Saturday, 5 April 2008

another embyrology article

The Tablet has published an excellent article by Mary Seller who happens to be both a geneticist and an Anglican priest.

Legislators are trying to keep up with scientists who have found a way to make animal-human hybrid embryos for use in medical research. But is such use of animal and human material ethical? Here a leading geneticist and priest explains why she thinks scientists should indeed play God

Read Slipping on the slope of progress.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 5 April 2008 at 8:37am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

I was a little worried about this piece, but I think it hit the right note about unclear moral standing of the cybrid (scientists, we coin such strange words sometimes.) But I would point out to the Rev. Dr. Seller that our humanity is warped by sin and we must be careful always about how we categorize things as human or non-human because the understanding of our own nature is somewhat perverted. But she happily points out the acts of Jesus breaking boundaries through healing. To some extent, we can trust our compassion in these matters.

Remember that vaccines and blood transfusions once were opposed on ethical and Scriptural grounds.

Posted by: Caelius Spinator on Monday, 7 April 2008 at 12:17am BST

"vaccines and blood transfusions once were opposed on ethical and Scriptural grounds"

As was giving relief from pain during childbirth, on the grounds that to do so would be to try to thwart God's punishment of Eve and her daughters. Just think - the church can change its mind about how to understand Scripture's application to current life!

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Monday, 7 April 2008 at 6:10pm BST

"I weigh the advantages ......the loss of life of a cluster of human cells, and find in favour of the former.

"From reproductive medicine we learn that 70 per cent....less precious in God's sight than a sick person."

I have great difficulty with the above two statements. The first is a judgement on the relative value of one human life over another, unless we accept her premise about cybrids possibly not being human, which is an issue in which I find much to think about. That a priest could think to make such an argument is disturbing. Human life is precious because it is, not because of what shape it has. Either a fertilized ovum is human or it isn't. If the latter, no problem, if the former, its humanity is no less than mine because of the shape it has. The inherent worth and dignity of every human being are relative qualities.

The second statement is also alarming coming from a priest. She needs to read, or attend, Orthodox liturgies, where God is called the "lover of mankind", and where His saving acts are clearly understood as saving us from sin and death out of love for us. So, just because our bodies die, whether in or out of utero, that's no statement on how much God cares for us. I know she hasn't gone this far, but God lets old people die too. Her logic would seem to suggest that this is proof God doesn't care as much about old people either. Same with young people who die in car accidents, or of illness. Death is not proof the God doesn't care.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 7 April 2008 at 7:50pm BST

"...vaccines and blood transfusions were once opposed on ethical and scriptural grounds." That is next to a meaningless statement. So, because some sects have opposed vaccines and blood transfusions Christians can't make an argument against the above-mentioned practices? Can you cite to an authoritative Church teaching(Catholic or Anglican) that prohibited vaccines,blood transfusions,and relief of pain in childbirth?

Yes, Jesus broke boundaries when he healed, but it wasn't the boundary of what's human. Jesus' healing was restorative-he gave the person back their full humanity. Nor did Jesus use some human beings as a means to heal other human beings.

Posted by: phil swain on Monday, 7 April 2008 at 9:45pm BST

I am deeply suspicious and sceptical of all high moralists. If and when a cure of say, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease is found, will those who oppose such research avoid treatments because it is based on such research. I don't believe they will.

Moreover, it is a joke when religious moralist try to interfere with scientific research when they are incapable of understanding it.

Scientists should determine their own moral and professional standards based on the principle of doing good for their fellow human beings.

Posted by: cp36 on Tuesday, 8 April 2008 at 1:48am BST

"embyrology" (spelling)

"That is next to a meaningless statement."

Not so fast... It was reported only the other day about girl, elevenish, who died because her parents denied her some treatment or other.

Blurring things is next to madness, in my experience.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Tuesday, 8 April 2008 at 6:52am BST

"it is a joke when religious moralist try to interfere with scientific research when they are incapable of understanding it."

