Whose brains to pick (for) tomorrow?

Human Organoids are small, lab-grown three-dimensional structures, made from human stem cells to model different aspects of an organ or tissue, such as the human lung or brain. Brain or neural organoids are used to model different aspects of the developing human brain. For instance, with the help of brain organoids, researchers can observe in the lab how Zika virus affects the neurodevelopment of a model of a fetal human brain or investigate the developmental origins of autism; moreover, brain organoids are being created and studied to determine treatment options for different types of cancer and neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease. They are further researched for mental health issues with a neurological or physiological link, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder; last but not least, brain organoids that are developed by using stem cells from patients with a specific disease can also provide a human cell-based platform for drug testing, i.e. brain organoids that are created by stem cells from a specific patient can be used to test the effectiveness of a drug or a treatment for that specific patient. Such a breakthrough can allow for tailor-made therapies and even puts up for discussion the possibility that neural organoids partially or completely replace animal testing in the future.

Naturally, the research surrounding this emerging field and its future applications is preceded and followed by a series of ethical considerations and legal grey areas; for instance, the more complex and organized neural organoids get, the more they resemble a fetal human brain. There are therefore concerns that at some point in the future, brain organoids can become so complex, organized and mature structures that they can develop consciousness and sentience, just like a human brain. So, at which developmental point should we halt further research on brain organoids for fear that they may become not just similar but identical to a human brain, and with what means, tools or tests can we determine this point? What is a brain organoid’s moral and legal status? Is transplantation of human brain organoids into non-human animals for drug testing ethical? What if these hybrid animals start demonstrating human-like cognitive and emotional qualities?

A change in one’s form can indeed lead to a metamorphosis. Everything natural changes and all in nature need to adapt to survive. Humanity has been undergoing a metamorphosis for millions of years. It remains to be seen whether all these changes in brain organoid research are a step forward in human evolution and a metamorphosis of humankind into a more sophisticated species with the ability to create other (sub)species modelled after itself or if it is the beginning of paramorphism, i.e. the phenomenon of some natural elements (like mineral species) changing from one species to another through a change in their internal structure and physical characteristics.