President Bush’s Bioethics Commission Warns of Human-Animal Babies

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 26, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

President Bush’s Bioethics Commission Warns of Human-Animal Babies

by Maria Gallagher Staff Writer
October 26, 2003

Washington, DC ( — The President’s Council on Bioethics has issued a warning about a brave new world in which animals are fused with human beings to create new species and human beings are created with multiple sets of biological parents.

In a recent paper, the Council noted that strange new reproductive technologies threaten "the dignity of human procreation" and therefore should be banned.

The Council pointed out that a number of the ethical dilemmas that now plague policymakers began with the dawn of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Though now considered routine by some infertility specialists, IVF challenged the natural order by permitting procreation outside of a woman’s body. According to the Council, as a result of IVF, human embryos were exposed "for the first time to possibilities of manipulation and alteration," leading to "unprecedented and vexing ethical issues."

Members of the Council are especially worried about a number of bizarre biological experiments. In one case, for instance, an embryo is divided into separate cells, with the cells then joined to cells from other embryos in order to create a hybrid with four or more biological parents. In another situation, eggs or sperm could be taken from aborted babies, "making it possible that a child might have a fetus or a five-day old embryo as its biological mother or father."

But perhaps most troubling are the possibility of embryos being created which are part human-part animal and the prospect of human embryos being implanted in the wombs of animals.

In China, a research team fused human cells with rabbit eggs in an effort to produce stem cells. The researchers removed the nuclei from the rabbit eggs, then introduced DNA from human skin cells. The embryos which developed were clones of the human donors and were used for harvesting stem cells.

The Council is concerned that scientists and the biotech industry may treat embryos, human eggs, and sperm as "articles of commerce," with the human embryo singled out as a "novel ‘invention’ or ‘product’ suitable for patenting."

Council members say that legislation is needed to ensure that human dignity is protected in scientific experimentation. Specifically, the Council’s paper issues an appeal to Congress to ban the transfer of a human embryo into an animal’s body, as well as "the production of a hybrid human-animal embryo."

The Council is also calling for a ban on a number of other procedures, including the fusion of cells from two or more embryos and fertilization methods that use gametes obtained from a human fetus or human embryonic stem cells. Council members also want to see a Congressional ban on "the buying and selling of human embryos" and a prohibition on patents for human gametes, embryos, or fetuses.

The Council also notes that, in addition to compromising the dignity of human embryos, such experimentation could lead to the further exploitation of adult women. "A woman and her womb should not be regarded or used as a piece of laboratory equipment, as an ‘incubator’ for growing research materials, or as a ‘field’ for growing body parts," the Council said.

Council members have also expressed concerns about so-called "designer babies," who are genetically manipulated in an effort to achieve certain biological characteristics. As a result of this trend, according to the Council, children who are born with handicaps could be considered "genetically unfit," the result of "parental failings."

President George W. Bush established the Council two years ago, asking it to investigate the "human and moral significance" of biomedical developments. While the Council can issue advice, it does not have the ability to set public policy.

Previously, the panel recommended a ban on cloning for procreation, but was divided over the issue of cloning for biomedical research. Pro-life advocates fear that cloning for research, or "therapeutic cloning," could lead to a clone-and-kill situation where cloned human beings are created, then killed, after their stem cells are harvested.

Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic bishops in the U.S. share the Council’s concerns about biotechnology run amok. The Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities is calling for ethical limits on embryo research.

The Secretariat’s Deputy Director, Richard Doerflinger, dismisses claims that embryonic stem cell research is justified because it could help relieve the physical suffering of medical patients. Doerflinger told the Council, "One cannot ethically kill one innocent human being on the grounds that this may produce results that could save the lives of several human beings."

Doerflinger notes that ethical research requires that there be no unnecessary risk to human subjects; that the subject has given voluntary and informed consent; and that serious injury or death caused by the pursuit of medical knowledge be avoided.

It is unclear at this point how quickly the Council’s recommendations could be drafted into federal legislation.