I'm a Pathologist and am quite capable of understanding it. I still think it is wrong. As I said, I have a lot to think about with regard to the humanity of "cybrids", all the same. I agree, however, that many of the voices raised against this issue do not have any more understanding of this than they do of "the gay issue". That's just sad. The Church needs to debate the humanity of animal/human hybrids, and the propriety of creating such hybrids in the first place. Sadly, we don't many in power in the Church with the education to allow them to actually HAVE that debate.

Posted by: Ford elms on Tuesday, 8 April 2008 at 6:54pm BST

cp36,

You have supreme confidence here. Even in medicine we have boards to oversee and monitor doctors (and it is not good enough just doctors to monitor themselves):"Scientists should determine their own moral and professional standards based on the principle of doing good for their fellow human beings." That is what you have under Hitler in Naziism. Let's not go there!

Ben W

Posted by: Ben W on Tuesday, 8 April 2008 at 8:10pm BST

Ford,

I am with you on your emphasis on love of neighbor earlier and in this post the emphasis on the value of human life. You raise important questions. Does God only love "complete" human beings? In that case when does God's love begin for us? In some ways the adult is more than the child and we all are not yet what we hope and can become!

Ben W

Posted by: Ben W on Tuesday, 8 April 2008 at 8:18pm BST

"From reproductive medicine we learn that 70 per cent of all natural conceptions perish, mostly at the earliest stages. This does make me wonder if early embryos are less precious in God's sight than a sick person."

Not so many centuries ago probably 70 of children died before adulthood. So, should we have drawn the same conclusion and experimented on them?

Posted by: rick allen on Tuesday, 8 April 2008 at 10:30pm BST

Ben W quoted: “… based on the principle of doing good for their fellow human beings." and added: “That is what you have under Hitler in Naziism. Let's not go there!”

You must be meaning that Nazi era “scientists” thought they were doing good for their fellow human beings because their erroneous Ideology (and those eager to shine in the presence of bookish persons) told them they were, surely?

Not quite the same thing. You have some reading to do, Ben W, methinks.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 9 April 2008 at 6:06am BST

To Ford,

As for what is right and wrong, Christians are very divided on many things. God himself is very well versed in mathematics, physics and all the biological sciences. He won't be able to govern the universe if he is merely a religious god. Religious gods are not very smart. In other words, the God who made the heavens and the earth, is himself a brilliant and creative scientist.

I believe knowing that God is brilliant in mathematics and science does help in understanding what the true and living God is really like and gives me a lot of confidence.

Posted by: cp36 on Wednesday, 9 April 2008 at 7:32am BST

To Ben,

Most professions are governed by their own Professional Bodies which determine the Code of Conduct and Practice. As for Hitler's scientists, were they involved in trying to discover cures for incurable illness and relieving the sufferings of people?

Posted by: cp36 on Wednesday, 9 April 2008 at 7:42am BST

Rick
"Not so many centuries ago probably 70 of children died before adulthood. So, should we have drawn the same conclusion and experimented on them?"

Put like that, it sounds dreadful!
But what you're also saying is that partly due to medical research and development, certainly in the Western world, 70% of human beings no longer die when they are children.

Are we right to stop that process now, without investigating the possibilities for further medical R&D genuinely, taking all alternatives into account?

Making emotional statements about killing becoming humans isn't helpful, and I agree with Ford that a genuinely educated debate is necessary.
It is happening, of course, but if the church insists on making pat pseudo-moral statements it is effectively writing itself out of it.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 9 April 2008 at 9:38am BST

"Are we right to stop that process now?"

Astonishingly, the medical progress we've made thus far has not been accomplished through experimenting on non-consenting human beings.

No one is proposing stopping medical research, only the retention of those ethical standards that in the past have accompanied the progress we have made.

