US Bishops Urge NIH Not to Fund Human Animal ‘Chimera’ Research

By Lauretta Brown | September 6, 2016 | 6:37pm EDT
(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

( – The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has strongly objected to a federal government proposal to lift a funding moratorium in two areas of research into human-animal “chimeras.”

“The government is ignoring the fact that federally funded research of this kind is prohibited by Federal statute and is also grossly unethical,” the body said in its objection Friday.

Last month the Office of Science Policy of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) posted an announcement seeking public comment on a plan to provide funding for research:

-- in which “human pluripotent cells are introduced into non-human vertebrate embryos, up through the end of gastrulation stage, with the exception of non-human primates, which would only be considered after the blastocyst stage,” and

-- in which “human cells are introduced into post-gastrulation non-human mammals (excluding rodents), where there could be either a substantial contribution or a substantial functional modification to the animal brain by the human cells.”

Anthony Picarello, USCCB associate general secretary and general counsel, and Michael Moses, associate general counsel, submitted a letter outlining moral and legal objections to the NIH’s proposal.

“The bottom line is that the Federal government will begin expending taxpayer dollars on the creation and manipulation of new beings whose very existence blurs the line between humanity and animals such as mice and rats,” they wrote. “In doing so, the government is ignoring the fact that federally funded research of this kind is prohibited by Federal statute and is also grossly unethical.”

The letter argued that the government had already crossed a “significant moral line” by allowing embryonic stem cell research, but added that the latest proposal violated another principle.

“The government now proposes running roughshod over another basic moral principle, however, by injecting human embryonic stem cells into the embryos of various animal species to create beings who do not fully belong to either the human race or the host animal species.”

The research “raises grave moral as well as legal issues,” they wrote.

“With a stroke of the pen, the ‘mouse with a human brain’ that some researchers have proposed – prompting widespread public controversy and the introduction of federal legislation to prohibit such abuses – will be a matter of routine federal policy.”

The letter also argued that the NIH should have taken more time to consider the policy, pointing out that “NIH apparently held only one meeting on this complex and controversial issue, in November 2015, and its task was to ‘review the state of the science and discuss animal welfare issues.’”

“It seems there was no discussion of ‘ethical issues’ involved in producing partly human animals.”  

Picarello and Moses argued that the dubious nature of the result of such experiments would make it “impossible to determine what one’s moral obligations may be regarding that organism.”

“If this is an animal, one may ultimately destroy that animal once it has served its research use – many would say one must do so, to prevent any possibility of breeding that may produce more human/animal hybrids,” the wrote. “If this being may have some claim on membership in the human family, then morally one must not take such action.”

“We submit that producing new organisms, regarding whom our fundamental moral and legal obligations are inevitably confused and even contradictory, is itself immoral,” they stated.

The letter also referenced the Dickey amendment, which forbids the use of federal funds for “the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes; or (2) research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero.”

For the purposes of that provision, a “human embryo” is defined to include “any organism, not protected as a human subject under 45 CFR 46 as of the date of the enactment of this Act, that is derived by fertilization, parthenogenesis, cloning, or any other means from one or more human gametes or human diploid cells.”

“In other words, it is unlawful for NIH to conduct or fund such research,” the letter concluded.

For all these reasons the letter asked that the NIH set aside its “seriously flawed” proposal.

Human Life Action, which works with the USCCB on legislative matters, is urging the public to contact the NIH and strongly object to the use of tax dollars for this research.

The deadline for public comment on the proposal is Tuesday, September 6th.

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