Ban pushed on human-animal hybrids

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WASHINGTON — A Republican and a Democrat in the U.S. Senate have combined their efforts once again in an attempt to prevent unethical research involving human-animal hybrid embryos.

Sens. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., and Mary Landrieu, D.-La., have renewed their call for a ban on the creation of human-animal hybrids after a British agency approved such research. The senators had introduced the Human-animal Hybrid Prohibition Act, S. 2358, in mid-November.

Great Britain's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) announced Jan. 17 it had licensed two research teams to create hybrid embryos. The scientists will inject human DNA into empty cow eggs to create hybrids that genetically are 99.9 percent human, The Times of London reported. The resulting embryo would not be permitted to develop beyond 14 days.

"The UK's decision to allow the creation of human-animal hybrids is short-sighted and further underscores our need here at home to enact the [ban]," Brownback said in a Jan. 18 written release. "What was once only science fiction is now becoming a reality, and we need to ensure that experimentation and subsequent ramifications do not outpace ethical discussion and societal decisions. History does not look kindly on those who violate the dignity of the human person."

In the same release, Landrieu said Americans "simply cannot open the door to the unethical blending of humans and animals, which the British government seems intent on doing. It creates an unnatural species and is a clear line we cannot cross. This unsound science also presents potential global health hazards due to increased risk of disease spreading to humans from animals."

Brownback and Landrieu also have sponsored in recent years a ban on human cloning, whether it is for research or reproductive purposes. They reintroduced such a measure last year, but the Human Cloning Prohibition Act, S. 1036, has yet to make progress in this Congress. They have 17 cosponsors on the hybrid ban and 26 on the cloning prohibition. Landrieu is the only Democratic sponsor on either measure.

The two senators have combined forces on the bills despite being on different sides in the abortion and embryonic stem cell debates. Brownback is a pro-life advocate who opposes embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), while Landrieu supports ESCR and abortion rights, though she has voted for some restrictions, such as a ban on the partial-birth procedure.

Researchers desire to use cow eggs because they are more easily obtained than human eggs. The British scientists will extract stem cells from the hybrid embryos in an attempt to do research they say will help them better understand Parkinson's and other diseases. The stem cells will contain defective genes that help advance such afflictions, according to The Times. The hybrids will not be used in treatments and won't be implanted in a womb, the newspaper reported.

There are multiple dangers with such research, said pro-life bioethics specialist Wesley Smith.

Although implantation is not "technically feasible yet," this "early work is intended to perfect human cloning techniques so that it can be done reliably and efficiently," Smith wrote at the bioethics.com weblog. "But if that is ever done, we will be quickly on to the other brave new world agendas, such as fetal farming, learning how to genetically engineer progeny and, indeed, reproductive cloning."

The research teams approved for hybrid research in England are at King's College in London and the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, according to The Times.

Compiled by Tom Strode — BP