Submission from the Church of Scotland,
and the Church and Society Council
1. SUMMARY OF
We wish to express our concern at the proposals
to allow the licensing of the nuclear transfer of human cells
into enucleated animal eggs to create animal-human "hybrid"
We wish to express concern for several reasons:
that serious ethical concerns are
raised by mixing animal and human reproductive cells;
the presumption by scientists arguing
for these experiments that the human embryo has no moral status
at all, which seems to us to be in contradiction to the basis
of UK law;
the questionable nature of the scientific
claims for the proposed research;
that a "shortage" of donated
human eggs does not in itself justify the use of animal eggs;
that considerable and misleading
exaggerations have been made by some scientists about the importance
of this type of work within the fields of embryonic stem cell
research and regenerative medicine.
We wish to make clear that this does not, however,
spring from a rejection of all research on the human embryo. In
2006 The Church and Society Council completed an extensive study
by an expert working group which included leading Scottish embryonic
and adult stem cell scientists from the research groups at Roslin
Institute, the University of Edinburgh and the Scottish National
Blood Transfusion Service. Based on this study, the May 2006 General
Assembly accepted the conditional use of spare IVF and PGD embryos
for stem cell research. It considered that the creation of cloned
embryos using human eggs might be justified under very
exceptional cases. The isolation of diseased cells to study motor
neurone disease might be one such case. It considered the use
of animal eggs to create hybrid cloned embryos but rejected it
2. OUR INVOLVEMENT
The Church of Scotland's Society, Religion and
Technology Project (SRT), which is a part of the Church and Society
Council, has followed closely the scientific developments of nuclear
transfer cloning since it first began to discuss Roslin's research
in this area with Ian Wilmut in 1995. By the time Dolly was announced,
SRT had already given considerable thought to the ethical implications
of animal and human cloning, enabling the Church of Scotland General
Assembly to give its formal opinion in May 1997.
When the US company Advanced Cell Technologies claimed to have
made an embryo from an enucleated cow egg and human nuclear material
in 1998, SRT considered the ethical implications, drawing on its
extensive work on animal genetic modification and xenotransplantation
in its Engineering Genesis study.
SRT also visited ACT's laboratories and discussed their work.
It commented critically ACT's claim, also made by the US National
Bioethics Advisory Council of the Clinton administration, that
such hybrids might perhaps overcome the ethical objections to
deriving stem cells from human embryos.
It has also commented on the Chinese rabbit-human hybrid claims
of 2002, on your Select Committee's opinion of 2005, and the press
discussions of January 2006 and 2007.
The Church and Society Council also discussed the matter in its
submission in 2005 to the Government's review of the HFE Act.
It has also considered hybrids in the context of research into
3. OUR CONCERNS
(a) Ethical Objections to Animal-Human Hybrid
Our view is that research should not be allowed
that involves the mixing of animal and human reproductive cells
to create an embryo-like entity. We fully recognise that this
is not a matter of making live chimeric creatures. But the cross-species
admixture of reproductive cells poses significant ethical concerns
in itself. Even though only 1% of animal material is involved,
it is still a form of hybridisation. We hold that humans and animals,
though having many similarities, are nonetheless different in
more than just the biological distinctions among species. The
Church of Scotland is not opposed to the addition of a human gene
into animals for producing therapeutic proteins in sheep's milk,
nor of the idea of xenotransplanation as such.
The identity and integrity of both animals and human beings are
far more than a sum of their genes or functions, and is not necessarily
violated by adding a single gene.
Because it involves a reproductive entity, the
proposed research would be a more fundamental type of mixing than
in the above examples or other current practices where animal
and human cells are fused. To create a hybrid reproductive entity,
even in an early stage of development, would already possess at
least some moral status. We consider that this would blur the
moral distinction between animal and human in a way which is unacceptable.
We disagree with the presumption that, because
it could not lead to a viable pregnancy, the entity so created
should have no moral status or consideration given to it. In UK
law, as we understand it, all human embryos are considered to
possess a degree of moral status less than that of a baby, but
above that given to mere cells, and that this status is independent
on their viability as embryos.
Similarly an animal-human hybrid embryo would possess a moral
status of some sort, inherent in its existence not its fate.
