It’s not a dystopian novel, movie, or comic book: The Pentagon has developed a subdermal microchip to detect the COVID virus, various militaries are using gene editing and neural implants to develop “super soldiers,” and scientists are splicing human and monkey genes into embryos that they can use to grow viable tissue and organs for implantation — and these are just some of the disturbing science projects now taking place around the world.
The Pentagon’s microchip, inserted under the skin, monitors reactions in the body and can tell if a person has COVID within 5 minutes, according to a report by “60 Minutes.” It was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a top-secret unit that researches breakthrough technologies for military application.
Dr. Matt Hepburn, a retired Army colonel and infectious disease expert, described the microchip as a sensor. He said, “That tiny green thing in there, you put it underneath your skin, and what that tells you is that there are chemical reactions going on inside the body, and that signal means you are going to have symptoms tomorrow.”
Hepburn compared the microchip to a “check engine light,” essentially alerting a servicemember that they have the COVID infection and directing them to take a COVID test to confirm. Regarding the results, he said, “We can have that information in three to five minutes. As you truncate that time, as you diagnose and treat, what you do is you stop the infection in its tracks.”
DARPA claims the technology could help prevent outbreaks like the one that occurred on the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt last spring, when 1,271 crewmates tested positive for COVID.
The “60 Minutes” piece also revealed newly developed technology that would allow a dialysis machine to remove COVID from the blood using a filter. Blood is pumped into the machine, detoxed, then passed back into the body. A military spouse made a full recovery from a severe case of COVID, including organ failure and septic shock, after four days of the new dialysis treatment.
“We challenge the research community to come up with solutions that may sound like science fiction,” Hepburn said. “For us, at DARPA, if the experts are laughing at you and saying it’s impossible, you’re in the right space.”
Fitting that description is the development of “super soldiers” by France and China. Former National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe, who called China the “biggest threat to democracy since World War II,” said that the nation is creating “super soldiers” by using gene editing.
“They want [their military] to be the largest and they also want them to be the strongest, which is why they’re engaged in gene editing — literally trying to alter the DNA to make soldiers, sailors, and airmen stronger and more powerful.”
Ratcliffe warned, “There are no ethical boundaries to Beijing’s pursuit of power.”
France is also seeking to create super soldiers, signaling a biological arms race could be taking place. According to a report, France is creating “bionic” troops that are “bred to kill.” Their soldiers would have enhanced “physical, cognitive, perceptive, and psychological capacities,” as well as allow them to be tracked or connected to weapons systems and other soldiers.
The nation’s ethics committee of the armed forces gave the go-ahead to the project, saying France needs to maintain “operational superiority of its armed forces in a challenging strategic context.”
Florence Parly, the French armed forces minister, said that invasive implants are not a part of the military’s plans. The ethics committee will not allow augmentations that affect a soldier’s sense of humanity or prevents them from returning to civilian life.
“But we have to be clear, not everyone has the same scruples as us and we have to prepare ourselves for such a future,” Parly said. “It’s an opinion which isn’t set in stone and will be regularly reassessed in the light of future developments.”
Michael Clarke, visiting professor in war studies at Kings College London, said, “We’ve reached the point now where we could potentially manipulate people’s DNA to breed into them extra strength, endurance, and other things just as we do with animals. Just as we’ve done with standard cattle to give them more back, we can do that now very precisely with humans.”
Not to be left behind, DARPA is also working on developing technological augmentation of soldiers, including the use of exoskeletons and neural implants.
Even more alarming, some Chinese and American scientists are working together to create human-monkey hybrid embryos, according to a study published in the journal Cell. The project implants human stem cells into monkey embryos, some of which survived for 20 days. One of the key stated objectives is for medicinal purposes, such as growing organs and tissue for transplantation.
Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory of the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in La Jolla, California, and a co-author of the Cell study, defended the rationale for the project as critical for providing the organs needed by those waiting for transplants. “The demand for that is much higher than the supply,” he said.
The experimentation hasn’t worked yet, but Belmonte said they will keep trying. “This knowledge will allow us to go back now and try to re-engineer these pathways that are successful for allowing appropriate development of human cells in these other animals.”
Kristin Matthews, a fellow for science and technology at Rice University’s Baker Institute questioned the ethics of such experiments, noting: “My first question is: Why?” I think the public is going to be concerned, and I am as well, that we’re just kind of pushing forward with science without having a proper conversation about what we should or should not do.”
Belmonte responded by claiming, “Our goal is not to generate any new organism, any monster. And we are not doing anything like that. We are trying to understand how cells from different organisms communicate with one another.”
Matthews, however, raised important concerns about the chimera’s humanity. “Should it be regulated as human because it has a significant proportion of human cells in it? Or should it be regulated just as an animal? Or something else? At what point are you taking something and using it for organs when it actually is starting to think and have logic?”
Scientific developments can be exciting and can improve the world. The dialysis machine that can help cure patients with severe COVID infections, for example, is a praiseworthy innovation. Science trying too hard to push the boundaries, however, can raise serious ethical dilemmas. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.
DARPA says that the microchips will not be used to track individuals, which, at least initially, may be true, but it does raise privacy concerns. As governments develop tracking technology for military purposes, one is right to be concerned whether a microchip would give them the capability to then track all citizens. If the microchip is monitoring chemical reactions in the body, what else does it reveal besides a COVID diagnosis?
It’s fun to imagine the possibilities of science and technology. Marvel’s Captain America gives us the idea that super soldiers can save us from evil, and DC Comics’ Cyborg makes one believe any advancement is possible, but we’re not talking about comic books. This is real life. And even in these fictional stories, biologically or technologically enhanced super soldiers are frequently used for nefarious purposes or genuinely good intentions go awry and result in unexpected and devastating consequences.
As such, any radical development that goes beyond the norms of scientific advancement requires careful consideration and oversight. Are strength-augmenting exoskeletons ethical and safe? What about selective gene editing? Will neural implants be used to control soldiers or can they be hacked?
And from what source are scientists obtaining human DNA to develop hybrid embryos? Just last week, we learned that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is buying the parts of “freshly aborted” babies (up to 24-weeks-old gestation) to develop “humanized” mice for use in testing new drugs and other scientific experiments.
Some of these latest scientific projects may eventually be deemed acceptable, while others are shocking and clearly outside the bounds of historically acceptable medical ethics. However, the biological arms race taking place is disconcerting no matter the ethics of any of these developments. If nations build armies full of enhanced soldiers who are stronger, smarter, and faster than normal men, tyranny is almost a certainty.
Part of the reason for the massive destruction in World Wars I and II was the invention of much more effective weaponry. One can only imagine what nations, already armed with drones and missiles and nuclear weapons, would do with super-soldiers. Perhaps some of these innovations are positive, leading to real-life superheroes who can rescue people from a burning building or much more easily and efficiently stop those who would do harm. With governments in control and seeking military application, however, it may likely lead to jackbooted thugs trampling over ordinary people.
Belmonte may claim that he and his team are not creating monsters with their human-monkey creations, but their experiments are, in fact, monstrous. The motive may be altruistic, but it is unethical and could lead to even more heinous experiments. While the cliché of “playing God” is sometimes overused, it applies in this instance. This is not medical advancement; it is a sickening Frankenstein experiment. The researchers can’t see the horror of their project because they see man as just another animal, just another platform from which to extract data, resources, and advances.
As the study states, “These results may help to better understand early human development and primate evolution and develop strategies to improve human chimerism in evolutionarily distant species.” By this perspective, man is viewed as simply one more primate and, as such, there is no ethical dilemma.
God has given man the blessing of a mind that is able to achieve great scientific and technological advancements and improve life for the masses. Unfortunately, due to the effects of sin, that same mind can be a tool for not only evil, but for mankind’s own destruction. Science can be used for life-saving procedures or for world-conquering horrors. If man would stop to think about what should be done rather than what can be done, there would be far more of the former and far less of the latter.
As French physicist and religious philosopher Blaise Pascal once said, “What a Chimera… is man! What a novelty, a monster, a chaos, a contradiction, a prodigy! Judge of all things, an imbecile worm; depository of truth, and sewer of error and doubt; the glory and refuse of the universe.”
From the beginning, man has wanted to be “as a god,” but we lack God’s unerring wisdom and temperament and His infinite mercy and love, which is why trying to “play God” always leads to pain and destruction.