Hybrid Embryos

If I were an MP, I would be really annoyed at people who voted against measures that could cure people here and now in deference to an invisible sky bully that exists only in the mind.

If I were an MP I would vote solely on what the invisible imp that sits on my shoulder tells me – he's much more important to me that people with severe disabilities or who are under threat of death.

Yes – I am nailing my atheist credentials to the mast.

Likewise, if I see the phrase 'Frankenstein' in connection with this story once more I will start pulling my hair out – at no point are people seeking to reanimate the dead, we know that only leads to disaster.

I would cut the time limit on abortions to 20 weeks due to that nasty old scientific evidencenot that the government pays much attention to science.

Update: It would seem that there isn't scientific evidence for reducing the time limit on abortions, see the comments. In which case I retract my remark.

48 thoughts on “Hybrid Embryos”

  1. I stand corrected, I was looking at figures from further back from 1994.I was also taught (at nursing school) that the survival rates at 23 weeks was 50%

    So I think I'll blame my shoddy education, and thank you for teaching me the real figures.

    (This of course is one of the huge benefits of blogging)

  2. And if that were the argument that were being made against allowing the research I'd be fine. But 'My invisible friend tells me it's wrong' is a shockingly poor position to take.

  3. I've seen Anne Widdecombe use the “lack of actual cures” as an argument, but I have also seen the religious argument being pushed. But the religious argument is still valid.It's perfectly valid for someone to allow their religion to inform their voting (whether in Parliament or at the ballot box). The religion argument basically boils down to question of the dignity of the human life-form, and whether deliberately creating a life in order to destroy it is justified even if it can be used to relieve suffering.

    Leo

  4. Ah Mr Reynolds, I always suspected you were an atheist. It's nice to have it confirmed in black-and-white terms. Here's an idea for you, just a suggestion:Join the Out Campaign!

    There's a blogroll, and a nice big scarlet “A” to put on your blog, if you so wish. I think it's important to show just how many “regular” people are atheists – at the moment, the silent majority are generally being claimed as nominal theists.

  5. Leo – it's not about living 'a little bit more comfortably' and I don't know how anyone without children can claim to be 'impartial' on this subject, as after all, you don't have any direct experience. I wouldn't describe life with children as 'less comfortable' – it's not as simple as that – you make it sound like all children do is suck you dry financially. Whilst this is certainly true, there is a much greater price in terms of whether you can 'give' as a person, or whether you have the ability to learn how to turn a toddler trantrum around in the middle of a busy supermarket with everyone looking; and have to do this several times a day!Children can bring much joy, they are also incredibly hard work! At its worst parenting is the job you absolutely dread day in day out from which you cannot escape as they push you to your limits.

    I would not wish any child to be born to a mother ill-equipped emotionally or financially. At the end of the day society does not have the right to force women who do not wish to become mothers to do so.

  6. Dear oh dear…I'll pass on the false analogy argument in your slavery comment – life is too short, and my blood pressure is too high.

    However, I cannot but have a little prod at the deliciously succulent non-sequitur that having “non personal experience of such issues…”, gives you “the benefit of being impartial.”

    All your above comments demonstrate an attitude (presumably) inculcated by a major religious denomination, and which appear to be not within a long day's walk of being 'impartial'.

    impartial Adj: showing lack of favoritism; free from undue bias or preconceived opinions.

  7. What's wrong with the slavery analogy? If I believe that the child in utero has rights, then I cannot ignore its plight. Arguing against abortion is perfectly logical in that case. I'm not trying to press my opinions on others, I am trying to protect something that I believe needs protecting.And I plead guilty to the brain washing charge – fully paid up member of the Catholic Church.

    I believe that my claim of impartiality stands up because I am not unduly swayed by personal experience of parenting. If I needed to be a parent who was under stress to be impartial on this subject, then by that logic every jury member in a murder trial would need to have personal experience of being murdered!

