On September 2, 2016, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a news release titled “USCCB General Counsel Urges NIH Not to Fund Unethical Human/Animal Chimera Research.” According to the USCCB’s letter to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Science Policy (linked at the bottom of the news release), “Herein lies the key moral problem involved in this proposal, beyond the already grave problem of exploiting human embryos as cell factories for research… For if one cannot tell to what extent, if any, the resulting organism may have human status or characteristics, it will be impossible to determine what one’s moral obligations may be regarding that organism.” This comes days after an August 26 statement by Greg Schleppenbach, Associate Director of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, titled “Life Issues Forum: NIH Wants to Fund Human-Animal Chimera Research.” A document from the NIH, dated September 23, 2015, briefly details the scope of their experimentation.
The polemics inherent to the dire ethical concerns regarding human-animal chimeras are well-documented. On May 5, 2016, Georgetown University’s Bioethics Research Library shared an article, “Producing Human Organs in Animal Chimeras Raises Objective Medical and Ethical Problems,” originally written by Spanish academic Justo Aznar, Director of the Bioethics Observatory at the Universidad Católica de Valencia. Aznar is also a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life. National Catholic Register correspondent Celeste McGovern has likewise written about how some of this research is unfortunately already underway, as in her article of February 29, 2016, appropriately titled “What’s Wrong with Human-Animal Chimeras?”
At the intersection of science, faith, and reason that typifies the twenty-first century and all that it promises, the Catholic Church will continue to be confronted with challenges to ideally basic moral standards that were once taken for granted, such as those that oppose what this situation presents. At the same time, the Church will have to steadily exhibit that, far from being an obstacle to scientific advancement, it is of course an advocate for scientific research, but only that research which respects and values all human life, which should not be subjected to manipulation or experimentation. The leadership of the world’s bishops, as shown in the efforts of the USCCB, is necessary to provide clarity and to inspire fortitude among the faithful, as well as all those of good will in the midst of this and various other ethical dilemmas.