UK law treats embryos as a class, regardless of whether any particular
embryo is viable or not. As in other spheres of human capacity,
viability is not the sole criterion for moral value. It could
also be argued that it is an immoral act to choose a route which
cannot avoid the resulting human embryo being so deformed that
it cannot be viable.
We were critical of your Committee's 2005 report
on Human Reproductive Technologies, which recognised the revulsion
of some about "blurring the distinction between animals and
humans" but then overrode such concerns by citing what seems
a very suspect argument, that there would be less ethical concern
about animal-human hybrid embryos because there was less human
In our experience, this latter claim would not seem to be well
founded in either ethics or public opinion.
Christian teaching on compassion for the sick
has been a motivation for scientific research in medicine for
centuries, but always within moral limits. Respect for the embryo
means that research in this area should only be for extremely
important medical goals achievable no other way. Some experiments,
no matter how medically useful, would be unethical. The Church
of Scotland consider that to create animal-human hybrid embryos
by mixing human and animal reproductive cells would pass a moral
(b) Ethical Presumptions of Scientists and
the Select Committee
Many scientists arguing for this research have
framed their case on the implicit or explicit presumption that
the product of fusing an enucleated animal egg and a human cell
are merely cells which possess no moral status at all. It is assumed
that they may therefore create them at will and do what they like
to them. We are concerned if justification for this research is
thereby made on the basis of personal ethical views about of the
status of the embryo, which would de facto be imposed on
society at large, and which are at variance with UK law. As we
have observed above, the HFE Act confers a moral status on the
human embryo. If that is so, then a hybrid embryo comprising human
and animal cells logically also has a moral status.
What is it status? Should we be creating such
entities and doing research upon them? We have given our own views
above, but until these fundamental ethical questions have been
properly addressed at a national level and some democratic conclusion
reached, it would be quite improper to allow or propose research.
The 2005 Select Committee recommendations said that this question
of the status of such hybrids needed to be clarified, but promptly
prejudged the answer in its next clause, by recommending to Parliament
that their creation for research purposes be made legal.
This seemed entirely premature, begging the answer to the question
before allowing it to be explored, both at an expert level and
especially in discussion with wider publics. After the disastrous
experience over public and scientific policy on GM crops and the
continuing mood of concern about novel and controversial technologies,
such a discussion is essential, and in due course it should be
decided by Parliament in a free vote.
(c) The Research is Scientifically Doubtful
We consider that the broad purposes of stem
cell and related research can be addressed in ways that do not
need recourse to this uncertain and, as we see it, unethical approach.
The justification of the importance of this work is very doubtful,
even without the ethical objections discussed above. We note that
the vast majority of stem cell research is derived from surplus
embryos from IVF treatments or from adult tissue. Animal-human
hybrids do not relate to mainstream of this research, but only
to a specialised and highly speculative area involving cloned
embryos, which would be illegal in most of Europe and most other
countries of the world, and which has been the subject of recent
grave scientific fraud in Korea.
When Advanced Cell Technologies first claimed
a cow-human "hybrid" cloned embryo in November 1998
and news of embryos from rabbit eggs and human somatic cells emerged
from China around 2002, these were treated as dubious claims or
oddities. Failed attempts at cross-species cloning of endangered
species suggested problems with the concept of using the egg of
one species to reprogramme the nuclei of another. We note with
concern that the basis for the current proposals seem to rest
largely on a single published paper in China, and that in your
committee's 2005 report on reproductive technologies you cite
the leading UK stem cell scientist, Dr Robin Lovell-Badge, as
casting doubts on some of the Chinese claims.
This is not the basis of sound science on which to argue for radical
and ethically controversial research.
We agreed with the assessment on animal-human
hybrids made in 2000 by the Chief Medical Officer's committee
set up to assess the scientific potential and legal and ethical
implications of "therapeutic cloning" and human embyonic
stem cells, and which formed the amendments to UK legislation
by Parliament later that year. While allowing cloned embryos for
stem cell research, the shortage of human eggs would not make
it a basis for treatment. It concluded that using the eggs of
another species "would raise many technical and ethical issues.
