Male Rats Giving Birth Shows Need to Regulate Biotechnology

June 16, 2021 Updated: June 21, 2021

Commentary

Biotechnology is being harnessed to accelerate social-revolutionary policies and cross what once were immutable moral boundaries. The latest example occurred in China—where scientific ethics go to die. Here’s the story: Two Shanghai-based researchers surgically attached male and female rats. They then transplanted uteruses into male rats and ensured that the females’ blood nurtured the organs now in the male bodies.

The male rats were then “impregnated” via IVF and embryo transfer, and some of the males became, well, mothers. “For the first time, a mammalian animal model of male pregnancy was constructed by us,” the researchers bragged in a paper published by BioRXiv, an open-access journal hosted by Cold Spring Harbor.

Why do that? Part of the impetus may have been to advance a deeply yearned goal of the transgender movement, that is, to enable trans women—biological males who identify as female—to give birth.

Indeed, some in bioethics consider that prospect to be a human right. For example, an article in the Oxford University-based Journal of Medical Ethics argued, “There is a moral imperative to ensure equitable access to UTx [uterine transplant]” for “genetically XY [transgender] women.”

Failing to assure the full female reproductive experience to these patients, the bioethicists argued, “is discrimination against genetically XY women as a social group.” In other words, medical science has a social justice duty to overturn nature’s transphobic realities.

Altering the Genome

Transgenderism isn’t the only field in which Big Biotech is radically revisioning procreation and family. Take human germ-line genetic engineering, that is, altering the genome in ways that will pass down the generations.

Two germ-line engineered babies were already born—again, in China. Yes, there was an international uproar. But note, the controversy wasn’t so much because of what was done—but when.

You see, the cardinal sin wasn’t altering the children’s germ lines. That has always been a goal of gene-editing research on human embryos—blessed by, among others, the influential National Academy of Sciences.

No, the real great wrong was doing the deed before the public had been properly anesthetized with soothing assurances from bioethicists that the moral, social, and safety implications of the technology have all been properly pondered. Indeed, George Daley, the dean of Harvard Medical School, argued in the wake of the announcement that scientists should continue to move into human germ-line engineering, despite the furor.

Biotechnologists are also bent on creating “three-parent embryos.” The process, a quasi-cloning technique, removes the nucleus from the egg of one woman, puts it into an egg of another which had its own nucleus removed, and then fertilizing the genetically modified ovum with sperm. Voila, three biological parents.

The purported purpose of this extreme method of procreation is to enable women to bear biologically related children without passing on mitochondrial disease. Fine. But you know the technique, once perfected, wouldn’t stop there.

At some point, polyamorous threesomes desiring to have children biologically related to all partners will also demand access. Considering the way medicine is now applied to facilitate lifestyles as well as heal illnesses—and given the huge money to be made—who believes IVF clinics would say no? And if they did, they would probably be sued for discrimination.

The same could be said of the fortunes to be made in other areas of intensive biotechnological research. For example, scientists are working to create human eggs and sperm from skin cells.

What are some of the potential uses for such manufactured sperm and eggs?

  • Unlimited eggs for human cloning research and eventually the birth of a cloned child.
  • Creating mass quantities of cloned embryos for use in embryo research or, once artificial wombs are online, “fetal farming,” that is creating fetuses as “donors” for organ transplant patients.
  • Radically restructuring family formation, for example, making sperm from a woman’s skin cells for use in siring a child by her wife.

Experimenting on Embryos

This much is sure: Big Biotech intends to increasingly experiment on embryos—and, I believe, eventually fetuses—far beyond what they have done heretofore. Indeed, a primary ethical shackle impeding that end was just repealed by the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR).

Until now, biotechnologists who experiment on human embryos were supposed to follow the “14-day rule,” meaning that experiment embryos had to be destroyed at two weeks. The time limit was supposedly selected because that is when the neural system begins to form.

But the actual reason was that scientists hadn’t yet developed the techniques to maintain embryos outside a woman’s body for longer than that. Thus, by agreeing to nix experiments they couldn’t yet do, the ISCCR created an open field for research that could be accomplished.

That research led to the ability of scientists to maintain embryos longer, and so the 14-day rule is now toast. The new plan calls for no time limits but relies on scientists to get each other’s ethical permission before doing experiments.

Excuse me for being underwhelmed. Biotechnologists have recently used the body parts of nascent human beings in gruesome experiments—with full ethical approval from their peers. A paper published in the prestigious science journal Nature discussed grafting “human full-thickness fetal skin”—(literally) scalped and flayed dead babies from abortions performed at 18-20 weeks—as a “platform for studying human skin infections.”

The photos of the “humanized rat models” in the report are not for the squeamish. They depict the fetal scalps attached to rats still with human hair.

How do these experiments happen? Blame us. We permit “the scientists” to self-regulate, hoping they will give us miraculous breakthroughs in return. But to truly serve society beneficently, science requires humility and good ethics to accompany its quests.

Or put another way, every powerful enterprise—and nothing matches the life-altering potential of biotechnology—requires rigorous checks and balances to stay on a righteous path.

Here’s the bottom line: Unless society begins the crucial process of deciding through democratic processes and law what to allow or prevent legally—based both on the scientific benefit we hope to gain and the ethical horrors we are morally bound to prevent—the dystopian future prophesied in the novel “Brave New World” will become reality.

Award-winning author Wesley J. Smith is chairman of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.