Artificial Human Embryos Are Coming Soon

How do you perform unlimited, unregulated experiments on thousands of human beings? Create them in a lab.

No I’m not talking here about conceiving human beings in a lab. That has been done for decades in IVF, during which multiple embryos are conceived, but only one escapes death or indefinite freezing. It has also been done for the purpose of experimentation, especially as development proceeds at a break-neck pace to achieve genetic engineering of the earliest-stage humans.

In a moral compromise that is hardly moral, most governments require that human embryos subject to experiments be destroyed after about two weeks. The restriction irks scientists who want free rein to experiment for as long as they can gather new information, which presumably is an unending time-period.

The solution to getting around the regulations is to “create” new embryos by combining stem cells in a petri dish. British scientists have over the past year crossed the last major hurdle to producing “real” embryos in this way.

Any viable human organism transforms as an embryo from just a single layer of cells to a three-layer, differentiated being. The three layers are an endoderm that form the human organism that will develop into a fetus, the mesoderm that forms into the placenta, and endoderm that becomes the nutrient-supplying yolk sac. It is only recently that scientists have been able to facilitate the fusion of all three types of stem cells and produce a mouse-like being (it’s hard to say what kind of being it is) that successfully forms all three layers.

Scientists don’t consider the new being to be a full embryo, because such beings have not yet succeeded in developing further. But they claim to be “extremely close.”

It is a fascinating and important moral question whether we should require such beings, when they are formed with human stem cells, to be treated with significant respect. We respect animals and our abstractly defined “environment” as having some sacred value, so what about beings that are “extremely close” to becoming human?

The possibility of forming “synthetic” human beings also takes the moral debate over genetic engineering to a whole new level. Human embryos are essentially, at least in the intention of the participants, raw material for manufacturing a valued future person. A person who never has a “human” status until after the manufacturing process will be even more purely human-made.

When persons experience themselves as manufactured, a very important sense of connection to the divine can be severed. Our human dignity depends crucially on our experience of being created as a unique and loved human being by our God. Our human identity and self-integrity depend on knowing that we are a “person” with a supreme value determined ultimately by our very existence, not by the intentions and desires of human beings who made us.

Please pray hard for humanity. We are entering a phase of technological capability that will test our faith in ways never seen before.