A leading Scottish churchman and bioethics thinktank operator has warned again of the dangers attendant on genetic research, and recommended that there should be a law against men having children with female chimpanzees.
The Scotsman reports today that Calum MacKellar, an Elder of the Church of Scotland who trained as a biochemist, has called for government action to prohibit the possible interbreeding of men and lady chimps to create "humanzees".
"The Human Fertilisation and Embryo Bill prohibits the placement of animal sperm into a woman," the worried Christian told the Scotsman.
"The reverse is not prohibited. It's not even mentioned. This should not be the case."
Dr MacKellar is apparently concerned about the possible human rights and status of humanzees.
"If it was never able to be self-aware or self-conscious it would probably be considered an animal," he said. "However, if there was a possibility of humanzees developing a conscience, you have a far more difficult dilemma on your hands."
MacKellar believes that a law against the creation of chimp-human halfbreeds by meddling scientists is necessary. He speculated that in the absence of any such law, unscrupulous boffins would be sure to manufacture humanzees in order to harvest them for transplant organs.
"There's a desperate need for organs," he warned.
"If they could create these humanzees who are substantially human but are not considered as humans in law, we could have a large provision of organs."
Dr MacKellar is already well known for flagging up various possibilities which he thinks might occur as a result of research involving human DNA. He pretty much always feels that such research should be outlawed or at the very least tightly regulated.
In 2000, MacKellar suggested that cloning techniques could be used to produce a child with two fathers and no mother, a technique that was thought likely to appeal to gay men. He said that the government should consider the ethical issues raised by this, and that legislation should cover the issue - even though serious scientists said it was a far-fetched notion at best.
There can't be much doubt that MacKellar would have been hoping to see the male-only kids possibility forbidden. He has written a paper (apparently available online only in French, or translated by Google here) arguing that homosexuality is an affliction which a moral, Christian person does not yield to - just like paedophilia or murderous rage.
Dr MacKellar has also made his own position on human embryo research in general entirely clear. The Church of Scotland said in 2006 that it was opposed to any creation of human embryos "by IVF methods or nuclear transfer cloning methods". However, the Kirk made an exception for research into "serious diseases ... under exceptional circumstances".
Elder MacKellar was strongly against this exception, writing at the time:
Christians believe that all persons, whether they are embryonic or have been born, cannot be reduced to ‘piles of cells’ even though some may be very small, short-lived or unconscious ... Christians accept that every person is amazingly loved and valued by an amazing God ... this love of God forms the basis of human personhood, which is a mystery that can never be determined from scientific concepts alone ...
This is a crucial Christian belief and for many it also gives full moral status to early human embryos ... all research on human embryos is morally wrong.
MacKellar was also widely quoted - on the basis of his bioethics rather than religious background - for his opposition to medical researchers' application to use human DNA carried in cow eggs stripped of their nuclei. He felt that even this would "begin to undermine the whole distinction between humans and animals".
Not unlike his concept of "humanzees" created for organ harvesting, in fact, described by more mainstream scientists as "impractical" and by the government as "impossible".
But the "humanzee" notion is certainly a great way for MacKellar to cast stem-cell scientists - or indeed anyone who ever dares mess with a human embryo for any reason whatsoever - as evil, perverse lunatics.
Read the Scotsman "exclusive" scoop here, in which Dr McKellar's views are explored again.®