The U.S. Senate voted on May 27, to kill a Republican amendment to a technology bill that would have prohibited disturbing and unethical research experiments designed to create human-animal hybrid embryos known as chimeras.
The amendment to the Endless Frontier Act was proposed by Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and co-sponsored by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). It failed in a vote of 49-48. The amendment would have banned the creation of human-animal chimeras, the attempt to create human-animal chimeras, and the transfer of a nonhuman embryo to a human womb, and vice versa. Violators of the amendment would have faced up to 10 years imprisonment or a fine of at least one million dollars or both.
The amendment was endorsed by the Family Research Council, March for Life Action, National Right to Life, Senate Pro-Life Caucus, Susan B. Anthony List, U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, and the White Coat Waste Project.
“Human life is distinct and sacred, and research that creates an animal-human hybrid or transfers a human embryo into an animal womb or vice versa should be completely prohibited, and engaging in such unethical experiments should be a crime,” said Senator Braun in a statement.
A chimera is an organism that contains cells from two distinct species, such as an animal-human hybrid created in a laboratory setting. Research involving chimeras has been the center of a decades-long debate over a thicket of ethical implications. As bioethicist Insoo Hyun told NPR, “Nobody wants a chimeric embryo to grow into a part-human, part-animal thing that has human cells from head to toe mixed in.”
In April, Live Action News reported that scientists created embryos that are a combination of human and monkey cells for the first time. The results of that research have been published in the journal Cell.
The research prompted numerous ethical concerns including whether the chimera would be regulated as a human, since it has some human cells, or as an animal, since it has some animal cells. In addition, Dr. David Prentice of the Charlotte Lozier Group and David Christensen of Family Research Council made the important observation that “there has been no valid ethical or scientific rationale for the necessity of creating this type of human-animal chimera.”
Although scientists in the United States are currently prohibited from keeping human embryos alive in their labs for more than 14 days, that could all change soon. The International Society for Stem Cell Research has released new guidelines that say it could be permissible to study living human embryos in the lab for longer than two weeks. The National Institutes of Health said in a statement that they would be reviewing the new ISSCR guidelines, which includes the possibility of dissolving the 14-day rule.
“I think it’s deeply troubling,” said Dr. Daniel Sulmasy, a bioethicist at Georgetown University. “Now, any sign of respect for the human embryo is gone.”
Human-animal chimera research is prohibited from receiving federal funding but still occurs in private labs with limited regulation. In 2016, the NIH considered lifting its moratorium on experimentation involving human stem cells in animal embryos. Though the NIH has yet to lift that moratorium, chimeric research has continued to advance in the private sector at an alarming rate.
“We shouldn’t need to clarify in law that creating animal-human hybrids or ‘chimeras’ is ethically unthinkable, but sadly the need for that very clear distinction has arrived,” said Sen. Lankford. “Currently the National Institutes of Health does not do this research, and we need to keep it that way. Researchers who are attempting these horrific once-science-fiction experiments should focus on valuing the dignity of human life, not trying to genetically merge and manipulate humans and animals.”
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