Most researchers active in this field do not regard this as a
realistic or desirable way forward."
We were pleased that the Government's response
agreed on this point, saying that it would bring forward primary
legislation to ban the mixing of human cells with animal eggs,
and calling on funding bodies "to make it clear that they
will not fund or support research involving the creation of such
We are concerned at the Government's failure to implant these.
Primary legislation was not brought forward. We are particularly
concerned that the message to funding bodies has evidently not
been given or has not been heeded. We would like an explanation
why British research groups have been allowed to apply for licenses
to do research, presumably relying on public funds, in a field
which the present Government said should be banned.
The creation of cloned embryos to obtain stem
cells and derive from them neuronal cells which exhibit the effects
of motor neurone disease research was proposed in 2004. We had
discussed these aims in detail with Roslin scientists on several
prior occasions and at the press conference in Edinburgh in 2004,
and said that there might be ethical justification for this exceptional
case. The scientists gave no indication at that time that they
would need to use animal cells to create the cloned embryos in
order to achieve their objectives. If researchers had considered
that human eggs are sufficient for this kind of experiment, it
seems extraordinary that animal eggs are suddenly being claimed
as integral to it. Had this been proposed, we would not have expressed
even a conditional support.
Whilst not being expert on such matters, we
have followed the progress of somatic cell nuclear transfer in
animals and humans over many years. We are well aware of the many
technical difficulties that trying to reprogramme human cells
back to an embryonic state using human eggs. Having discussed
it with many of the world's leading researchers in this field,
we are aware of significant inherent concerns in the reprogramming
procedure which are seen as contributory to many serious difficulties
in animal cloning. To date, no researcher has produced a viable
stem cell line from a cloned embryo even derived from human eggs.
To attempt therefore to reprogramme human somatic
cells with animal eggs must logically be viewed as a very speculative
exercise, considerably more doubtful than nuclear transfer cloning
with human eggs. Mixing species would introduce uncertainties
as to the validity for use of the cells produced. It is very uncertain
whether it would yield significantly useful data. It also runs
against the current trend to ensure that animal components, such
as feeder cells, are eliminated in the generation of human embryonic
stem cell lines. We draw particular attention to the fact that
the HFE Act permits human embryo research only in cases where
the work is realistic, important and no other route would suffice.
On present evidence, animal-human hybrid cloned embryo research
would not satisfy these conditions.
(d) Concerning the "Shortage" of
To argue for the "need" to use animal
eggs because of a shortage of human eggs is not a straightforward
scientific claim. It is a value-laden claim which begs a number
of moral questions. It makes implicit value judgements about what
is meant by a shortage, what constitutes a justified need, and
what constitutes a justified way of meeting that need. It draws
a conclusion about these competing ethical values which may or
may not be generally agreed. These ethical dimensions need to
be made transparent when scientists and doctors make such claims
To suggest using animal eggs as a way to avoid
a shortage already presupposes that the research is more important,
per se, than the supply of eggs. We note that a "shortage"
of eggs for research has not suddenly arisen because cloning researchers
feel constrained in their particular research programmes. For
example, the question was widely discussed nationally in 1993-94
in the context of the work of Edinburgh researcher Dr Roger Gosden
on foetal ovarian tissue.
The researcher may assume that his or her research justifies both
the need for the eggs and to increase their supply. But it could
equally be argued that, if eggs are a sensitive human tissue which
would only ever be available in limited quantities, researchers
should recognise the importance of other human values in such
cases, and duly set their aspirations realistically within the
limits of supply.
In various submissions, statements and reports
we have drawn attention to concerns about human egg donation in
the context of so-called "therapeutic" cloning. To provide
genetically matched replacement cells from cloned embryos derived
from a patient's own cells would need an impractically large supply
of donated human eggs to be a normal therapy. We pointed out that
this is an invasive method which is not complete free of risk.
Nonetheless, we were assured by scientists and policy makers that
plenty of women would donate if they saw good reason, and that
there were medical circumstances under which extraction of eggs
donation might be done during other surgical interventions. There
seems to be an inconsistency in logic that, in the present context
of justifying the use of animal eggs, researchers now cite the
reasons why human egg donation is problematic.