    Leo

  8. Yes, the child in utero has rights, but they should not override the rights of the mother. And before you jump for that blind alley, I am talking about terminations for medical reasons, not social.Your logic on impartiality is also faulty – your claim does not “stand up”: it only fails to fail (important difference), and it has to not fail on all counts.

    Your claim does not fail on experience (or lack thereof) of parenting.

    Your claim does fail on being “a fully paid-up member of the Catholic Church, and therefore (presumably) subscribing to the views of that institution.

    Have a nice day.

  9. I wasn't going to reply, but hey ho…”I have no problem with a pregnant mother receiving life-saving treatment that would have a detrimental effect on her child. In that case, if only one life can be saved, then the mother is entitled to try to save her own life.” No argument there.

    However: ” It is a well-thought out, fully reasoned position.

    Interesting twist, there: the position is based on what it says in a book written by a number of authors, then re-interpreted several times, all of which dates from a long time prior to any real medical knowledge of pregnancy (or anything else for that matter).

    The “reasoning” is limited to attempting to interpret what this book means, working under the assumption that said book is divinely inspired, and therefore infallible.

    Well thought-out and fully reasoned implies starting from first principles and working up from there.

    The above can be parenthetically inserted into my previous post to remove any notion that I dismissed your argument purely on the basis of it's origin – I dismissed it on the basis of it's lack of consistent logic.

    Feel free to bring another straw man argument in (as per the last line of your post), but I think we may have to agree to differ on this.

    Yours logically

    CB

  10. Ah, but there are no current cures here and now that use embryonic stem cells. There are cures currently being used that are derived from adult stem cells.Anyway, even if a cure for a disease was found that needed to use Embryonic Stem Cells, where are all the stem cells going to come from?

    Leo

  11. “The dignity of the human life form” – no, I'll let that one go.The “religious question” of “whether deliberately creating a life in order to destroy it is justified even if it can be used to relieve suffering” – OK, I'll bite…

    [Rant]

    You are confusing religion, ethics and morality – a common non-sequitur perpetuated by religions everywhere, as if X religion alone has a monopoly on ethical and/or moral probity.

    Sorry to rant, but it is quite feasible to make ethical and moral judgments without an imaginary sky-pixie, friend-in-your-head or thunderbolt-wielding psychotic glaring over your shoulder, threatening you with eternal suffering for daring to deviate by the merest syllable from (insert name of chosen Holy Book here).

    Indeed, can you class as moral or ethical any judgement made under such duress?

    [/rant]

    I think I need more tea and/or more sleep. Sorry about the rant, Tom – I'll wipe the spittle off the screen now…

  12. I'm normally a lurker, but you've forced me out from the shadows.Leo, the suggestion that any sort of viability is a reason to reduce the time limit of abortions grossly over-simplifies what is a complex and difficult subject. You've also made the assumption that the foetus takes complete precedent over the mother and removed the control over her own body that a woman is entitled to.

    Please have a read of this article:

    http://lifeandhealth.guardian.co.uk/women/story/0,,2280895,00.html

    Late term abortions make up 1.45% of all abortions. The reason women have late-term abortions range from domestic abuse issues, drug addiction and fetal abnormality.

    Those of us who are pro-choice don't do a little dance every time someone has an abortion. However, we do acknowledge that life is messy and complicated and that some women will need to undergo a late term abortion.

    Over-simplifying things helps no one.

  13. I know it's feasible to make ethical and moral judgements without the big bearded guy up in the sky, but it is also perfectly reasonable to base one's ethical and moral judgements on the teachings of one's religion.But I haven't made any religious arguments – I know that some religions have declared the life starts at conception, and I happen to agree with that. If life doesn't start at conception, then where does it start? At birth? When can we truly say that a human is self-aware. What if it's 6 months old? Could we justify killing a 4-month old as it isn't self-aware. What about an elderly patient with dementia, who needs 24-hour supervision?

    The question of when human life begins and ends is an important question, and it's not just based on religion. I haven't confused anything. It's perfectly valid for my ethics and morality to be informed by my religion. If that's not allowed, then we don't have freedom of religion.