I was surprised that the priest in the article could advocate a simple standard of utilitarianism in this area. Judged against a claimed consequence of saving thousands of lives, the suffering and death of a single individual is always going to carry a lesser weight.

But of course my main comment was directed against the assumption of God's lack of concern due to death rate.

Posted by: rick allen on Wednesday, 9 April 2008 at 12:02pm BST

I really wish that the church could get away from the continuing view that there is really something quite good and noble about suffering.

I think this means they place cure for this suffering as a far lower priority than would those in the situation.

I am unreservedly in favour of continued research. I think the case against it contains not a shred of 'morality'

Posted by: Merseymike on Wednesday, 9 April 2008 at 12:31pm BST

"In other words, the God who made the heavens and the earth, is himself a brilliant and creative scientist."

Tad anthropomorphic, don't you think? God is not human. It might be a helpful mental construct to think of God as a scientist, indeed, the Bible is full of examples of God anthropomorphizing Himself, but let's not get carried away here. God is a brilliant and creative Creator. He's as much a brilliant and creative scientist as He is an opera singer, which is to say entirely and not at all. But none of this gets to the issue: are cybrids human or not? What makes us human, merely DNA or something more? I maintain that it is an offence to human dignity to consider that some human beings are nothing more than material to be used for the benefit of others, whatever that benefit may be. That includes foetuses, because I believe that life begins at conception. Others do not, and we can respectfully disagree. I'm not saying the Rosary at people in front of abortion clinics. I'm not comparing such clinics to abbatoires or gas chambers or anything else so over the top. But, if one accepts that life begins at conception, there is no difference between a 10 day old embryo and a ten day old child. The "middle ground" that an embryo is human but somehow less human is even more offensive. It posits that some human life is less valuable than others. If you believe life begins at birth, fine. My arguments mean nothing to you. I won't be out calling you a heathen or a murderer. I won't start yelling at people in front of abortion clinics. I still disagree with you though. What happens when you integrate human DNA into animal cells is an entirely different issue, of course, and one I haven't thought about nearly enough. I do believe caution is called for, and I think it's sad that Church leaders are so ill educated in this area they can't make a cogent argument one way or the other, all we get is another manifestation of the "Conservative Angry that Things are Changing". Said conservative is usually not all that bright either, but yells well.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 9 April 2008 at 12:31pm BST

cp36,

As we see science and the "fruits" of science affect us all, so it would be strange if only a certain class of people have a say in how it is to be used or to what end!

In Hitler Germany there were "experiments" widely practised on humans (i.e. scientists are the ones to determine how and to what end it is to be used!), and scientists developed the bomb so that whole cities might be obliterated! The effects and fruits of science involve us all and need to be discerned by people who can act from a moral grounding and see beyond the next experiment. Ideology in Germany "justified" what they did; of course it was "for the good of people" even if it deformed or killed the people experimentd on (they also said things like we must do this because who knows what we might learn or how it will benefit others). There is certainly continued reseach but guided within definite moral parameters.

Ben W

Posted by: Ben W on Wednesday, 9 April 2008 at 1:54pm BST

"I really wish that the church could get away from the continuing view that there is really something quite good and noble about suffering.

I think this means they place cure for this suffering as a far lower priority than would those in the situation."

1. There is. Just because you can't see that is no reason for the Church to stop pointing it out. Conservatives can't see there is violence against gay people too, but we still have to keep pointing that out.

2. Bull! Just because there is dignity and nobility in suffering doesn't mean we shouldn't try to reduce suffering in the world. That is one of the basic messages of the faith. "inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my Brethren, ye have done it unto Me." "Love thy neighbour as thyself."

Speak to the actual issues: How do we define humanity? Is it appropriate to carry out experiments on non-consenting human beings?

If your answer to the first questions excludes cybrids from those considered human, fine, we might at worst end up agreeing to disagree, I don't know what I think about that. If your answer to the second question is anything but 'NO', we will never agree.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 9 April 2008 at 2:16pm BST

Ford:

Can we agree that an embryo is unable to give consent, whatever its status as a human being?