Whilst we agree with the problems over human
egg donation, this cannot of itself justify the use of animal
eggs, given that it also raises serious ethical concerns. One
does not solve one ethical problem by creating another.
(e) Exaggerations of the significance of
the research and about "delaying cures"
Our last objection is a serious ethical concern
about what we consider to be exaggerations and misleading claims
reported in recent weeks by scientists and even by some members
of your own committee. What has hitherto been a rather obscure
and very uncertain part of embryology has been defended by letters
to the Times signed by Nobel laureates and lobbied for by stem
cell researchers and politicians. It is suggested that the basis
that the future of UK stem cell research depends on allowing mixed
cloned embryos from fusing animal eggs and human somatic cells.
There have even been claims that to deny such experiments would
delay cures for terminal diseases.
We consider that these claims are both incorrect
and irresponsible. We have already indicated that the vast majority
of stem cell research uses spare IVF embryos or adult tissues,
which does not depend on the outcome of animal-human cloned hybrids.
Delay might be a significant factor for a near certain therapeutic
method, which a particular course of experiments alone would give
the missing breakthrough. In this case, it is basic research of
uncertain outcome, many years, perhaps decades, from clinical
application, and about which other scientists raise substantial
In a country which already has the most permissive
legislation in this area in Europe, it seems extraordinary that
it should become seen as a matter of scientific principle to go
even further, and to allow animal-human hybrid cloning as well.
We are concerned more generally at premature expectations about
stem cell research being raised by these kinds of claims, especially
following the Korean cloning scandal. It has been amply shown
in that continuing trust in science, in this and other sensitive
areas, depends crucially on responsibility by scientists and the
claims that they make for their work. We fear that to press further
for ethically controversial experiments, and to make exaggerated
claims for the technique in support of them, may cause a public
backlash against stem cell research in general.
55 Church of Scotland (2006a) Summary Report on
Embryo Research, Human Stem Cells and Cloned Embryos, Reports
to the General Assembly and Deliverances of the General Assembly
2006, pp.2/2-2/3 and 2/33-2/40. Back
Church of Scotland (2006b), Report of the working group on
Embryo Research, Human Stem Cells and Cloned Embryos, chapter
Church of Scotland (1997) Cloning Animals and Humans,
Supplementary Report to the General Assembly and Deliverances
of the General Assembly 1997. Back
Bruce, D. and Bruce, A. (eds) (1998), Engineering Genesis,
chapter 5, Earthscan: London. Back
US National Bioethics Advisory Council (1998), Letter to the
President of the USA, 20 November 1998, NBAC, Rockville, Maryland,
USA, http://www.georgetown.edu/research/nrcbl/nbac/shapiro-letter.html Back
Bruce, Donald (2007), Over-egging the Clones, New Scientist,
20 January 2007, p 18. Back
Church and Society Council (2005), Response to the Public
Consultation on the Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology
Act, 5 December 2005, http://www.srtp.org.uk/hfea-review.doc Back
Church of Scotland (2001) The Society, Religion and Technology
Project report on GM Animals, Humans and the Future of Genetics,
Reports to the General Assembly and Deliverances of the General
Assembly 2001. Back
Department of Health (1984), Report of the Committee of Inquiry
into Human Fertilisation and Embryology, Cm9314, HMSO, London. Back
House of Commons (2005), Human Reproductive Technologies,
House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, Fifth
Report of Session 2004-05, 25 March 2005, para 66, Stationery
Office: London. Back
House of Commons (2005), op.cit., para 66. Back
House of Commons (2005), op.cit., para 66. Back
Department of Health (2000a), Stem Cell Research: Medical
Progress with Responsibility, Re-port of the Chief Medical Officer's
Expert Group reviewing the potential of developments in stem cell
research and cell nuclear replacement to benefit human health,
Department of Health, paras 2.33-2.34 and 2.62. Back
Department of Health (2000b), Government response to the recommendations
made in the chief medical officer's expert group report "Stem
cell research: medical progress with responsibility."
http://www.doh.gov.uk/cegc/govresp.htm (accessed 28 Nov 2000). Back
BBC On-Line (2003), Aborted foetus could provide eggs,
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3031800.stm, 16 July 2003. Back