Ken Connor

Popular culture is blindly embracing science and ignoring legitimate moral concerns. Human dignity is steadily being eroded in the pursuit of the "advancement of science" and the quest for "cures." Increasingly, we are losing our common understanding of what it means to be a human being, and the idea that human beings are something "special" is rapidly becoming an antiquated notion.

Science is unquestionably a worthwhile pursuit, but many have come to view science as an end unto itself. The unbridled pursuit of science and technology is glorified, and any who suggest constraining science within limits of morality or propriety are condemned. Raising the simple question of whether something should be done is considered taboo. Radical science advocates are only interested in whether something can be done. Central to the "science without limits" view is the notion that man is merely an animal, the product of random chance. God is removed from the creation equation and the notion of moral truth is abandoned. Notions of right and wrong are relegated to the spheres of theology and philosophy and do not constrain the consciences or actions of radical scientists.

The latest example of the results of radical science is the blending of human DNA and animal cells in Britain. There scientists extracted the DNA from a human embryonic cell and injected it into a "emptied" cow egg. This process, it is argued, produces a 99.9% human embryo from which scientists can harvest stem cells for further research and analysis. A group at Newcastle University led by Lyle Armstrong produced one such "cybrid" embryo (cytoplasmic hybrid) on April 1. It lived three days and grew to 32 cells. The ultimate goal is to extend a cybrid's life cycle to six days, at which time stem cells can be removed.

Current British law makes it illegal to allow these cybrids to live longer than 14 days or to implant them into a human womb. The use of animal eggs is justified by the shortage of human eggs and the danger to women in harvesting them. The process is authorized upon receipt of a license from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

The creation of cybrids by the scientific community represents a frontal assault on human dignity. The mixing of human and animal cells for the purpose of creating a 99.9% person is a grave violation of the natural order and strikes at the heart of what it means to be a human being. If the practice is allowed to persist, the percentages will inevitably change based on the utility of the various combinations of humans and animals. The average person recoils at such a practice, but not the radical scientists.

Scientists working in embryology have long clamored for the complete freedom to create, manipulate and destroy embryos as they see fit. On top of this clamor, they demand a blank check from the government in pursuit of this research and are indignant at any restrictions. The British government recently considered a ban on the creation of cybrids, but quickly "retreated after a revolt by scientists."

The scientists hold out the promise of "cures" for diseases and disabilities in order to circumvent ethical concerns. These supposed future cures are the carrots with which the scientific community is manipulating the politicians.

Sadly, the truth about these ghoulish practices is usually buried under complex scientific verbiage and ambiguous promises. Professor Neil Scolding of Bristol University, a Catholic researcher into stem cells, stated that the practical prospect of human and animal DNA working in harmony and producing a useful organism is "a big ask".

Professor Scolding also refers to the new, more successful developments in adult stem cell research as an approach which could hold great cures while also avoiding the ethical problems of "cybrids" and embryonic stem cell research. He comments that these promising adult stem cell developments make it "all the more inexplicable why a small minority of UK stem cell scientists wants to pursue the extraordinarily complex and frankly speculative hybrid approach."

Unfortunately, the British Commons has completely acquiesced to the limitless pursuit of embryological science. Instead of seeking to ban this practice, they have proposed a "Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill" which would give an official stamp of approval on the manufacture of cybrids.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, responded effectively to the idea that morality and restraint should be sacrificed on the altar of "cures". He said, "It is worth remembering that France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Australia have all banned the grotesque procedures we seek to legalise. Could it be that the citizens and politicians of those countries care nothing for the chronically ill among them? Perhaps they don't want to develop cures for therapies; perhaps they are simply anti-scientific luddites! Or could it be that we are wrong and these democracies see no reason to attack the sanctity and dignity of human life when many alternatives exist?"

The Cardinal is right to sound the alarm. Human dignity will be lost completely if mankind does not act to create ethical boundaries for scientific investigation. Respect for human life must be the pole star that guides science and technology. The foundation of human dignity is that human beings are created in the image of God. If we lose sight of that fact, all humanity will suffer and radical science will become one of the chief instruments that produces that suffering.


Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.