Can we agree that children below a certain age are unable to give consent?

Can we agree that the parents of those children therefore speak for the children and give consent, or not?

If all that is so, why cannot I--as the "parent" of an embryo--give consent for it to be used in an experiment?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Wednesday, 9 April 2008 at 7:44pm BST

"why cannot I--as the "parent" of an embryo--give consent for it to be used in an experiment?"

For the same reason you cannot give consent for your children to be used in an experiment. Your paternity does not give you ownership. You are only allowed to exercise your parental rights to give consent for your child's good.

So you can certainly consent to an experimental procedure if you truly believe that that represents the best chance for your child to overcome a disease or handicap, all things considered. But, no, you can't consent to your child's death, or your child's conversion into a half-human, half-animal, so that someone can learn something useful or interesting from the experiment.

Posted by: rick allen on Wednesday, 9 April 2008 at 11:36pm BST

No, Ford, we will never agree. Life begins at birth, in my view and I fully support embryo research within the agreed limits.

And the Church, and you, are wrong. There is neither dignity nor nobility in suffering. The sheer illogicality of your position sums up much that is fundamentally wrong with Christianity.

Posted by: Merseymike on Wednesday, 9 April 2008 at 11:45pm BST

To Ford,

>>Tad anthropomorphic, don't you think? God is not human.

Of course not, but you wouldn't deny that God has a brilliant mind and that he is very good in mathematics, would you?

>>are cybrids human or not?

I thought you said you are a pathologist and that you are qualified to understand what the scientists are doing. So I am afraid you have to figure this out for yourself. I would say a human is someone who is walking down the street with a mind of his own. God made man in is own image, didn't he? There are lots of questions in science and theology which cannot be answered with 100% certainty.

Cheers.

Posted by: cp36 on Thursday, 10 April 2008 at 4:04am BST

To Ben,

Hitler and his SS was an embodiment of perfect evil and one doesn't have to be a high moralist to know what was done then was all wrong. Stop the first man on the street and ask him and there is a high probability that he will agree with you.

The problem with the high moralists is they claim knowledge of things which they are actually ignorant of.

Cheers.

Posted by: cp36 on Thursday, 10 April 2008 at 4:12am BST

RE obvious Sinners covering themselves and their notoriety/shame with Mr Bonhoeffer's name for late modern political reasons of Propaganda, I suggest Simon or somebody pick up what I wrote a year ago with regard to a lecture by Dr Rowan.

We, who still remember the past bad Age and the following decades, are not particularly pleased.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Thursday, 10 April 2008 at 6:29am BST

Rick
"But, no, you can't consent to your child's death, or your child's conversion into a half-human, half-animal, so that someone can learn something useful or interesting from the experiment"

What I find difficult here is your implication that an embryo is morally and physically the same as a real child that could be converted into a half-human half-animal.

Those of us who support this research, and those of us who are not yet sure where we stand, would never consent to doing anything like that to a child. We simply don't believe, or are not yet sure, whether an embryo with a potential life has the same status as a born child.

To paint us as deliberate child abusers is repugnant. And wrong.
It's the same category error often made by people in the gay debate, who simply cannot see that it is possible to have a morally valid different view, and that supporting gay relationships does not mean deliberately going against God's will.

It would be very helpful if we could accord each other the respect of accepting that we genuinely believe our view is moral, not that we ingore morals for personal gain.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 10 April 2008 at 9:26am BST

"...But, no, you can't consent to your child's death,..."

Ah, but I can. I have every right as a parent to refuse medical treatment that will prolong life in a state I consider to be inhuman or inhumane.

If I believe that continued existence as a frozen embryo to be inhuman or inhumane....?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Thursday, 10 April 2008 at 11:37am BST

"To paint us as deliberate child abusers is repugnant. And wrong."