    Leo

  14. What? An atheist who helps people? What's the point of helping people if you're just going to go to hell anyway?It's nice to see a fellow atheist in EMS. 🙂

  15. And therein lies the problem. Take Catholicism. Admittedly from a very uninformed point of view, one of their main tenents is “tell God your sins, and say sorry to him, and you will be forgiven, and go to heaven anyway”.Now imagine an extremist Catholic, who thinks you can only go to heaven as a Catholic.

    Tom started the post, so I'll use Dick and Harry as my example!

    Dick is a multiple offender – several armed robberies, a murder or two, but as a Catholic, each and every one of these, he has confessed to “God”.

    Harry, on the other hand, is a good man. He never has a nasty word to say about anyone, and has never even broken the speed limit, let alone done anything immoral. He, however, does not believe in God.

    Who should go to “Heaven”?

  16. Another lurker de-cloaking!I don't think so. Viability has never seemed a very good argument to me. Without a lot of medical help, a fetus/baby born at 24 weeks is not actually viable at all. It's just a matter of choice if the medical intervention at that age is to keep it alive or terminate it. Life support for the very premature also costs a lot, and there is a high chance of developmental problems. I wouldn't complain if they RAISED the abortion limit. I realise this may not be popular.

  17. …and he brings out the same old chestnut of…He said saying that “supposedly faithless societies” ruled only by reason were like those created by Hitler and Stalin, ripe for “terror and oppression”.

    …and Hitler was a vegetarian. We shouldn't let vegetarians stand for election.

    (Also *cough* The Inquisition, Saudi Arabia, Sectarian violence in Ireland, in Iraq, etc… It's best not to judge thse things on a points scale).

  18. Emily,I only brought up the viability angle because the Guardian article Tom linked to was using viability as the basis for its argument. Personally, I've always thought that using viability as a cut-off point is a bad idea. At what age do we really become viable and self-sufficient?

    I don't make the assumption that the child takes precedence over the mother. Their two fates are balanced against each other, but I don't think that we should kill a child merely because it has an “abnormality” or illness.

    I had already read the article you cite. And while women may have abortions for the reasons you mention, I have also read stories of women who have brought such children to term, and it gave them great joy and hope.

    Leo

  19. Its a very difficult subject, as all debates relating to human 'life' are.I personally am in favour of advanced medical research to find cures for diseases and development for life saving treatments……… I've lost family and friends to cancer and supported a friend through having a transplant. I am not religious or atheist so these opinions come from my moral conscious.

    However, I do think it needs to be carefully controlled in terms of what is allowed to be done and how far these embryos are allowed to develop. I am afraid I don't know enough of the scientific side of this argument but I think it would be irresponsible to allow research to be uncontrolled.

    As for the religious moral argument, I think the concept of IVF to produce a donor match baby is good example. I think people's personal views and beliefs will direct them in action. If you believe it is wrong then you won't use the opportunities a change in the law would provide. If you are in the situation of needing to use this extreme option then you morals and beliefs will direct your decision. If the law is there we have the 'Freedom of Choice' that religion has given us.

    With regard to the worries of 'designer babies', this can be combatted by careful control of the process.

    Right or wrong until we have been faced with a situation where we may need one of these services can we honestly say we wouldn't use it?

  20. Actually, neither goes to heaven because there is no heaven. No magical man in the sky either. Look around you. That's all you get. Enjoy it while it lasts. Ciao!

  21. Its a very difficult subject, as all debates relating to human 'life' are.I personally am in favour of advanced medical research to find cures for diseases and development for life saving treatments……… I've lost family and friends to cancer and supported a friend through having a transplant. I am not religious or atheist so these opinions come from my moral conscious.

    However, I do think it needs to be carefully controlled in terms of what is allowed to be done and how far these embryos are allowed to develop. I am afraid I don't know enough of the scientific side of this argument but I think it would be irresponsible to allow research to be uncontrolled.

