Human-animal hybrid law debated in UK

Human-animal hybrid law debated in UK

Britain is debating how to regulate scientific experiments that involve the creations of human/animal “chimeras.”  There is understandable concern abuot the ethical issues around this work.

The concept of growing human-transplantable tissue within animals is not a new one.  However, recent advances mean that the prospect of manipulating embryos to produce "human" organs is suddenly very real.

Couple this with the widespread shortage in donor organs for transplants and the arguments for the technology seem clear.

Other approaches have been suggested to deal with the organ shortage. But these come with their own ethical considerations. Some countries assume donation consent unless someone decides otherwise. It has even been suggested that organs are harvested from prisoners after they have been given the death penalty.

Apart from organ donation, chimeras could be invaluable in increasing our understanding of human biology. For example, implanting high-functioning neurones into primates could enable researchers to investigate diseases like Alzheimer’s. But this raises yet more ethical concerns, with opponents arguing that there could be unexpected effects on the consciousness of the resultant animals.

The UK discussion aims to put in place legislation that provides a rigid framework for the scientific principles originally agreed in 2008. In essence is seems likely that certain work will be either prohibited outright or be subject to enhanced ethics review.

At the moment, the UK press has been relatively quiet on this issue - but that won't last forever!