Tinkering with Human Embryos More Brazen than Ever
Secular biologists want to see how long they can keep embryos in a dish before killing them.
You can feel the undercurrent in Nature News’ story about a new record for keeping human embryos alive: they want to extend it past the 14-day limit set by international agreement. Sara Reardon writes:
The work, reported this week in Nature and Nature Cell Biology, also raises the possibility that scientists could soon culture embryos to an even more advanced stage. Doing so would raise ethical, as well as technical, challenges. Many countries and scientific societies ban research on human embryos that are more than 14 days old; in light of this, the authors of the studies ended their experiments before this point.
The proverbial angel on the shoulder cries, This is unethical. The devil cries, The old rules are outdated. Do it! Do it! We all know what “ended their experiments”. It’s a euphemism for “killed them.” Is there nothing left of human exceptionalism? Look at the attitude of this secular biologist:
Scientists have well understood the earliest stages of life in many other animals for decades. “It’s really embarrassing at the beginning of the twenty-first century that we know more about fish and mice and frogs than we know about ourselves,” says Ali Brivanlou, a developmental biologist at the Rockefeller University in New York City and lead author of the study in Nature. “This is a bit difficult to explain to my students.”
Humans are just another animal, in other words. Dissection after death is one thing—medical students profit from dissecting cadavers donated to science—but to take a helpless, developing human embryo and watch it for days or weeks and then kill it is different. If Brivanlou extended his reasoning, why not treat humans like lab rats to know more about them? We grow lab rats and inject them with cancer. We stuff them with drugs and watch what happens. We wring their little necks. Why were the German scientists culpable at the Nuremburg trials? Weren’t they trying to understand humans to know more about them? Did good intentions excuse what they did? There’s nothing in Brivanlou’s argument to forbid experimentation on live humans except the number of days of gestation and development. He shouldn’t find the ethical reasons we treat animals differently hard to explain to his students. He could tell them he is thankful mad scientists didn’t play with his embryo.
Brivanlou’s argument also begs the question that growing human embryos in a dish is the only way to learn about them. Modern technology has provided numerous ethical ways to study human development without killing the subject, including advanced imaging with ultrasound, MRI and CT. If an embryo is stillborn or dies from natural causes (without intentional killing, as with abortion), then the parents can offer the embryo to science. Why are scientists chomping at the bit to play with human embryos and kill them?
But their achievements in the lab may be grounds for re-examining the limit, says George Daley, a stem-cell researcher at Children’s Hospital Boston in Massachusetts. He says that it is somewhat arbitrary. Such a debate would be complex and heated, and it could reach beyond researchers working directly with human embryos. If scientists succeed in growing stem cells into embryo-like structures, it could be difficult to determine whether the structures count as embryos, and thus are subject to the 14-day rule. “It’s an interesting ethical discussion we’ve got ahead of us here,” says Pera.
The latest success at keeping embryos alive for 13 days raises the perennial-haunting question of when life begins. Presumably, the 14-day limit was set in place as the time of gastrulation, when an embryo can no longer divide into twins, and thus (as the thinking goes), becomes an “individual.” Conservatives and theologians consider life to begin at fertilization. On Breakpoint this week, John Stonestreet commented on the flash of light that occurs when sperm meets egg. Is this not an empirically observable marker for the “spark of life” that commences the beginning of a new individual human being? See the “fireworks” for yourself in a video clip on The Guardian.
The BBC News merely notes that some scientists want to “reconsider” the 14-day limit. “It is an area that could spark huge ethical debate in the coming years,” James Gallagher reports, considering only pro-extension arguments, failing to quote any conservative ethicist providing reasons for not cutting up human embryos and treating them as scientific lab rats.
Even 14 days is not enough for the extreme secular progressives. New Scientist tries to push the origin of personhood to 8 weeks, months, and longer:
Only gradually, at about 8 weeks, does the embryo become a fetus with the essential organs at least roughly mapped out. Only much later is the nervous system developed, and only much, much later does the fetus have the capacity to feel pain.
A primitive streak is not a nervous system. A bunch of cells is not an organised human being in any robust biological sense. A number of days does not define life.
Well, then, if it’s not the number of days, that means zero days, does it not? Logically, that should refer to the time of conception. On what basis will they define a human life in a “robust biological sense” that could not be fudged in the future? If scientists succeed in pushing the limit here, future scientists will continue pushing it more and more, following the same line of reasoning. It’s not really human till a week after birth. It’s not really human till kindergarten. The elderly are not really human. Beware, “new scientist,” when they come for thee.
To Christians and Jews, all humans have dignity and value, being created in the image of God. The Bible speaks of individuals as fully human persons even as they are in the womb, such as in Psalm 136, Jeremiah 1 and Luke 1. Every pregnant woman (except, perhaps, those brainwashed by Planned Parenthood) knows that she carries a unique individual in her body. No distinction is made for when God starts knitting together our inward parts; it is not after 8 days, or 14, or 8 weeks. It is not for man to set a limit. When sperm joins to egg, the entire unique genome of an individual comes together. That is the most distinctive moment at which everyone can affirm with certainty that life begins. If you don’t want the special interests to win by default, you must engage the debate. Take the information we and other conservative organizations provide you with and use them to urge your elected leaders from letting scientists erode the value of human life.