A Christian bioethics lecturer has spoken out against new DNA surgery carried out by Chinese scientists who are reportedly creating lab-grown human embryos in order to test disease-removing techniques.
“What concerns me and actually quite a number of bio-ethicists and those who are looking and researching in this field is that what we here have is scientists who are deliberately creating human life, deliberately creating embryos. These are not embryos that have been left over as spares from fertility treatments from IVF,” Dr. Trevor Stammers, Bioethics lecturer at St. Mary’s University in Twickenham, told Premier.
“They’ve been specifically created to be experimented upon and then destroyed, which is why there are no children who were cured that the Chinese are bringing out. It’s just a proof of principle and it’s been gained in a way that many people would regard as being unethical.”
Chinese researchers from Sun Yat-sen University told BBC News that precise “chemical surgery” has been performed on human embryos to remove disease for the first time ever, using a base editing technique that corrects a single error in the human genetic code.
The scientists, who removed the disease beta-thalassemia from the altered lab-made embryos, said that one day a variety of inherited diseases could also be treated using such a method.
“We are the first to demonstrate the feasibility of curing genetic disease in human embryos by base editor system,” said Junjiu Huang, one of the researchers.
The lab-grown embryos were apparently produced through cloning.
Stammers said that although DNA work can be done in a manner consistent with Christian beliefs, such “chemical surgery” is a different question.
“It’s interesting that they have been using the words ‘chemical surgery’ because the use of ordinary surgery in adults, most Christians would rightly not have any qualms about that playing God. And similar techniques to this one have already been used in treating children with leukaemia successfully,” he said.
The Christian bioethicist questioned whether the end result of searching for a cure for diseases justifies the process of destroying human life.
He called the efforts “disturbing,” and suggested that despite the scientists’ claims, the only way to know for sure that the embryos had been cured from the disease is if they had been implanted and allowed to develop into children.
This isn’t the only DNA research related to curing diseases that has drawn controversy. NPR reported back in 2016 that U.S.-based scientists are working on embryos that are part human, part animal, calling them “chimeras,” as inspired by Greek mythology.
“We’re not trying to make a chimera just because we want to see some kind of monstrous creature,” said Pablo Ross, a reproductive biologist at the University of California, Davis. “We’re doing this for a biomedical purpose.”
Stuart Newman, a professor of cell biology and anatomy at New York Medical College, warned against such work, however, saying, “You’re getting into unsettling ground that I think is damaging to our sense of humanity.”
John Stonestreet, a Christian speaker and radio host, warned that genetically-modified human embryos is a reality many Christians have been dreading.
“This is an early step, to borrow a headline from the Technology Review, toward ‘engineering the perfect baby.’ It’s an early step in creating a parental arms race in which people with resources scramble to create their vision of the ‘perfect baby,’ with, potentially, the eye color, intelligence, and other traits they desire,” Stonestreet wrote in August.
“And it’s an early step in playing God with human genetics, one that could very well place humanity on intimate terms with the Devil.”