A Bad Week

This week MPs voted to allow the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for experimental purposes.

 

This will inevitably be applauded by the scientists keen to pioneer this novel way of creating stem cells to model disease and develop treatments.

It will certainly be celebrated by those representing the sufferers of terrible degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s who have pinned their hopes of a long-awaited breakthrough on this technology.

But does this momentous decision really make this a good week for humanity, in which sense triumphed over superstition, compassion over ideology?

Is it really progress towards a world of less suffering and greater human dignity?

 

Or could the Luddites perhaps be right? Could this technology be a step too far, worthy in its aims but ultimately immoral and counterproductive?

 

Well, it would seem to be a bad week at least for the ethically non-controversial adult stem cell research, which has to date led to the development of over 70 therapies currently under trial.

 

According to leading scientists, it is adult and not embryonic stem cell research that offers the best chance of safe and effective treatments.

Since research funding is limited, hyped-up embryonic research will inevitably divert funds away from these more promising avenues.

 

But the worst thing about this decision is not this pragmatic concern; it is the undermining of the foundational ethical principles that humans are more valuable than animals and that one human life is worth just as much as another.

In creating human-animal hybrids the fundamental categories of human and non-human have been shattered.

 

Our MPs have sanctioned the creation of entities that are neither fully animal nor fully human. And logically, they must have a moral value somewhere in between.

We have consented to the logical – if not practical – possibility of the existence of a less-than-human human, worth less than other humans.

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It is the crossing of this moral Rubicon that makes this week a bad one for humanity. The aims of creating useful human-animal hybrids are – even if naïve – worthy.

But the unintended result will be degradation of human dignity and consequent abuse and oppression.

 

In time, the new category of human-but-not-quite-human will grow in our consciousness and, in place of the historic human/non-human all-or-nothing moral system, a sliding scale of value will be set up in our minds as we judge worth by other criteria, such as physical beauty, intellectual capacity, or economic productiveness.

 

In our moral reasoning, all humans used to be equal, at least in theory. But now, some will be more equal than others.