Religious views in the debate
The world's great religions hold different views on experiments that involve the mixing of human and animal DNA. After British scientists won government approval this year to experiment with cybrids (embryos created by inserting human DNA into animal eggs) and chimeras (animals given cells from embryos that may be of another species), the International Society for Science and Religion issued a paper summarizing the science and the religious views. The following excerpts are from that paper by Sir Brian Heap of Cambridge University and the Rev. Dr. Ronald Cole-Turner of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
"For some, ancient religious objections point to the strange human-nonhuman creatures of ancient myth, from which the word 'chimera' is taken. Bestiality and fear of developmental abnormalities leading to mistreatment as in circus entertainment are among the concerns that come to mind for others. These layers of apprehension underlie much of today's uneasiness about cybrids and chimeras which carry the baggage that has come to be expressed as the 'yuk' factor.
"On the other hand, many of today's great religions have endorsed the core aims and strategies of biotechnological endeavour, especially in areas of human nutrition, health and the treatment of disease. Against this presumption in favour of biomedical research, some religious traditions have raised special concerns, not about the advancement of knowledge but about some of the experimental means of that advancement, particularly in respect to the earliest stages of human development.
"The objection of the Roman Catholic Church to human embryo research extends to the creation and subsequent destruction of cybrids, where 'humanisation' is sufficiently ambiguous as to require the same treatment as a human embryo. . . . In Catholic neo-Thomism, human beings are uniquely endowed with the rational soul while non-human animals have souls unique to their kind. The presence of human cells (even human neurons) in a non-human body is not likely to cause the presence of a rational soul or to create the conditions of human rationality.
"Protestant perspectives are varied, reflecting diverse views on the status of the human embryo and the welfare of nonhuman animals. They raise cautions about proceeding with either cybrids or chimeras too quickly.
"Judaism endorses these areas of research, and Islam is largely supportive as well but further contributions and clarification are required from these and other non-Western traditions."
The International Society for Science and Religion agreed to publication of excerpts from its report on the condition the following be published as well: The authors, Sir Brian Heap and Revd. Dr Ronald Cole-Turner, were invited by the Executive Committee of the International Society for Science and Religion to prepare this statement. Through a process involving consultation with all members of the Society, the statement has now been accepted by the Executive Committee for publication as a statement made on behalf of the Society.
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