Frankenstein: Stuff of fiction, or a fore-boding of what is to come?
As a teenager, one of my favorite past times was reading science fiction horror, and one of the more indelible impressions of such science fiction tales was the story of Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelly. It was one of the more classic science horror stuff, and some would think that its relevance towards DNA research, cloning and other scientific advancements may be a glimpse into the future of scary science: Creating a human, hybrid-like creature in the mould of the fictional Frankenstein.
Types of Hybrid Embryos
With the dramatic advancement of DNA and other biological fields, science has progressed in leaps and bounds. Genetically altered plants and crops have been successfully replicated, and organs of humans have also been successfully harvested in animals.
In light of such medical scares, perhaps it may be prudent to at least alleviate the fears of people who may harbor unnecessary prejudice against people who do real science, not some quacks who don white coats and hide behind Creationist-related pseudoscience.
Basically, there are two types of genetically-altered embryos:
1. True hybrids:
Creatures created by the fusion of sperm and eggs, involving human DNA. Such a creation would, theoretically at least, throw in some controversial debates, and thus remain outlawed. In all cases, it remains illegal to allow hybrid embryos to grow for more than 14 days or for them to be implanted in a womb, after which, they are to be destroyed.
As controversial as this sounds, I dare venture to say that this may not be a bad thing. Imagine the good it would do to humanity if humans possess certain genes that may help enhance our capabilities, say, humans who can swim by breathing through gills (without the side effects, of course).
2. Animal-human hybrid embryos
This is a far less controversial research route: Scientists take DNA from human cells and place it in animal eggs, which have had most of their genetic material removed. Embryos grown from the eggs contain more than 99% human DNA, with remnants of animal DNA of the originator of the embryo. Once the embryos have been grown in the lab - for no longer than 14 days - scientists can harvest stem cells for research.
Why Hybrid Embryos?
Perhaps due to the religious stigma attached to embryonic research, there exists a severe shortage of human embryos available from donors for the sole purpose of stem cell research.
By harvesting animal embryos (Which are in plentiful supply, and curiously, something which "pro-lifers" never complain about), the immense potential to culture abundant embryonic cells for stem cell research would negate this urgent need for human embryos.
The Pressing Need For Developing Stem Cell Research
As a testimony to the wonders of Science and Medicine, our advances in medicinal science has dramatically increased the lifespan of the average human being.
With the increased lifespan, however, came unforeseen problems: As the population ages, diseases that would never have surfaced as a potential pandemic have began to crop up: Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other erstwhile mental diseases that deal a severe blow mainly to the elderly populaces will have a significant effect to the elderly, as well as the younger generation tasked with the inevitable burden of looking after the aged.
In light of this emerging social problem, it is imperative that advances in the field of medical research, particularly stem cell research, be accelerated to cure or at least eliminate some of these age-related diseases.
Fear Mongers Amongst the Fundamentalist Breed?
There have been concerns raised, particularly from the religious and fundamentalist breed, that such advances in biomedical research would somehow be a sacrilegious act, and that Man, as God's creation, should never be allowed to play "God".
That kind of argument is dubious, however. By that logic, whenever a child falls ill from disease, we should never bring him or her to the doctor, because as doctors go, their job is to cure patients or at the very least, alleviate pain. Visiting doctors would then be tantamount to blasphemy, since the purpose of the child's disease, which has been afflicted upon the child, would be to bestow upon him or her death and/or suffering.
Rather than be embroiled by such silly arguments, the real ethics of embryonic research should be geared towards responsible, life-saving research. Resorting to archaic, religious values to denounce real science is kind of like playing water ducky with the microscope.
While there may be real medical and ethical implications for creating adult hybrids, the scientific community cannot be allowed to be dragged down by arguments pertaining to ridiculous claims of "fetus" murder and religious, superstitious fear, traits that would lead us down the path of ignorance and doom.