On not even asking the question

15th July 2008

Recently, the well known press agency, Reuters, covered a story about how monkeys have now been genetically modified to have Huntingdon’s disease: see here.

Ever since the patenting of the so-called ‘onco-mouse’ (a mouse genetically modified to develop cancer) in 1993, some of us forecast that it would only be a matter of time before we had ‘onco-chimps’ (for my critique, see my ‘Created Not Invented: A Theological Critique of Patenting Animals’, Crucible, April-June, 1993, 60-67, partially reprinted as Chapter 9 in my Animal Theology).

But what is most lamentable is not the seemingly inexorable march of genetic manipulation of sentient species, but that even a reputable press agency, like Reuters, can report such a development without even allowing the ethical question (about whether such use of animals is morally licit) to surface. No opposing voices are allowed space in their report. Are we to believe that there are no ethicists who do not have fundamental questions to raise about such research? Are there not scientists who question the value of the use of such ‘animal models’? Hardly. Then why the silence? So long as humans purportedly ‘benefit’ (itself a questionable assumption) it now seems almost impossible to get a serious hearing for important ethical questions. The question is not even raised. There is no more obvious example of why the Centre – with its specific ethical remit – is necessary and urgent.

Andrew Linzey