Good evening Mr. & Mrs. Catholic, and all you other Christians at sea. Science is at it again, and The Newsreel is here to bring you the story. Now off to press!
According to a recent article at ScienceDaily, scientists at Cambridge University have managed to create an artificial mouse embryo through the use of two types of genetically modified stem cells. The stated purpose of this rather ominous sounding experiment is to further our understanding of the earliest stages of embryonic development so as to help researchers explain why more than two out of three human pregnancies fail. As Professor Zernicka-Goetz explains…
“We think that it will be possible to mimic a lot of the developmental events occurring before 14 days using human embryonic and extra-embryonic stem cells using a similar approach to our technique using mouse stem cells… We are very optimistic that this will allow us to study key events of this critical stage of human development without actually having to work on embryos. Knowing how development normally occurs will allow us to understand why it so often goes wrong.”
As hinted at in the doctor’s remarks, the so-called ‘embryo’ created by the Cambridge team is not quite the same as the real thing. The article states…
“It is unlikely that it would develop further into a healthy fetus… To do so, it would likely need the third form of stem cell, which would allow the development of the yolk sac, which provides nourishment for the embryo and within which a network of blood vessel develops. In addition, the system has not been optimized for the correct development of the placenta.”
As avid movie fans, however, The Newsreel can’t help but wonder just how long it is before some mad scientist type takes it upon himself to attempt those extra steps necessary to create a fully functioning artificial embryo. This might not be a good idea as, at some point in the process, you end up with Morgan. And with a 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, nobody wants that.
Seriously though, the possibility of a fully artificial human embryo can’t help but raise the question of ensoulment; not the age old argument over whether it is immediate or delayed, but whether it occurs at all. Would an artificial human have a soul? Or better put, since all living things have an animating soul of some sort, would an artificially created human embryo have an immortal soul made in the image of God?
Only God knows for sure, but since the Church has already accepted potential clones to be fully human, it is highly likely any being resulting from an ‘artificial’ embryo would be as well. After all, we’re not talking about robots here, but living, breathing autonomous beings developed through artificial non-procreative methods. And as Aquinas wrote in Summa Contra Gentiles, "the human soul is brought into being through the creative action of God," not through the biological processes of procreation. Given that, there’s no reason that God wouldn’t ensoul such creations if he so chose.
Even so, let’s hope the research never reaches that point, because of the overwhelming potential for the misuse and commoditization of these artificially created beings. Well, that and, you know… Morgan.
And on that note, we’ll leave you, as always, with the immortal words of the great Les Nessman. Good evening, and may the good news be yours.