Human Stem Cells and Pig DNA

On 5 May this year, the Observatorio Bioética of the Catholic University of Valencia published a thoughtful article by Justo Aznar (which you can read in English here) that neatly summarises some of the medical and ethical problems posed by the creation and use of chimeras. Today’s BBC report of work being undertaken in the U.S. to grow human organs inside pigs by means of gene editing simply highlights how far medical research has progressed towards the creation of animal-human hybrids.

I don’t pretend to have the scientific, philosophical or theological skills necessary to discuss this matter in any depth, but there is one question I think we can all legitimately ask and that is: how far can we justify the kind of risk-taking such research involves on the grounds of its potential benefit? I imagine most people would say that organ transplants are a good thing in themselves because they enable us to cope with diseases that would otherwise kill us or condemn us to a lifetime of painful treatment. But there are so many unknowns in the work currently being undertaken that we do not know what we might be unleashing. Does that impose any limits? Does the fact that we can do something necessarily mean it is right to do it? I suspect I may not be the only person waking up this morning and wondering whether we are closer than ever before to a nightmare of our own making — a nightmare we didn’t intend or foresee. What do you think?