Supplementary evidence from Dr Callum
McKellar, Director Scottish Council on Bioethics, following evidence
session on 5 February 2007
1. In response to the question from Dr Turner
relating to what constitutes a person, the following definitions
may be helpful:
Dignity: Relates to notions of honour, value,
worth and respect.
Being: An existing entity.
Person: A being invested with absolute and irreducible
dignity by at least one other being through the means of a relationship.
Human Being: A being consisting of a distinctive
human biological nature.
Human Person: A person consisting of a distinctive
human biological nature.
Human Dignity: Dignity which is invested into
a human person.
In this respect, a being does not need to be
"human" to be a person. For example, if a chimpanzee
was to become self-aware (through biological modifications) then
many would consider this chimp as a "chimpanzee person".
2. During the evidence session of 5 February,
it was emphasised that it was impossible to know whether or not
a research proposal was efficacious unless the research was carried
out. This is true, but it still does not mean that the research
should go ahead. Having been on an NHS Research Ethics Committee
for a number of years, I can assure the Select Committee that
research applications get turned down every week, in the UK, because
they are not considered ethical. It is not because a procedure
may eventually save lives or be useful that it automatically becomes
The Nuremberg Code of Ethics was drafted after
World War II in order to prevent unethical biomedical research.
In addition, Article 2 of the Council of Europe Convention on
Human Rights and Biomedicine indicates that:
The interests and welfare of the human being
shall prevail over the sole interest of society or science.
3. With respect to the moral status of early
human or animal-human embryos, scientific aspects are important
but cannot give a final and convincing answer. Indeed, even within
the development process of a human being, it is impossible to
indicate a non-arbitrary point of transition from human non-person
to human person. As a result there is no social consensus about
the extent to which the embryo is to be protected, and about when
and why and at what stages of embryonic development legal protection
4. Accordingly, millions of people over
the whole of the UK believe that human embryos cannot just be
considered as piles of cells. Instead, they believe that they
are invested with either full human dignity or a special status.
For these people, the creation of embryonic animal-human combinations
for destructive research would give rise to entities of uncertain
moral status. However, if these entities were given the benefit
of the doubt with respect to this status, then the creation and
destruction of these embryos would be considered as extremely
offensive. Something similar to the creation of human infants
for destructive biomedical research.
Thus, from an ethical perspective, the deep
offence arising in these millions of people in the UK by the creation
and destruction of these entities could not be compensated by
the possible advantages perceived by those who believe that such
research may, or may not, give rise to treatments for biological
5. In this regard, Parliament has always
had a responsibility to protect some sections of society from
what they consider to be deeply offensive even though others may
not find such a situation or behaviour to be problematic. For
example, this happened with the recent Gender Recognition Act
(2004) which provided transsexual people with legal recognition
in their acquired gender. Another example is the prohibition of
animal-human sexual relationships in Section 69 of the Sexual
Offences Act (2003).
6. It is because the creation of human or
animal-human embryos for destructive research is considered to
be deeply offensive and unethical in almost all continental European
states that scientists undertaking such research would, most probably,
end-up in prison in countries such as France, Germany and Italy.
7. Concerning the possibility of creating
new inter-species diseases from embryonic animal-human combinations,
one of the points which I was trying to make during the Select
Committee meeting was that some of these combinations would not
automatically be destroyed at the proposed 14 days limit. This
is because some of the embryos may come under animal and not human
For example, if a chimpanzee-human chimeric
embryo was created through the combinations of five totipotent
chimpanzee cells and three totipotent human cells, then it would
be possible to consider this embryo as coming under animal legislation
since it consisted of a majority of animal cells. As a result,
this experiment would only need a licence from the Home Office
to go ahead. In addition, the embryo would not have to be destroyed
and could possibly give rise to a live birth (a humanzee). All
the risks of inter-species diseases, such as the existence of
endogenous retro-viruses would then also be present.
8. I would also like to question the claim
given to the Select Committee on Wednesday 31 January 2007 that
it was impossible to obtain motoneurons from an adult source.
Indeed, in a relatively recent paper, motoneurons were differentiated
from neural precursors obtained form the noses of a 34 year old
patient and a 96 year old cadaver.
9. Finally, I would like to emphasise that
it is unclear whether the mitochondria from the donor cell would
remain in a developing cybrid embryo. Indeed, two recent research
papers have indicated that the percentage of mitochondria originating
from the donor cell dropped sharply in contrast to that of the
recipient egg cell at the blastocyst stage of the embryo which
is formed five to six days after the beginning of embryonic development,.
74 Sexual Offences Act 2003, Section 69, http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2003/30042--b.htm£69 Back
Xiaodong Zhang et. al., Role of Transcription Factors in Motoneuron
Differentiation of Adult Human Olfactory Neuroepithelial-Derived
Progenitors, Stem Cells Vol. 24 No. 2 February 2006, pp. 434-442. Back
Cai-Xia Yang et. al., Quantitative analysis of mitochondrial
DNAs in macaque embryos reprogrammed by rabbit oocytes, Reproduction
(2004) 127 201-205. Back
Chang KH, et. al., Blastocyst formation, karyotype, and mitochondrial
DNA of interspecies embryos derived from nuclear transfer of human
cord fibroblasts into enucleated bovine oocytes, Fertil Steril.,
2003 Dec;80(6):1380-7. Back