Erika, I was specifically responding to Mr. O'Neill's argument that, if we can so consent for our children, we can so consent for our embryos, pointing out that, no, we cannot so consent for our children. His inference may flow from his premise, but his premise was wrong. I hope no one would disagree with that.

Obviously anyone who considers a pre-born child a "thing" rather than a "person" will feel morally compelled to support this kind of research. I certainly would. But we come back to that old sticking point, don't we?

"There is neither dignity nor nobility in suffering."

Merseymike, who exactly has proposed that as an argument in favor of restrictions? And if no one has, isn't that just a red herring?


Posted by: rick allen on Thursday, 10 April 2008 at 12:03pm BST

"Erika, I was specifically responding to Mr. O'Neill's argument that, if we can so consent for our children, we can so consent for our embryos, pointing out that, no, we cannot so consent for our children. His inference may flow from his premise, but his premise was wrong. I hope no one would disagree with that."

As noted, I disagree, because you are incorrect. I do have the legal right to allow my child to die, rather than have him or her undergo physical or mental pain, or continue in what I consider an inhuman or inhumane state...and that includes then allowing the remains to be used for research.

I consider keeping an embryo frozen for eternity an inhuman or inhumane state...and I would prefer for any embryo over which I had parental control to be used for the eventual good of mankind.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Thursday, 10 April 2008 at 8:29pm BST

Ford did, Rick. They are his words. The point I am making is that dealing with the suffering caused is far more morally urgent, to me, that worrying about a clump of 14 day old cells which are, in my view, no more significant than that.

Thus, I feel Christianity, in placing this clump if cells above the needs of, say, someone with CF, is fundamentally IM-moral. I realise not all Christians take this view, but most do. Yes, for me, I am morally compelled to support research which ends suffering - and I couldn't care less if ten million clumps of cells are destroyed in the process. Its no0 more morally significant that ten million bars of soap. I do not think that the clump of cells has any moral status at all.

Posted by: Merseymike on Thursday, 10 April 2008 at 9:14pm BST

"I do not think that the clump of cells has any moral status at all."

Merseymike, you are a clump of cells. So am I.

Posted by: rick allen on Thursday, 10 April 2008 at 11:26pm BST

"I do have the legal right to allow my child to die, rather than have him or her undergo physical or mental pain, or continue in what I consider an inhuman or inhumane state."

But is so managing the death of a dying child the same as bringing about a death that occurs only because you will it? A human embryo isn't dying; he or she has considerably more potential life than you or I.

Surely our right to make decisions for our children rests precisely on our duty to decide what is best for them. How is is moral for us to deliberately put them into some sort of vegetative state, then decide that death is better than the state we put them in?

And, too, isn't there a tremendous gulf between allowing a dead person's body to be used for research, and causing a person to be killed for research?

Posted by: rick allen on Thursday, 10 April 2008 at 11:56pm BST

Yes, Rick, and if you seriously can't distinguish between a fully grown human being and a 14 day clump of cells, then your moral compass is severely out of kilter.

Posted by: Merseymike on Friday, 11 April 2008 at 12:28am BST

No-one is being killed for research, Rick.

Posted by: Merseymike on Friday, 11 April 2008 at 12:28am BST

"Surely our right to make decisions for our children rests precisely on our duty to decide what is best for them. How is is moral for us to deliberately put them into some sort of vegetative state, then decide that death is better than the state we put them in?"

So what would you do with all those left-over embryos from in vitro fertilization procedures, Rick?

If it is immoral to put them in "some sort of vegetative state" and immoral to destroy them, even in the furtherance of medical research, what should we do with them? Force the parents to implant and bring all of them to term?

Or would you halt in vitro entirely?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Friday, 11 April 2008 at 3:13am BST

"Or would you halt in vitro entirely?"

I hate to shock you, but yes. Why should we encourage any procedure that deliberately creates human embryos destined for the trash can?

