By Hilary White

LONDON, November 16, 2009 ( – Britain's Academy of Medical Sciences announced last week it will be launching a study into the ethics of using animals that contain human DNA for medical research. The purpose of the study, the Academy says, is to examine the “use of non-human animals and embryos incorporating human material.” But the announcement is being met with strong scepticism from some experts in bioethics, including Dr. Diane Irving, a well-known pro-life scientist and bioethics expert, who says that such ethical studies are typically flawed from the outset.

The Academy of Medical Sciences said in announcing the study, “Consideration of this rapidly advancing area of science is needed to ensure that research into our understanding of diseases and their treatment can take place in the UK within a robust ethical and regulatory framework.” The Academy wants the study to examine not only the “ethics” of such research, but “how it is perceived by the public” and has issued an “open call” for evidence.

But Dr. Irving told that such studies are often necessarily handicapped by an anti-human bias that is rampant and uncritically accepted in the medical research community. Irving said that the announcement “shows all the classic signs” of the methods used by bioethicists who use “public yuck factor” to manipulate opinion and create public acceptance.

“The point,” she told (LSN), “is that none of this research should be done, not 'How far can we go?'”

The scientific research community, with the help of the media, has re-written the language of embryo research  so that what is being done in labs is never clearly described to the public or to parliamentarians, who are normally told that such research will result in cures for dreaded diseases. The pressure to fund unethical research using living human embryos as subjects comes from emotional manipulation, said Irving, not facts.

Prof. Martin Bobrow, who chairs the working group conducting the study, said it is “supported by parliamentarians”: “It is important to ensure that this exciting research can progress within limits that scientists, the government and the public support.”

Bobrow asked if such “constructs” as mouse embryos containing human genes “challenge our idea of what it is to be human.” “It is important that we consider these questions now so that appropriate boundaries are recognised and research is able to fulfil its potential,” Bobrow said.

Irving, who has written extensively on the ethics of such research, however, says that ethics committees are typically “stacked” with members who already agree that such research must continue and who then reframe the debate “so that the desired results are inevitable.”

“The real 'yuck factors' here are those who would perform and promote such scientifically questionable and ethically dubious research,” Irving continued. 

Irving says there are “legitimate scientific reasons” why the creation of human/animal hybrids should be banned outright by the British authorities. She points to a statement by Dr. Sebastien Farnaud, Science Director for non-animal medical research charity the Dr. Hadwen Trust, who said that genetically modified animal models of cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy have led to inconclusive results in which the “fundamental differences between species lead to different symptoms or no symptoms at all” rendering the project useless.

But ethically, she said, the bottom line is that such research normally involves “destruction of real live human beings for the benefit of other human beings, without their consent, and for some concocted 'greater good.'”

Irving had a number of hard questions for the Academy, “What are the real reasons for doing such disgusting and scientifically unsound research? Is it for grant monies, for fame and Nobel prizes, for career advancements, or just because the challenge is 'there'?” Or, more ominously, Irving asks, “Is this really eugenics-in-disguise?”

Read related LSN coverage:

Embryo Research Approval Orchestrated Via International Bioethics 

British Religious and Pro-Life Leaders Warn of Growth of “New Eugenics” in Pre-Natal Testing and Embryo Screening  

German Scientist Urges IVF Doctors to Re-Appraise Nazi Eugenics