The Washington Post is reporting that scientists have for the first time created an embryo that is part human and part pig. The long-term goal is to provide organs for transplant, given that the need for organs always runs well ahead of the availability of organs.
Such a hybrid or chimeric embryo raises many, many ethical issues issues. But notice the ethical justification is given is simply, “this may produce benefits.”
But Vardit Ravitsky, a bioethicist at the University of Montreal’s School of Public Health, said that the two studies published this week could help make a case for further human-animal chimera research by demonstrating the field’s potential benefits.
There is so much more to be considered in the realm of bioethics—on this or any other issue—than simply whether this might produce benefits.
In fact, if your ethical starting point is benefits, then your ethics has already gone off course. On this issue, there are deep questions about what it means to be human and what it means to be a non-human animal. What limits are appropriate in separating one from the other, and why? What is unique and distinctive, what deserves to be protected, and why? To frame it another way, in pressing ahead with this kind of research, are we giving up or violating something about our very humanity, about, as we often say, our shared human future?
And this is, as I say, only the beginning.
This is breaking news and we will be looking into and following it carefully. Stay tuned.
Neuroscientist and animal advocate Dr. Lori Marino comes at the issue from an angle slightly different than mine, but comes to a similar conclusion. From “We’ve created human-pig chimeras — but we haven’t weighed the ethics:”
The possibilities have many researchers giddy with excitement. But they also raise serious ethical dilemmas about the moral status of these part-human animals. Chimera test subjects must be human enough to serve as effective models for health research, but not so human that they qualify for protection from this research altogether.
We all want to alleviate human suffering. But the need does not dictate the solution.