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The Scientist recently ran commentary by John D. Loike questioning the ethics of transplanting human brains cells into other species. The piece entitled "When Does a Smart Mouse Become Human?" begins describing the research at the University of Rochester where mice were injected with glial cells from human fetuses. Glial cells are cells that support neurons in the nervous systems. The mice incorporated these glial cells into their brain and "outperformed normal mice almost fourfold in a variety of cognition tests."
Hockey legend Gordie Howe was in the headlines this year for his remarkable recovery from a stroke after a stem cell treatment in Tijuana, Mexico. Initially the reports indicated that Howe was treated with "adult" stem cells, and so the implication was that his treatment was non-controversial. But Brent Schrotenboer, of USA Today, reported last month that Howe's treatment included stem cells derived from an aborted fetus.
In the UK Daily Mail Christopher Gyngell, a research fellow in neuroethics at Oxford University, argues that we are morally obligated to use new DNA editing techniques like CRISPR, which can precisely edit the human genome, to cure genetic disease. He asserts that we must test the technique in human embryos with the hope of eradicating mutations that cause disease. He writes:
For nearly a decade, I have been trying to warn pro-lifers about the advent of genetically-modified, designer babies. Society's total blind acceptance of creating human life in the laboratory en masse with IVF has now brought us to this very precarious point. Scientists in China have taken left-over IVF embryos and tried to edit their DNA with a new promising gene-editing technique called CRISPR. It was not a success.
International surrogacy is often touted as a win-win situation. Western couples get a baby gestated for them at a low price, and the women in third world countries get more money than they would normally see in a lifetime.
It is very possible that the United States may follow the United Kingdom's lead and sanction the genetic engineering of future generations using technologies that create human embryos with the genetic material of three people. If Americans do not express our concern over these "mitochondrial replacement" (MR) procedures, which are very similar to the cloning technique that produced Dolly the Sheep, I fear MR will soon be offered by fertility clinics here.
At a time when more and more people are becoming wary of generically-modified foods in their diet, the United Kingdom is poised to begin creating genetically-modified children with the genetic material of three people, two women and one man; a genetic combination that could not occur naturally. And the way the UK goes, the United States may soon follow.
Logic purists will always call the appeal to the slippery slope a fallacy. You cannot argue against A just because it might lead to B.
Oh Huxley, what is your beloved country about to do?
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