Scientists Pushing Ethical Lines with Human Embryos
Scientists are bad at policing themselves. What they can do and what they should do are two different things.
Science has advanced to the point of growing human embryos outside the womb, and they keep wanting to push the technology further. While they justify their work with thoughts of helping people, selfish motivations like wanting to be first or wanting to win a prize cloud their morals. Additionally, the secular, materialist, evolutionary philosophy many of them espouse leads them to treat humans like objects. Calling an embryo a fetus tends to make it less exceptionally human, and more of a thing that can be manipulated. It is incumbent upon morally sensitive people and ethicists to hold the line.
First complete model of the human embryo (Nature). The world’s best-known science journal tempts its members to lobby for extending the 14-day rule that for years has limited how long scientists can culture human embryos in a dish (in vitro) instead of in a living mother (in vivo).
Further optimization of culture and experimental conditions will be needed to improve post-implantation-stage culturing of human blastoids in vitro, up to the equivalent of 14 days in vivo. Strict ethical rules prevent the culturing of human embryos past this stage, when structures associated with gastrulation begin to appear….
Human blastoids are the first human embryo models that are derived from cells cultured in vitro and that have all the founding cell lineages of the fetus and its supporting tissues. As protocols are optimized, these blastoids will more-closely mimic human blastocysts. This will inevitably lead to bioethical questions. What should the ethical status of the human blastoids be, and how should they be regulated? Should the 14-day rule be applicable? These questions will need to be answered before research on human blastoids can proceed with due caution. To many people, the study of human blastoids will be less ethically challenging than the study of natural human blastocysts. However, others might view human blastoid research as a path towards engineering human embryos. Thus, the continuous development of human embryo models, including human blastoids, calls for public conversations on the scientific significance of such research, as well as on the societal and ethical issues it raises.
That sentence ,”To many people, the study of human blastoids will be less ethically challenging than the study of natural human blastocysts” is a clear reference to the scientists who want to extend the 14-day rule. But like they admitted earlier in the paragraph, an embryo at that stage has all the founding cell lineages and supporting tissues. Would they want to go so far as watching it develop a head, fingers and a beating heart?
We grew human tear glands in the lab, and now we’re making them cry (The Conversation). Two scientists from Utrecht University are proud of the fact that they got their tear gland cells to “cry” or secrete tears. They used ethically-neutral adult stem cells, not embryonic stem cells. Such cells form tiny replicas of the organs from which they were extracted, called organoids. They hope to help people with dry eye disease with their findings. Other scientists have grown salivary gland organoids. How far will scientists take this technology before it raises red flags? For more information on this work, see New Scientist, “Miniature human tear glands grown in a lab cry real tears just like us.” How long until they cry, “Stop!”
Researchers have grown ‘human embryos’ from skin cells. What does that mean, and is it ethical? (The Conversation). Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) have been examples of ethical alternatives to embryonic stem cells for years now. An embryo doesn’t have to be killed in order to extract stem cells that can become almost any other type of cell; scientists can return somatic cells, even cells from skin, and turn them into stem cells. But what if scientists can turn them into embryos? Australian scientists are tinkering with that idea.
Researchers have successfully grown model versions of early human embryos by “reprogramming” cells from human skin. The breakthrough potentially opens up new ways to study the earliest phases of human development, learn more about developmental disorders, infertility and genetic diseases, and perhaps even improve the success of IVF treatment.
While this is an exciting scientific advance, it will also be vital to consider the ethics behind this and other emerging approaches to modelling human development.
Who will consider it? Whose job is it to consider it, and to regulate it?
The International Society for Stem Cell Research will soon release a new set of guidelines that are likely to provide more explicit recommendations for research in human embryo modelling. As it has done in the past for other ethically charged issues, this global approach is essential. There is too much at stake to ignore the complexities.
If the society is composed primarily of evolutionary materialists, should the public accept their rules? Keep in mind that the majority of leftists in secular science today have no problem with abortion – they actively support it.
Above all, we need to approach this issue carefully. The science is complex, and likely to trigger many of the same concerns raised 25 years ago by breakthroughs in cloning technology. One thing seems clear, just as it was back then: this new technology should only be used for laboratory research. Any attempt to use it to establish pregnancies in humans or animals must be strictly prohibited.
But if they can do it, they will want to try it. Scientists don’t like others telling them what they cannot do, unless they believe in their hearts it is wrong, and have the integrity to follow their consciences.
Warning Siren from an Ethicist
Stop Human ‘Fetal Farming’ Before it Starts (Epoch Times). Long-time ethical columnist Wesley J. Smith thinks the time to turn on the siren is before the fire starts. Scientists who want to culture blastocysts are essentially mass-producing embryos only to kill them later.
This would be human experimentation of the rankest sort, with living fetuses maintained in an artificial environment, not for the purpose of being born or learning how to save babies in danger of being stillborn—but also as being akin to lab rats, for example, used as sources of organs for transplantation, a prospect already discussed in bioethics known as “fetal farming.”
One might compare this to taking brain-dead adults into flesh farms in order to harvest their organs. If that is too horrific to consider, it might just be a question of the age of the being.
The time to decide whether we want to go down this utilitarian road should be before we actually get there, not when the ethical crisis is upon us and there is no time to think. At the very least, we need to enact a legally enforceable moratorium preventing live fetal experimentation to give the world time to sort out the ethics of pursuing such technologies in humans through democratic deliberation. Just floating along and letting “the scientists” decide the moral propriety of fetal farming simply will not do.
Scientists are not ethicists. They need the guidance, regulation and counsel of a civil society aware of the consequences of rogue science.
The best ethicists are those who believe that human beings are created in the image of God, and are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights, like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It helps a great deal if they have read (and are repulsed by) the scientific dystopias in Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis.