Image-bearing Embryos?

What is human dignity? How does the idea that we are “image-bearers” of the Divine play out when we are faced with circumstances like this:

Following heated debate, the British House of Lords passed the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which allows the creation of mixed human-animal embryos for medical research purposes.

After removing the nuclei from animal embryos, human DNA is inserted into the embryo to create interspecies embryos–cytoplastic hybrids or “cybrids” for short–that proponents claim are 99.9% human and .1% animal. Cybrids may be kept for a maximum of fourteen days, after which time the beginnings of the spinal cord and brain begin to form…The legislation prohibits the implantation of cybrids into humans.

Supporters claim that due to the short supply of human embryos, interspecies embryos are necessary…Human embryos are used, among other things, as a source of stem cells. Stem cells are used in research to better understand and develop treatments for neurogenerative diseases, developmental abnormalities, cancer, and a host of other diseases and injuries…stem cell technologies hold the potential for improved burn treatment, regenerative medicine, organ transplantation, and providing the means for infertile couples to have children who carry some of their genetic material…

Opponents claim that creating interspecies embryos tampers with the fundamental nature of what it means to be human, and challenges the dignity of human beings. Many members of society hold deep religious convictions against tampering with human embryos…Many types of research have resulted in devastating unforeseen consequences. It is not possible to predict how this research will affect the course of human and animal evolution: opponents claim it is particularly troublesome that these consequences may affect the fundamental meaning of being human.

Image-bearing, the soul, and human dignity are all concepts that don’t mix well with the post-modern materialistic society that we find ourselves in.

A part of me is convinced by the social benefits that will occur as a result of this research. Its difficult to argue against it even if one makes use of concepts like human dignity and the soul.

If we are measuring in “souls”, then what about the souls of those are devastated by diseases that could be cured by this kind of research?

If we are measuring in human dignity…er…how do we do that if we’re tampering with the nature of the embryo. It is no longer “human.” Moreover, dying from a terrible (and preventable) genetic disease doesn’t seem very dignified either. I have to admit I’m not exactly sure what human dignity is.

Then, of course, there’s the argument that genetic manipulation is “playing God”, but I fail to see how this is any different from messing with the environment or messing with chemicals. Well, of course, there is the obvious difference that this time we’re messing with humans, but that puts us religious folk back into the previous mentioned arguments.

I don’t buy the idea of a soul. I’m not convinced by the “playing God” argument. Human dignity is confusing. I am reminded that we are image-bearers (perhaps this is what human dignity means?). Image-bearing is a concept I can buy.

But what are the ethical implications?

To translate the above philosophical question into religious language: What is the will of God on the matter?

God, what is Your will?

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