Japanese scientists have announced plans to generate embryos that are hybrids of human beings and rats. This news came shortly after researchers in China announced that they were successfully generating human/monkey embryos. These experiments build on the work of American scientists who two years ago made hybrids of human beings and pigs.
The Japanese government recently changed its laws against such extreme genetic engineering and gave permission for the human/rat experiments, as well as for human/mice. The human/monkey hybrids were the work of Spanish researchers who opened a lab in China to evade European laws. The United States forbids federal money being used to make human/animal hybrids, so the work with pigs was financed privately.
The goal eventually is to cause animals to be born with human organs, which can then be used for organ transplants.
Researchers are injecting human stem cells into the developing animal embryo. So far the hybrids–which are technically called chimera, after the multi-species monsters of Greek mythology–have not been brought to term, being destroyed after a few weeks. But the plan is to prevent the animal embryo from growing a particular organ–the focus right now is on the pancreas–and to coax the human stem cells into developing a human organ instead.
One fear is that the stem cells could also develop into other human organs, including the brain. Might a rat someday be born with a human consciousness?
The Japanese government has imposed certain safeguards to prevent that from happening. According to LiveScience, “If the scientists find human cells in more than 30% of the rodent brains, the scientists have to stop the experiment. This is to ensure that a ‘humanized’ animal won’t come into being.”
Doesn’t that make you feel better? The reality, though, is that scientists know little about the physiology of consciousness or what the result might be if a rat had one-third of a human brain.
Right now, the biggest opponents of this sort of research seems to be the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which is concerned for what this does to animals. And rightly so. But we should also be concerned for the human side.Yet it may be difficult for many humans to see anything wrong with this. Who can object to developing a reliable source for life-saving organ transplants? If you had a loved one who needed a transplant, would you quibble if it came from an animal?
Probably not. When we are desperate, we tend to feel that the end justifies the means. But it doesn’t.
So what’s the problem?
For one thing, notice how human life is being casually destroyed in order to “harvest” the baby’s stem cells, which are then injected into animal embryos (most of which are also aborted). This is more monstrous than any mythological chimera.
More fundamentally, such genetic engineering violates Creation itself. Human beings were created in the Image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), so that tampering with what is human is also a blasphemous assault on God Himself (9:6). As for animals, they were created and made to multiply “according to their kinds” (Genesis 1:24-25).
As the PETA article shows, there are other ways to solve the organ donation shortage other than “Frankenscience.” And even if this remains a problem, we should consider whether our desire for life at all costs should trump all other values.
Finally, I would commend to you the novel The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells. Written in 1896, the book shows how such hybrids can go horribly wrong. Wells thought that he was writing a fantasy.
Illustration by Piotr Siedlecki, King Rat, via NeedPix.com, CC0, Public Domain, https://www.needpix.com/photo/1423799/king-rat-crown-isolated-white-background-3d-drawing-color