    As for the religious moral argument, I think the concept of IVF to produce a donor match baby is good example. I think people's personal views and beliefs will direct them in action. If you believe it is wrong then you won't use the opportunities a change in the law would provide. If you are in the situation of needing to use this extreme option then you morals and beliefs will direct your decision. If the law is there we have the 'Freedom of Choice' that religion has given us.

    With regard to the worries of 'designer babies', this can be combatted by careful control of the process.

    Right or wrong until we have been faced with a situation where we may need one of these services can we honestly say we wouldn't use it?

  22. Didn't mean to keep posting that!!!It kept telling me it hadn't verfied it!!! Sorry didn't mean to label the points!

  23. Brilliant post again Tom, and an interesting debate going on here. So to add my thoughts;Religion – Believe it if it makes you feel better, I'm an atheist you're a catholic, have fun! However, don't make your religion restrict my life choices, I don't inflict mine on you, so respect the difference. If Christians, or any other religion, don't want to accept late term abortions, or any abortions in their teachings, that is their choice, but they should not enforce their law on everybody. Jehovah's Witnesses don't usually allow blood transfusions, but they haven't tried to ban them for everybody else. Choice is the symbol of a free society.Research – Stem cell, animal testing, computer modeling, etc. we're going to need all of them if we want to improve healthcare for all. Having watched friends and relatives suffer and die through cancer and various forms of dementia, I am all for testing that will lead to medicines that let somebody (Christian, or whatever) enjoy a few more days, minutes or hours with their loved ones, or even provide a long term cure. Given the choice I think almost everybody (with a few extremist and dangerous exceptions) would choose to live, and if the testing allows us to help those suffering do that, then how can anybody vote against it?Cheers, Ian

  24. Personally I firmly and vehemently agree with people's right to base their votes on whatever they feel is important, no matter how much I grieve at the outcome of their poorly founded choices.”If life doesn't start at conception, then where does it start?” is a question that perfectly frames the boolean thinking that religion is heir to. Everything must be in absolutes, in yes/no, true/false, good/evil easy-to-understand form. But reality's not like that. Life and death and humanity are not absolutes.

    Health workers know this as a matter of course: ask anyone who has spent fifteen minutes pumping away at someone's chest in CPR, only to declare the patient dead, whether there was a definitive moment of death. There is not, any more than there is a definitive moment where the machines change from keeping an alive person from dying, to keeping a dead person from rotting. There are just arbitrary guidelines, which change as we get better at restoring people from the grey areas.

    As there is no definitive end to life, so there is no definitive beginning. We can create people (eg by splitting a blastocyst to create identical twins) without a moment of conception: are these not people? If someone found a way to bring a fertilised egg all the way to birth in an artificial womb, would abortion suddenly become murder? What if someone found a way to make eggs become babies parthenogenetically – would those be non-people? (are asexually created aphids, then, non-aphids?) Are siamese twins two people or one? If two, then is a four-legged man two people, or one? Where is the division between the two states?

    What is life? Where is the margin? Is a bacterium alive? A virus? What is the minimum physical thing that can be said to be a marker for “life”? If we make a machine that has that property, is it “alive”?

    The answer to your question is that sperm are alive, and eggs are alive. Life does not start at conception: nothing is “created”, only “joined”. Life started a lot before that, many millions of years before.

  25. Every Sunday, my friend and I go to a low-income town and give out food for free. We're often asked what church group we're with and always have to say we're not doing this as part of a church.However, we were once told by a church-goer that “none of this good work will matter if you don't accept Jesus into your hearts”.

    Yeah….

  26. Another thing to take into account is how late women in England often get their anomoly scans. I will be 22 1/2 weeks before I get mine, and as I am under 35, I don't get a nuchal scan. I could, in theory, find out at 22 1/2 weeks pregnant that the baby I am carrying hs a horrible genetic illness, or a serious neural tube defect that would cause it to live only hours, and in serious pain.If they could een consider lowering the limit, then women must get the information needed much earlier in their pregnancy. Though, as I understand, 20 weeks is the earliest for alot of the tests.

