The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: Are Monkey-Human Hybrid Embryos Kosher?

Colleen writes: “For the first time, U.S. and Chinese scientists have created embryos that are part human, part monkey, in an effort to find new ways to produce organs for transplants. As a faith leader what are the ethical concerns based on your religious tradition?”

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

For more resources on interfaith dialogue and understanding, see the Kaufman Interfaith Institute page and their weekly Interfaith Insight column at InterfaithUnderstanding.org.

Colleen writes: “For the first time, U.S. and Chinese scientists have created embryos that are part human, part monkey, in an effort to find new ways to produce organs for transplants. As a faith leader what are the ethical concerns based on your religious tradition?”

The Rev. Steven W. Manskar, a retired United Methodist pastor, responds:

“I think the following from The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church addresses the question:

“Because of the effects of genetic technologies on all life, we call for effective guidelines and public accountability to safeguard against any action that might lead to abuse of these technologies, including political or military ends. We recognize that cautious, well-intended use of genetic technologies may sometimes lead to unanticipated harmful consequences. The risks of genetic technology that can hardly be calculated when breeding animals and plants and the negative ecological and social impacts on agriculture make the use of this technology doubtful. We approve modern methods of breeding that respect the existence of the natural borders of species.”

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“Well, part of me thinks, ‘What could go wrong?’ That would be with a notably sarcastic tone, of course. But upon serious reflection I am willing to trust the bioethicists who often guide such experimentation. I’m sure if this provides fodder for a debate as to whether or not these embryos are in possession of a soul. Hindu Dharma teaches that all sentient beings are ensouled, so that isn’t an issue. While I can certainly understand the argument of those who oppose this, I cannot buy into the overused trope that we shouldn’t be ‘tampering’ with nature. It could be said that if God makes it possible to happen, it is, in a real sense, nature.”

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

“While Unitarian Universalists are strong supporters of science this may be crossing the line for most of us. First, the advances made in science far out pace our ability to answer or handle some of these ethical questions or advances. While the current researchers have no interest in creating a hybrid being/species what if others do this in the future. We are currently incapable of treating all humans with equity, I fear how a sub-human being would be exploited.

“As a general rule, most UUs would support the use of human embryos to produce organs for transplant and other life saving research. It is the creation of something part human and part monkey that feels unethical.”

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“I am not a moral theologian or medical ethicist. My response is going to be with my limited knowledge of the above disciplines. Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. God gives humans innate dignity. Genetic engineering that reduces a human being to less than a person is immoral. The reason is it reduces humans to be less than God intended.

“Animal welfare is another serious question that needs addressing. All animals are God’s creation, and humans have a responsibility to respect and care for all created things. The Catholic Church teaches, ‘human’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the creator is not absolute’ and ‘requires a religious respect for the integrity of all creation’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 580).”

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“Pastors who faithfully visit the sick in their congregations soon learn that impressions to the contrary, modern medicine cannot work miracles.  Every doctor has cases that baffle him or her, and defy the best efforts to diagnose and treat them. Sometimes the cure is more deadly than the disease. The practice of organ transplantation is especially fraught with difficulties and dangers. We can only hope that with the progress of knowledge, better and more reliable ways may be found to treat diseased organs, or to prevent such cases entirely.

“One unforeseen consequence has been an illicit international trade in organs ‘harvested’ for transplanting. Unscrupulous merchants prey upon the poor of the world to supply organs to the rich. It is far too soon to say whether this new hybrid source will avail to stem the demand that drives this illicit trade of organ-harvesting.  As with many other ‘breakthroughs’ heralded in the past, this development may lead nowhere, and end up as a footnote in medical history.”

My response:

Pikuah nefesh is the idea that saving a human life supersedes most other prohibitions in Jewish life. Arguably, creating an animal whose sole purpose is to die at maturity to give an organ to a human being is a potential violation of tza’ar ba’alei hayyim, the prohibition against causing undue pain to animals, but we do raise animals for food and that is not necessarily considered tza’ar ba’alei hayyim. However, I am having trouble imagining herds of pigs and sheep bred for human transplantation living happy, free-range lives. More likely, they will live in a carefully restricted, sterile, and monitored environment, and this troubles me.

 

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.

Browse