"...if you seriously can't distinguish between a fully grown human being and a 14 day clump of cells, then your moral compass is severely out of kilter."

Oh, I have no trouble distinquiahing them, just as I have no trouble distinguishing the tremendous difference between an adult who can argue the morality of in vitro fertilization and a newborn baby. The question is not whether there is a difference, but whether there is something common, something which we may call humanity, which counsels against treating a living being with human DNA as a thing we may kill with impunity.

You think my moral compass out of whack because I extend that compassion due to fellow human beings to the earliest stages at which a human individual exists. Perhaps it is, but if so it seems a remarkably common failing.

One of the things I think is going on here is a failure to "think four-dimensionally," as the character in the movie put it. We live in time. I see the potential to live as something real. A newborn has almost none of the traits you might identify as distinctively human: language, reason, social interaction. And yet I don't think our moral compasses askew because we treat the killing of a baby as murder. There is the humanity, and the potential humanness wrongly cut off.

Indeed, when you think about it, no murderer takes anything from his victim but "potential life." Which is worse, after all, killing an adult philosopher, with all the traits and characteristics of a reasoning human being, or killing a newborn? Is there any basis, in making such an awful choice, in considering whether the newborn, though less human by some standards, is deprived of that potential for life which the adult has atleast been able to actualize? In other words, is there a reason that we, the old, sometimes think it more moral, when faced with hard choices, to save the young first? And why is that, if their greater potential life is only a chimera?

Posted by: rick allen on Friday, 11 April 2008 at 11:56am BST

""Or would you halt in vitro entirely?"

I hate to shock you, but yes. Why should we encourage any procedure that deliberately creates human embryos destined for the trash can?"

So much for compassion for millions of childless couples. You, sir, are a luddite. You would turn back the clock of science to a time when there was no knowledge of genetics or cell structure, to a time when a woman who could not conceive was called by the ugly term of "barren".

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Friday, 11 April 2008 at 6:20pm BST

And you are entitled to that view, Rick, but it remains a minority one, and should not be imposed in the majority who do not follow your religion.

Posted by: Merseymike on Friday, 11 April 2008 at 6:39pm BST

"Ford did, Rick. They are his words. "

My words were:

"Just because there is dignity and nobility in suffering doesn't mean we shouldn't try to reduce suffering in the world."

Where did I say that we shouldn't try to reduce suffering in the world because suffering is noble?

"if you seriously can't distinguish between a fully grown human being and a 14 day clump of cells, then your moral compass is severely out of kilter."

The idea that, if someone disagrees with you on a sensitive issue, that means their moral compass is out of kilter reminds me of the things being said about liberals by our conservative friends, Mike: Agree with me or you are immoral! You seem to be a bit more fundamentalist in your world view than you want to think about yourself.

And, cp36, I don't feel I have the ability to decide on the humanity of someone else. Many times in history, people have taken it upon themselves to define the humanity of others, with horrendous consequences that still affect us. I am a gay man. I know what it is to have someone, or some Church, deny that I am a human being. I do not believe I have the right to do that to others. Sorry to sound so sanctimonious, but I am a bit taken aback at the idea that I have the right to affirm or deny someone else's humanity.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 11 April 2008 at 7:34pm BST

They aren't human beings, Ford. Clump of cells. if you think they are a human being try putting the cells on a plate and see if you can observe anything human about them.

Oh, and its because people like you are so wishy washy that the church is in such a mess.
Liberals should have split from the conservatives a long time ago. Yes, conservatives are immoral - they are homophobic bigots, just like their religion.

Anyway, I see little point in Christianity any more - humanism makes a lot more sense and thats where my journey is progressing.

Posted by: Merseymike on Tuesday, 15 April 2008 at 9:54am BST

Merseymike
I respect your journey towards humanism. In many respects it is much more moral than Chrstianity is becoming.

As long as you're not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Just because people get it badly wrong doesn't mean there is no God.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 15 April 2008 at 10:35am BST
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