“When it comes to the ethics of mixing cellular materials between humans and animals to produce ‘chimeric animals,’ the details of what researchers are doing will be of the essence,” Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, the director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA.
An ethical example of this research, he said, would be to “implant human stem cells into embryonic monkeys in order to grow human hearts, kidneys, and other organs inside the monkey animal, primarily to alleviate serious donor shortages for organ transplants.”
This would be ethical “as long as certain limits and boundaries are respected.”
The reverse, however--adding monkey stem cells to a human--would “raise grave ethical objections,” he said.
Fr. Pacholczyk told CNA that among the boundaries needed for ethical experimentation of this type were a “goal to induce one species, the monkey, to grow an organ or tissue of the other,” instead of a goal of a creation of a “new” species.
“The procedures must not involve the replication of major pillars of human identity or human cognition in the monkey, such as through the human brain system,” he said, adding that the monkey should not be able to produce human gametes either.
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Additionally, said Fr. Pacholczyk, “The procedures must not involve the creation, destruction or exploitation of human embryos,” and “The stem cells used for creating chimeric animals must be ethically-sourced.”
“In general, we make use of animals for a wide range of purposes — we eat them, we use them to make clothing, we use them for basic scientific research — so if we can use them to generate needed organs to save people’s lives without crossing fundamental ethical lines, this approach should be helpful,” he said.
Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P., a professor of biology at Providence College, had a more sceptical view on the ethical nature of human-animal chimeras. Fr. Austriaco told CNA that the creation of animal-animal chimeras “could be justified if there were a pressing research question that would benefit human health.”