US bishops criticise plans for ‘grossly unethical’ research into human-animal hybrid embryos

The National Institutes of Health plan to lift ban on research funds for part-human, part-animal embryos

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops have said that proposals by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to authorise federally funded research on part-human, part-animal embryos are “grossly unethical.”

The bishops made ethical and legal arguments in opposing the plan in a submission to the institute this week, saying that such research would result in “beings who do not fully belong to either the human race or the host animal species.”

Current NIH guidelines for human stem cell research specifically prohibit introducing human pluripotent cells – those capable of giving rise to several different cell types – into nonhuman primate blastocysts, which are cells at an early stage of development.

NIH has proposed funding scientists researching such embryos, known as chimeras.

The bishops’ statement said that while the plan calls for review of some research proposals by a NIH steering committee, “the bottom line is that the federal government will begin expending taxpayer dollars on the creation and manipulation of new beings whose very existence blurs the line between humanity and animals such as mice and rats.”

By funding such research, the bishops argued, the NIH would be ignoring laws the prohibit it. They said such research “is also grossly unethical.”

On the moral and ethical side of the issue, the statement said the bishops are concerned about the destruction of human embryos that serve as a source of “raw material” for research. They said the NIH proposal for producing human/animal hybrids raises “new and troubling questions of its own.”

Acknowledging that the respectful use of animals in research can benefit humanity, the bishops stressed, however, that the unique dignity of the human person puts limits to what can morally be done in the field.

“Herein lies the key moral problem involved in this proposal, beyond the already grave problem of exploiting human embryos as cell factories for research. For if one cannot tell to what extent, if any, the resulting organism may have human status or characteristics, it will be impossible to determine what one’s moral obligations may be regarding that organism,” the bishops said.

“We submit that producing new organisms, regarding whom our fundamental moral and legal obligations are inevitably confused and even contradictory, is itself immoral,” the statement said. “NIH should give far more serious consideration to this and other moral problems before seeing to fund human/animal chimera research.”

Legally, the bishops added, federal funding for such research would violate the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which prohibits the use of taxpayer dollars to create or destroy human embryos for experiments.

The statement concludes that the proposal is “seriously flawed” and urged NIH to withdraw it.


1 comment

  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    This kind of research is intended to lead to new medical knowledge and techniques to help people. The Church doesn’t care about real, live people, nearly as much as it cares about cells in a petri dish. What should we conclude from this?
    I suspect that one concern is that mankind will achieve the ability to do what Yahweh has not been able to do, no matter how much prayer is applied – and that is to heal humans from currently incurable conditions such as amputated limbs. Yahweh cannot (or will not) grow back amputated limbs, despite being given credit for curing other diseases from time to time – diseases that sometimes clear up on their own regardless of the religious persuasion of the patient. He never grows back amputated limbs, so we need to learn how to do that ourselves.
    What’s the real concern here? The concern is those cells. The Church tells us those cells have a soul, and when it is destroyed after the experiments, that soul goes to Hell. The RCC gives us three options when we commit the heinous crime of dying before being baptized – even an innocent cell-soul in a petri dish:
    1) The default position is Hell (Gehenna – formerly the Jerusalem town dump). The Church knows of no way to salvation outside of baptism according to the catechism.

    2) You are allowed to believe in Limbo, invented by Augustine, sort of a suburb of Hell where perhaps the flames are not so high.

    3) You are allowed to “hope” that the Catholic god is not a complete monster who denies salvation (whatever that is) to completely innocent souls. You cannot have faith in this – you are not permitted to pretend to know that they go to heaven, you are only allowed to hope that Jesus isn’t the monster that the RCC has turned him into.
    I think we have a much bigger problem than a petri dish of cell soul material going to Hell, and that’s the fact that seemingly rational people worship a being so evil as to send anyone for any reason to eternal torment. Such people and their beliefs are difficult to respect. It’s like respecting someone who worships Hitler, only much worse. Hitler just killed them once, while Yahweh and Jesus burn them forever. What disproportionate justice (insisted upon in the bible, but ignored by God), could possibly be more evil than that? Gen 3:22 tells us that we know what good and evil are, and we know that if the RCC god does what they say He does, then He is the most evil invention of mankind.

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