The Independent reports that Britain's top scientists are calling on the Government to lift a ban on the use of embryos created from human eggs and animal sperm.
In actual fact, the Academy of Medical Sciences report, Inter-species embryos, does not go as far as making any such explicit call. It simply notes, "The reasons for banning the creation of hybrid embryos for in vitro experimental use, while permitting research involving other types of human embryo incorporating animal material, are not clear to us, but we are not aware of any current scientific reasons to create such entities," adding elsewhere, "However, given the speed of this field of research, the emergence of scientifically valid reasons in the future cannot be ruled out."
Somewhat ironically, though, in making their case for proceeding with research on other kinds of hybrid and chimeric embryos, they use an argument that could equally undermine respect afforded to people who are disabled or elderly. For they argue that human "dignity arises from the qualities possessed by a creature, rather than species membership per se." Explaining their point in more detail, they state:
"We judge it unlikely that ‘human dignity’, a phrase used to emphasise the special moral status and importance of human beings, derives simply from species membership. If the concept of ‘human dignity’ has content, it is because there are factors of form, function or behaviour that confer such dignity or command respect. Either hybrid creatures would also possess these factors or they would not. If they do possess these factors, they would also have a specific type of dignity analogous or identical to human dignity that other creatures lack; if not, they would not."However, they do not define what these mystic "factors of form, function or behaviour" are. If we can justify excluding human rights from individuals who because of their immaturity lack certain undefined "factors of form, function or behaviour," then what is to prevent us from excluding those same rights from individuals who because of physical or mental impairment also lack those same factors?
Conversely, if human rights are rightly extended to the physically disabled, the mentally impaired, and individuals in a persistent vegetative state, and if "human" rights are even to be extended to great apes and robots, on the basis of "the qualities possessed by a creature" though they do not even share "species membership" with us, then how can we justify excluding those same rights from individuals who because of their immaturity lack certain undefined "factors of form, function or behaviour"? Or, to encroach on the abortion debate, at what point of maturity do embryos acquire the necessary "factors of form, function or behaviour" to merit their protection from needless destruction? At present, the creation and use of human embryos for research is not permitted beyond 14 days in vitro. In order to be consistent, should the time frame allowed for human embryo research be extended to 24 weeks to match that for abortions, should the time frame for abortions be reduced to 14 days to match that for in vitro experiments, or should some other compromise be reached?