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.
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.”
“However, it is problematic to attempt to make human-animal chimeras with primate embryos because of the danger that we could make a disabled human,” he said. “There are other animals like pigs that could be used to grow transplantable organs.”
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Fr. Austriaco told CNA that he is “troubled” by this type of experimentation.
“I do not believe that our post-Christian and utilitarian society has the moral resources to draw the boundaries that should limit research with embryonic humans,” he said. “Experiments are thought to be justifiable if they can help some ease their suffering and pain.”
While similar experiments with pigs have been less successful, Fr. Austriaco called these experiments “an alternative that is not ethically fraught with danger in the same way.”