Animal Ethics

First synthetic embryos: the scientific breakthrough raises serious ethical questions

synthetic mouse.
Weizmann Institute of Sciences

Julian Savulescu, University of Oxford; Christopher Gyngell, The University of Melbourne, and Tsutomu Sawai, Hiroshima University

Children, even some who are too young for school, know you can’t make a baby without sperm and an egg. But a team of researchers in Israel have called into question the basics of what we teach children about the birds and the bees, and created a mouse embryo using just stem cells.

It lived for eight days, about half a mouse’s gestation period, inside a bioreactor in the lab.

In 2021 the research team used the same artificial womb to grow natural mouse embryos (fertilised from sperm and eggs), which lived for 11 days. The lab-created womb, or external uterus, was a breakthrough in itself as embryos could not survive in petri dishes.

If you’re picturing a kind of silicone womb, think again. The external uterus is a rotating device filled with glass bottles of nutrients. This movement simulates how blood and nutrients flow to the placenta. The device also replicates the atmospheric pressure of a mouse uterus.

Some of the cells were treated with chemicals, which switched on genetic programmes to develop into placenta or yolk sac. Others developed into organs and other tissues without intervention. While most of the stem cells failed, about 0.5% were very similar to a natural eight-day-old embryo with a beating heart, basic nervous system and a yolk-sac.

These new technologies raise several ethical and legal concerns.

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Hang Onto Your Soul

By Charles Foster

Image: https://the-conscious-mind.com

I can’t avoid Steven Pinker at the moment. He seems to be on every page I read. I hear him all the time, insisting that I’m cosmically insignificant; that my delusional thoughts, my loves, my aspirations, and the B Minor Mass’s effect on me are merely chemical events. I used to have stuck up above my desk (on the principle that you should know your enemy), his declaration (as stridently irrational as the sermon of a Kentucky Young Earth Creationist): ‘A major breakthrough of the Scientific Revolution – perhaps its greatest breakthrough – was to refute the intuition that the Universe is saturated with purpose.’ 1

He tells me that everything is getting better. Has been getting better since the first eruption of humans into the world.2 That there’s demonstrable progress (towards what, one might ask, if the universe has no purpose? – but I’ll leave that for the moment). That there’s less violence; there are fewer mutilated bodies per capita. He celebrates his enlightenment by mocking my atavism: he notes that the Enlightenment came after the Upper Palaeolithic, and (for the law of progress admits no exceptions) concludes that that means that our Enlightenment age is better than what went before. Continue reading

No, Plant-Based Meals Do Not Undermine Freedom of Choice

No, Plant-Based Meals Do Not Undermine Freedom of Choice

Written by Joanna Demaree-Cotton

 

Last month, TV personality Jeremy Clarkson took centre-stage in our local county politics with an argument against plant-based meals. His fury—expressed on television, on Twitter, and in a strongly-worded column in The Sun—was sparked by the Oxfordshire County Council’s decision to provide only plant-based meals at council-catered events as a move towards environmental sustainability.

 

Local farmers—including Jeremy Clarkson, whose farm in Oxfordshire was the focus of his latest TV venture Clarkson’s Farm—protested the measures. There is nothing surprising about this. There’s a straightforward conflict of interest here. It’s in the interests of people who make a living from selling animal products to promote diets based around animal products. (As local arable farmer John Richardson was reported to have said at the protest, “[we’re] just trying to promote the good food we produce”.)

 

More curious, however, is the claim that it’s morally wrong to have policies committing to plant-based catering. More specifically, one of Clarkson’s arguments was that deciding to provide plant-based catering is morally wrong because it interferes with freedom of choice. Standing with protesting farmers, Clarkson reportedly argued:

 

“I think people have to have choice. If people want to eat seeds and weeds, fine. If people want to eat meat, fine. … You can’t dictate. You might be a vegetarian but you can’t make everyone else a vegetarian just because you are.”

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The End Of The Egg?

written by Neil Levy

There are no more free range eggs in the UK. They’re a victim of the pandemic – not COVID, but avian flu. Avian flu is devastating to the poultry industry, most immediately because outbreaks lead to the culling of all the birds. Avian flu can infect humans and has caused multiple deaths over the years; prevention in domestic birds is therefore aimed not only at reducing the costs to producers but also at reducing the risks to human health. Keeping them indoors is aimed at preventing the virus spreading from wild birds to the poultry. Continue reading

What If Stones Have Souls?

By Charles Foster

Over the 40,000 years or so of the history of behaviourally modern humans, the overwhelming majority of generations have been, so far as we can see, animist. They have, that is, believed that all or most things, human and otherwise, have some sort of soul.

We can argue about the meaning of ‘soul’, and about the relationship of ‘soul’ to consciousness, but most would agree that whatever ‘soul’ and ‘consciousness’ mean, and however they are related, there is some intimate and necessary connection between them – even if they are not identical.

Consciousness is plainly not a characteristic unique to humans. Indeed the better we get at looking for consciousness, the more we find it. The universe seems to be a garden in which consciousness springs up very readily. Continue reading

Cross-Post: The Moral Status of Human-Monkey Chimeras

Written by Julian Savulescu and Julian Koplin 

This article was first published on Pursuit. Read the original article.

The 1968 classic Planet of the Apes tells the story of the Earth after a nuclear war destroys human civilisation. When three astronauts return to our planet after a long space voyage, they discover that humans have lost the power of verbal communication and live much like apes currently do.

Meanwhile, non-human primates have evolved speech and other human-like abilities, and are now running the earth with little regard for human life.

The astronaut George Taylor, played by Charlton Heston, is rendered temporarily mute when he is shot in the throat and captured. In one scene he is brought before the Apes, as he appears more intelligent than other humans.

He regains the power of speech, and his first words are: Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape.”

Planet of the Apes may be fiction, but this month the world’s first human-monkey lifeforms were created by Juan Carlos Belmonte at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in the US, using private funding. Professor Belmonte and his group injected stem cells from the skin of a human foetus into a monkey embryo.

This part-human lifeform is called a chimera.

If implanted into a monkey uterus, the chimera could theoretically develop into a live-born animal that has cells from both a monkey and a human.

While it has been possible to make chimeras for more than 20 years using a different technique that involves fusing the embryos of two animals together, this technique has not been used in humans. It has been used to create novel animals like the geep – a fusion of a sheep and goat embryo.

Professor Belmonte used a different technique– called “blastocyst complementation” – which is more refined. It enables greater control over the number of human cells in the chimera.

But why is this research being done?

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Video Series: How To Prevent Future Pandemics

First interview in the new  Thinking Out Loud series on ‘Animals and Pandemics’: Katrien Devolder in conversation with Jeff Sebo, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at NYU, on how our treatment of animals increases the risk of future pandemics arising, and on what we should do to reduce that risk!

Invertebrate Ethics

by Roger Crisp

In a recent and very interesting paper, Irina Mikhalevich and Russell Powell (MP) argue that the same standards of evidence and risk management that justify policy protections for vertebrates also support extending moral consideration to certain invertebrates. In this blog, I’ll offer two lines of argument broadly supportive of MP’s conclusions. First, even if invertebrates are non-sentient, their lives may contain elements of welfare sufficient for moral standing. Second, justice speaks in favour of giving priority to the interests of most invertebrates, since their lives are so much less valuable for them, in terms of welfare, than the lives of most vertebrates. Continue reading

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