid=5AF30A76-39DA-11 DA-8E1B-A5B353C55561.

“Debate Rages Over Animal-Human Chimeras” (2006), New Scientist, August 11, [On-line], URL: http://www.newscientist.com/channel/opinion/mg19125646.300-debate- rages-over-animalhuman-chimeras.html.

“Embryonic, Fetal and Post-Natal Animal-Human Mixtures: An Ethical Discussion” (2006), Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, [On-line], URL: http://www.schb.org.uk/.

Greene, Mark, Kathyrn Schill, et al. (2005), “Moral Issues of Human-Non-Human Primate Neural Grafting,” Science, 309[5733]:385-386, July 15.

Hadfield, Peter (1999), “Japanese Cloning Pioneers Break the Rules,” New Scientist, November 20, [On-line], URL: http://www.newscientist.com/hottopics/cloning/cloning.jsp?id=22132100.

“Human-Animal Mixing Going Too Far, Report Says” (2006), World Science, August 13, [On-line], URL: http://www.world-science.net/othernews/060808_chimera.htm.

Johnston, Ian (2006), “Scientists Call for Ban on Some Embryo Experiments,” The Scotsman, August 8, [On-line], URL: http://news.scotsman.com/scitech.cfm?id=1147322006.



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