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Blurring The Species Line

January 27, 2017
Injection of human iPS cells into a pig blastocyst. A laser beam (green circle with a red cross inside) was used to perforate an opening to the outer membrane (zona pellucida) of the pig blastocyst to allow easy access of an injection needle delivering human iPS cells. (Salk Institute)

Injection of human iPS cells into a pig blastocyst. A laser beam (green circle with a red cross inside) was used to perforate an opening to the outer membrane (zona pellucida) of the pig blastocyst to allow easy access of an injection needle delivering human iPS cells. (Salk Institute)

Scientists have created a part-human, part-pig embryo:

“The experiment, described Thursday in the journal Cell, involves injecting human stem cells into the embryo of a pig, then implanting the embryo in the uterus of a sow and allowing it to grow. After four weeks, the stem cells had developed into the precursors of various tissue types, including heart, liver and neurons, and a small fraction of the developing pig was made up of human cells.

The human-pig hybrid — dubbed a “chimera” for the mythical creature with a lion’s head, a goat’s body and a serpent’s tail — was “highly inefficient,” the researchers cautioned. But it’s the most successful human-animal chimera and a significant step toward the development of animal embryos with functioning human organs.”

If that sounds creepy to you that it is because it is creepy, very creepy. And I can only imagine what “highly inefficient” is a euphemism for. Yet again, we have a perfect example of technology rushing forward because it can, before the ethical implications can be well understood.

And yet again, it is human interests and needs, with no real consideration of the interests of the other species involved, that is the driving force:

“Researchers hope that one day doctors may be able to grow human tissue using chimera embryos in farm animals, making organs available for sick humans who might otherwise wait years for a transplant.”

Now imagine a factory farm of sows, all nurturing chimera fetuses which can be harvested for human organ transplants. When are the fetuses harvested? How? When and how are they euthanized or killed? What happens to the sows?

There is a heated and growing ethical debate about the wisdom of these techniques, but some bioethicists are already arguing that the benefits these techniques are demonstrating for human health justify the means. That presupposes that you value human life and experience highly, and animal life and experience not much at all. And that is the real problem here.

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 27, 2017 10:50 am

    Pretty weird. Always was to stay away from such stuff in my research.

    Lanie

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