  27. Just a brief note on the science and viability.As of now, not in the future, a type of mouse stem skin cell has been used to grow a fine and functional mouse. Mouse embryology differs from human (human is more complicated), but it's only a matter of time before the same thing is possible in people.

    When it is possible, in effect, every cell in your body could be another viable human being. Are you going to hold funerals for every cell destroyed in a scraped knee?

    Viability is a nonsense standard whose illogic is made more obvious with each medical advance. It's pretty obvious after even a simple thought experiment: when can a human being be forced to donate organs?

    “What!” you say. “Never!”

    But that's exactly what's done to a woman who's forced to continue a pregnancy against her wishes.

    The only reason it seems like a new thought (if it does) is that the female human being carrying the pregnancy doesn't count for much.

    Viability is an argument only if the pregnant woman is a non-person without standing to decide her own care. Otherwise, it's up to her.

    If she feels that abortion is murder, then she won't have one. If not, then not. The point is that unless you're willing to assert that women are less than people, it is up to her.

  28. Does that mean you wouldn't vote for me (sob)? Anyway, to get back to the original post, my opinion is that, although I personally wouldn't have an abortion, I do think that every woman has the right to decide what goes on in her own body.And as for the 'Hybrid Embryos'……don't make me laugh. They're not 'embryos'. That's just the Pro-Lifers trying to make it an emotive issue. They'll be calling it a 'baby' next. They're a collection of cells that are not, nor will ever be, alive. I'd be more emotionally involved with the clippings the next time I go to a hairdresser.

  29. According to a recent letter to the Private Eye Hitler wasn't acctually vegetarian:'Fritz Redlich MD, in his book Hitler: Diagnosis of a Destructive Prophet says “Hitler's vegetarianism was quite strict…with the exception of an Austrian dissh he loved, liver dumpling”. Salavatore Paolini, a former waiter of Hitler: “On the whole he never ate meat, but he did like sausages and ham”. Dione Lucas, his cook in the late 1930s said his favourite dish was baby pigeon.'

    Going back on topic, I feel that by calling these embryos 'hybrid' it gives people the wrong idea, in reality the embryo contains only human DNA and only uses the egg from an animal, which at most will retain some animal mitochondria, and there for is not really a human-animal mix. I personally feel that the possible medical benefits from this research outway the religious objections.

    By the way, I've been reading your blog for over a year now and even though I have never commented on it before I love reading it, so thank you!

  30. gaaa. Helping other human beings isn't about what “will matter”. It's about doing what does matter, here and now.

  31. Why is it necessary to use a cow's egg, then replace the DNA with human DNA, then use electricity to make it divide? Why not just use human egg to start with? I think that's what people find hard to stomach, like something out of “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” Can someone explain the science to me?

  32. The reason to use a cow's egg? Well, it's because they're a lot easier to get hold of than human ones, as cows don't need to sign consent forms, and as extracting eggs isn't risk free, most people are a lot happier using cows.

  33. An earlier poster hit the nail on the head. Second trimester terminations are usually – not always but usually – for foetal abnormalites. Most tests cannot be carried out before the second trimester, hence the need for legislation to cover this.On the subject of religion, I've always liked the line 'keep your rosaries off my ovaries'. I wish I could claim credit for it but it's not mine. I defy any celibate, dress wearing, unmarried man to tell me what to do with my body. Actually, let's just make that no man, or woman, for that matter.

    This one is always going to be a tricky subject. If you don't like abortions, don't have one. But don't try and stop women from having one. They're not always done for personal convenience, despite what you might read in the Daily Mail.

  34. Just to clarify – as I understand it, there is no upper limit where the fetus has an abnormality. As a previous poster identified, the NHS offers a scan at around 20 weeks which is supposed to screen for major abnormality – ie looking for markers for Down's etc. The NHS doesn't routinely offer a Nuchal scan at 12 weeks which can help to identify the RISK factor for having a baby with Down's Syndrome. I paid for the scans I had.I think that addressing the reasons WHY women have late abortions is more useful than condeming the few who do is more productive along with improving access to contraception and sex education. Shutting the door after the horse has bolted is rarely a useful strategy.

