Published: 16 August 2016 (GMT+10)
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in America recently announced the intention to lift a moratorium on the funding of genetic research involving inserting human genetic material into animal embryos. National Public Radio reports:
The National Institutes of Health is proposing a new policy to permit scientists to get federal money to make embryos, known as chimeras, under certain carefully monitored conditions.1
While this raises all sorts of fantastical images of half-human monstrosities, the reality is not quite like that. This does not mean the moral issues are less clear, only that we have to step through this subject carefully. As Christians we should evaluate these issues from a biblical lens. What biblical ideas should inform our thinking in this area?
The dominion mandate
The dominion mandate was God’s command to Adam and Eve to subdue and rule the earth. This is stated in Genesis 1:27–28:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Though this was later affected by the Curse (c.f. Genesis 3:14-19), the dominion mandate was never rescinded. Also, the assumption inherent in this passage was that the Mandate was given to mankind, thus the responsibility has passed on to us, the descendants of Adam and Eve. While there is some debate, it is generally agreed that it gives permission to use the rest of creation for human benefit, while also giving us the responsibility to be good stewards.
Yet, some people try to twist the scriptures, falsely claiming the Bible allows us to do whatever we please. This twisting comes in two forms. Some Christians ignore the ‘taking care of’ aspect of the Mandate. And some environmentalists try to denigrate the Bible by pointing out environmental problems caused by “Christians” and their disregard for the natural world. Both of these positions are incorrect.
Notably, the dominion mandate does not extend to other human beings, which is why we are against abortion, eugenics, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, slavery, or anything which destroys or assumes inappropriate control over another human being.
Using this simple rule helps us to think about whether a given practice is allowable or not. If creating human-animal chimeras is a right-to-life issue, we need to speak up! For instance, it is not intrinsically immoral to insert a human gene into a non-human animal, provided a human being was not destroyed or exploited in the process. In fact, this is how insulin is produced today. No longer do diabetics have to take pig insulin. Instead it is manufactured by bacteria that have the human insulin gene inserted into their genome. This is a prime example of how the Dominion Mandate works and how we have been able to use the things under our care for human benefit.
On the other hand, creating human clones will absolutely require ‘culling’ of those embryos that fail to develop properly while the techniques are being worked out. This is reprehensible and thus we stand strongly against human cloning, in principle.
What is already legally permissible
We already experiment on animals. While no one wants to bring unnecessary suffering about, these experiments help to develop new treatments that have, in turn, saved many human lives.
Also, parts from animals are already used to treat medical problems in humans. Heart valves from pigs can be transplanted into humans (these are called xenotransplants), and last longer than synthetic valves. We have no moral qualms about this. So, for instance, growing a human liver in a pig, perhaps even using the patient’s own cells to avoid organ rejection, is a difference of degree, not of kind.
Stem cell research is currently permitted in most Western countries today. However, only adult stem cell research is moral, because this does not require killing a developing human being. It should be noted that every advancement in treating diseases with stem cells to date has come from adult stem cells.
Won’t this result in human/animal hybrids?
So is it moral to create human/animal chimeras? This is a tricky question, but the answer boils down to a few simple ideas. First, will the work be done with fetal stem cells? If so, then it is not moral and should not be done.
Second, will there be any restraints on what percent human or animal the hybrids will be? We suspect that even if limits are placed they will be removed later, so this is no guarantee.2
Third—and this is the kicker—what moral guidelines are the scientists operating under? Under the atheistic, naturalistic, Darwinian mindset of the majority of scientists today, there is no God to whom we can appeal for moral guidance. There is no human soul or afterlife. There is no consciousness after death.
As the late evolutionist and atheist William Provine said:
Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear, and I must say that these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposive forces of any kind, no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be completely dead. That’s just all—that’s gonna be the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.
Thus, under this mindset the experimenter can do whatever he or she likes because there is no real basis for morality. As long as an embryo cannot feel pain, they are generally not squeamish when experimenting on them. And as long as the embryo has no higher thoughts (like sadness, longing, or even revenge) they generally do not worry about it “thinking” about what is happening to it. But this is hardly a guide for the morality of science! We need an outside opinion on the matter, and the Bible gives us that.
Because there is no real stopping point (what is to prevent someone from seeing how far the chimera will develop?), and because this will quickly raise right-to-life questions (Is it human or not? Can we kill it whenever we like? Etc.), we think that creating human/animal chimeras is biblically not permissible. In the modern world, we can raise all sorts of moral questions that we as a global society are not able to answer, because we do not have a way to answer them. Yet the Bible gives us very good guidelines. Science should be used to glorify God, but this new branch of science is more about humans playing God.