WE ALREADY KNOW that human cybrids are embryos fabricated with enucleated animal eggs and the nucleus of a human body cell. Concretely the cybrids already produced in the U.K. are made with the nucleus of human cells inserted into cow’s eggs. These embryos will be terminated when their harvest of embryonic stem cells are removed for the sole purpose of research on the said cells. We also know that Singapore scientists want to make human cybrids and that the Bioethics Advisory Commission (BAC) is seeking a response from the Singaporean public to know what is their opinion on this issue.

What is striking is the passivity of Singapore people. The overwhelming response from the general public seems to be sheer ignorance on what is happening or condescending silence.

We do not have an official document of the church on this particular topic. The pope himself cautioned that the church’s teaching "should not intervene on every scientific innovation" (Benedict XVI, "Speech to the CDF", Jan 31, 2008).

However, we are not lost. We have some ethical landmarks that help us find our bearings in this uncharted ethical territory.

To begin with, we should acknowledge that cybrids are human embryos. The Catholic Church in the U.K. issued a letter to be read in all parishes protesting against the fabrication of this mixture of human DNA and animal life.

U.K. scientists accused the church of misinterpreting the scientific status of human cybrids. Cybrids are not, they said, as the church seems to understand, half-cows half-humans. Stephen Minger, a scientist, contended that cybrids are "devoid of an animal genetic identity".

"The resulting embryo contains only human genes," scientists said.

Actually, that is not scientifically accurate since these cybrids will still preserve part of the cow’s DNA present in the mitochondria of the cow’s egg. But what matters for us here, is that cybrids are a kind of "human embryos" and it is precisely because they are human that they are so coveted for scientific research.

Secondly, we also know, from previous interventions of the teaching of the church on bioethical matters, that cloning is immoral. We know that not all transplants are ethical, concretely: "organs which embody the characteristic uniqueness of the person, which medicine is bound to protect" may not be transplanted ("The Charter for Health Care Workers", 1995, # 88).

Finally, we also know that experimenting with human embryos is morally wrong: "I condemn, [John Paul II said] experimental manipulations of the human embryo, since the human being, from conception to death, cannot be exploited for any purpose whatsoever" (AAS 75 (1983) 37).

Since cybrids are also human embryos, we can conclude that the fabrication of cybrids is incompatible with the teaching of the church in similar matters because cybrids are…

a kind of human cloning, because it clones a human into an animal egg

a kind of experimentation in an embryo that is genetically human

a kind of transferring human material that is intimately linked to the genetic identity of the person into an animal egg

For some, the spontaneous reaction is that scientists are playing God. However, the ‘playing God’ argument needs to be used and understood properly. There is nothing wrong with using science and technology per se. But we are not absolute lords of the universe, only "stewards" of God’s creation. So, how do we know when we have trespassed into the forbidden territory of "playing God" or we are still being stewards of creation?

Playing God is simply stepping where God alone can step in: dominion over the human person. The human person can never be used as a means to an end?and must always be respected and considered an end in himself (Kant). This is not a religious conclusion but the most basic ethical concept without which civilization itself collapses.

Because all humans are equal in dignity, when a person becomes the lord of the destiny of another human being, he breaches this fundamental ethical norm and erects himself as superior to his equals. He plays a forbidden game, not only because he usurps God’s?perogative, but also because he creates a divide of masters and slaves. Making cybrids is "playing God", not because it is an artificial research project but because when scientists fabricate, use and dispose of human cybrids, they take a position of dominion, and not one of respect, over human life.

What the church should announce today is not a sectarian private truth accessible only to believers but simply that we are all equal in dignity and that even scientific research should halt before the forbidden fruit of using human embryos, cybrids or otherwise. - Father David Garcia n

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