  35. By similar logic, if you don't like slavery, then don't keep slaves. But don't try and stop me from owning any.I think we're all well aware that abortions aren't done for trivial reasons, but I don't believe that we can sacrifice another life merely to make things easier for ourselves, no matter how difficult the situation.

    Leo

  36. I don't really understand the organ donation – keeping a baby analogy. How are the two similar? Wouldn't making it illegal to remove any cyst until it's 9 months old or 2.5kgs and relatively very dangerous to operate on be a better metaphor?

  37. I am a Christian, I believe in God and all that, but I had to chose whether to terminate a pregnancy with a severe “incompatible with life” abnormality detected at the 20 week (in reality nearer 22 week) scan. I did end the pregnancy to save my baby from suffering a short painful life and to remove the risk of my being poisoned from inside if the baby had died before birth and had failed to miscarry. I have to live with that every day. I wouldnt wish that decision on any person and honestly believe that no woman decides upon a termination lightly.

  38. Leo – your view is very comendable – and I don't mean this is a patronising manner. I think your view is very 'black or white' when in reality, in life there are many shades of grey.Are you a parent, I wonder? I have 2 children – boys – they are hard work sometimes. Not everyone has the skills, the moral fibre, even, the cope with the demands of parenthood. Some people are selfish, other recognise their own limitations. Being a parent is a tough job, there are no 'days off', the day starts at 0600 day in day out. You have to give so much of yourself to another. Some people thrive on this, others don't.

    In an ideal world everyone would have contraception that worked 100% of the time. Fact is, it doesn't. Presumably you are opposed to the morning after pill or a coil being fitted after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy?

    There are no magic answers, we all live with the consequencse of our actions and within our personal limitations. I think it's worth remembering this. How ever hard one tries, sometimes it's not enough. I wouldn't wish an unwanted child on anyone, not for the child or for the parent.

  39. No, I'm not a parent, but I am under no illusion that I know how tough being a parent can be.I am aware that I am talking about such things from the outside, and have no personal experience of such issues, but that also gives me the benefit of being impartial.

    For me, when all is said and done, I just can't accept that the intentional taking of a human life can be justified so that someone else can live a little bit more comfortably.

    Leo

  40. I have no problem with a pregnant mother receiving life-saving treatment that would have a detrimental effect on her child. In that case, if only one life can be saved, then the mother is entitled to try to save her own life.And why is the Catholic position not impartial? It is a well-thought out, fully reasoned position. Dismissing an argument based purely on its origin is ridiculous, and amounts to saying that I have cooties because I live over there.

    Leo

  41. Babies born @ the 24 week mark may have a 50% chance of survival – dosn't mean that the child will be normal. Lung problems, gut problems, brain injury, frequent Hospital addmissions, eye and hearing deficiencies, strain on the parents leading to break-ups, domestic violence – we see this frequently on our neonatal unit.The 24 weekers who survive intact are extremely rare.

  42. Replying to my own comment, as I can't reply to CBs.Where in the Bible does it say that abortion is wrong, or that thou shalt not use Embryonic stem cells?

    I'm arguing from the Catholic position, which considers that Tradition is just as important as the Bible, and that the Bible evolved from the Church, and not the other way around.

    One of the earliest colllections of Christian teachings is the Didache. This contains the teaching that “thou shalt not kill a child by abortion, neither shalt thou slay it when born”. This dates from the early 2nd century, and so would be heavily influenced by the direct teachings of the apostles.

    We can start our argument from a base position of we do not kill a child. So when does the child come into existence? The current limit in the UK of 24 weeks is clearly arbitrary. Better candidates are the “primitive streak” at 14 days, or implantation in the uterus. Both both of these are merely development milestones. The clear starting point is fertilisation, when a new distinct life with a new genetic code is created.

    All of the above is based on the latest scientific knowledge. Indeed, we did not know all this until the last century.

    Leo

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