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Ethical discussion should come before research

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"We need to do the ethical reflection before we get into the experimentation," said Jones in an interview.

For example, Jones says, the possibility of creating embryos that combine genetic material from two species could open the door to unanticipated harmful consequences as easily as beneficial outcomes. Scientists have already created pigs with human blood flowing through their bodies. And according to news reports, scientists at Stanford University are considering creating mice with human brains.

"When the barrier between humans and animals is broken down, could science unintentionally initiate the next pandemic?" said Jones. "We need to do these things in a thoughtful way, and not just consider the one experiment we're working on."

Jones also argues that a shortened gap between lab research and potential use in humans means that scientists must consider ethical issues before experimentation begins. Even though these artificially created embryos are intended only for laboratory research, there is the potential that "a zealous researcher somewhere might implant them in a mother's womb."

"There used to be a gap of 20 years or so before research in the lab could potentially be applied in humans," says Jones. "But now, there are fewer years to get to that point. When we're working on these techniques in the laboratory, society needs to be ready prior to when it hits the application stage.

"I'm for science, but I don't think we go the distance to be stewards of our scientific research. We have an obligation not to be just reactive, but to be proactive and build societal consensus for the directions we're going."

Even though the methods being studied cannot currently create embryos that can become viable beings, Jones said, it is not beyond possibility.

"Some people say this is science fiction and ethicists shouldn't dwell on it," says Jones. "But Dolly the sheep was science f
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Contact: Karen Richardson
krchrdsn@wfubmc.edu
336-716-4453
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center
15-Mar-2005


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