Last week, Spanish scientists claimed to have created the first human/monkey hybrid, in a laboratory in China (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/human-monkey-hybrid-china-organ-transplant-stem-cells-embryo-a9037506.html). The experiment was, they say, stopped before the embryo was old enough to be born – but they claim it was viable and could potentially have been born. By way of justification, they say their long-term aim is to use animals to create human organs for life-saving transplants – which can be achieved only by the creation of hybrids.
As an example of the doctrine of double-effect, this seems seriously flawed. For those unfamiliar with this rule, first attributed to Thomas Aquinas in his development of the permissibility of self-defence, a simplistic explanation says that if doing something morally ‘good’ has a morally ‘bad’ – but unintended – side effect, that’s okay. The bad effect, though foreseen, must, however, not be the objective, and it must be proportionate.
While the long-term, stated aims of these men and women may, on the face of it, appear altruistic, nothing can justify this kind of cruel and inhumane exploitation of other species. At base this is the same contemptuous arrogance displayed by Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz physician who earned the soubriquet Angel of Death, as result of the vicious and brutal medical experiments he conducted on Jewish and Roma inmates of concentration camps during the last war, in the name of research.
Yet, if anything, this latest incarnation of scientific alchemy is even worse, because it crosses the existential and spiritual Rubicon separating one species from another. Of course, you say, that’s the point! But consider, what if the injected human cells migrate to the brain, so that this supposed ‘monkey’ develops human consciousness? So that it has human identity? The scientists blithely claim that mechanisms have been put in place to stop this. It can’t happen, they say. But how can they be sure? We don’t even know if the brain is the sole repository of consciousness, or if the whole is something infinitely more complex. And should the unthinkable happen, so that our friendly primate – over the course of five or so years being used to grow a much needed replacement liver, or kidney – should develop human intelligence and sensitivity, to what hell have we condemned it?
And what of this new being’s soul, its God-given incorporeal essence? By definition, every living creature has life, but, according to the Bible, there’s something special about the souls of men and women, because we alone, of all creation, are made in the image of God. We have intelligence and moral sense – conscience, if you like – and our appointed task is to care for the rest of creation. But is our hybrid, human or monkey? Is it made in the image of God – or not? Does it have a calling on its life? Or is its primary raison d’etre to swing through the trees, eat bananas and generally contribute to the wellbeing of monkey world?
However you look at it, this experiment is an abomination. It not just violates God’s rules of creation, but from self-interest callously exploits a creature that cannot resist. For those who reject all idea of God, or of greater meaning to life, these considerations may be a nonsense, but even aside from these concerns, can such cruel and heartless exploitation of another creature – the end of which can only ever be the imposition of unwarranted and unwarrantable suffering – be justified?
Yes, in extremis, organ transplantation saves lives, and medical advances are to be welcomed. At the same time, it is undeniable that, over the last few years, the world has seen exciting development of many pioneering treatments – some of which only a few years ago would have been unthinkable. But, unpalatable as it may be to some, this new knowledge is the gift of God and must therefore be exercised responsibly – it does not give us the right to play God Himself, reordering creation for our exclusive benefit.
Brave new world? I think not. This re-orchestration of creation is more like opening the gates to hell.