Human embryo experiments like those recently revealed at a European fertility conference demonstrate a need for regulations on research, a Southern Baptist bioethicist says.
Criticism greeted two reports in particular at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Madrid, Spain. Researchers suggested eggs could be created from the ovaries of aborted female babies to help infertile women, possibly leading to the birth of a child whose biological mother was never born. Another group of researchers reported on the creation of "she-males," embryos with both male and female cells.
Israeli and Dutch researchers reported they had been able to keep ovarian tissue taken from aborted babies alive four weeks, according to The Independent, a London newspaper. The researchers theorize the ovaries can be stimulated in a test tube to develop eventually into mature eggs, the newspaper reported.
Researchers from Chicago reported they had injected male cells into female embryos in experiments they hope will produce cures for genetic disorders, Reuters news service reported.
"Intentionally confusing the gender of embryos and then destroying them in research adds insult to injury," said Ben Mitchell, a consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and an associate professor of bioethics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago. "Once researchers decide that human embryos are lives unworthy of life, nothing is forbidden.
"Human embryos do not exist for our pleasure or for Frankensteinian research. They are nascent human beings who deserve respect and ought not be harmed."
Pro-life ethicists were not the only ones to decry the experiments.
"There are very good reasons why this type of research is generally rejected by the international research community," said Francoise Shenfield, an official with the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, of the "she-males" research, according to Reuters. "I cannot conceive of any situation in which this particular technique would be acceptable, and if it cannot be applied there is not much use in experimenting with it."
The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority in England opposes using tissue from aborted babies for infertility treatments because of the impact it might have on the child born as a result of such a procedure, The Independent reported. The HFEA permits using tissue from aborted babies to create eggs for research, however, according to the newspaper.
Also at the European conference, a Swedish researcher predicted a child could be born from a transplanted womb in the next three years, according to the BBC News. The researcher, Matts Brannstrom, reported that he has successfully transplanted wombs into mice and produced babies, resulting in many requests for help from women, according to the BBC.
The Washington Post reported July 14 that Australian doctors have screened out embryos who carried a gene for deafness — the initial example of pre-selection to eradicate a characteristic that is not life-threatening. Some of the embryos would not have been deaf but only had a gene that made producing a child with deafness more likely, according to The Post. Of the seven embryos they produced, the fertility doctors refused to implant not only the one that would have been deaf but all five that would have had normal hearing but carried the deaf gene, the newspaper reported.
"Researchers are creating a 'grotesquery' in their effort to see if they can manipulate human embryos," said Mitchell. "Unless we mandate ethical responsibility in research through regulation, we can expect daily horrors. The technocrats have run amok, and their so-called science knows no limits. Unless we rise to the occasion and impose appropriate regulations on research and research funding, the experiments will only grow more grotesque."