Science

The Attack on Rabbit-Human (and Other) Chimeras Goes International

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Last year prospective GOP presidential candidate, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) proposed legislation banning the production of embryos made by combining animal eggs and human genes (chimeras). Why? Because the senator believes that experiments using chimeric animals and embryos threaten our "respect for human dignity and the integrity of the human species." President Bush also condemned such experiments in his 2006 State of the Union speech and urged that they be banned.

With all due respect, the senator and the president are speaking complete and utter nonsense, as I explain here.

Now it turns out that efforts to outlaw this research have jumped the pond. According to the Times (London), a white paper issued by Britain's Department of Health

bowed to pressure from religious groups for an all-out ban. The technique, which produces embryos that are 99.5 per cent human, aims to address the shortage of human eggs for stem-cell research.

But British researchers are pushing back. Whole Times article here.

NEXT: Muppet Minstrel

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  1. It’s difficult to believe there’s anything special or sacred about the human race after reading the oral defecations of Sen. Brownback and those like him.

  2. “You’re getting to be a rabbit with me.”

  3. Man-Bear-Pig is not someone, uh something, to be fucking around with. He will pee on you!

  4. shite, there go my hopes of chimeric playboy bunnies

  5. Mr. Bailey’s criticism of this sort of ban seems to be that it’s overbroad and threatens valid scientific research, but he doesn’t say that there’s an inherent natural liberty to create chimeras. In fact, he seems to agree in principle that the government can act to prevent the creation of subhuman species — his quarrel is with the specific bans proposed, and with the suggestion that there’s any urgency. Mr. Bailey thinks we should wait until science is actually on the eve of creating an actual monster before getting into the question of what restrictions the government should impose — and then only if the institutional review boards at universities and elsewhere fail to serve as a sufficient check (and Mr. Bailey seems to assume they *will* be a sufficient check).

    But we have the basic principle established that there’s no inherent natural right to create a human-animal hybrid monster, and the government can under some circumstances step in to prevent such an eventuality.

    The remaining debate is over the application of these principles.

  6. Oops, I misused the term “hybrid.” I retract the term — I’ll stick with “chimera.”

  7. It is good to see that the views of the hardcore Christian Right, and the loony Green Left, are converging. It doesn’t matter if technology is bad because Jesus doesn’t approve, or it is an affront to Gaia… We can all agree that things were much better in 1850, cholera be damned!

  8. “But we have the basic principle established that there’s no inherent natural right to create a human-animal hybrid monster, and the government can under some circumstances step in to prevent such an eventuality.”

    You may have established that principle, but I have yet to see an argument for that not steeped in simple anti-nonhuman bias. Those arguments aren’t a whole lot different than the ones used to perpetuate anti-mecegenation laws.

  9. shite, there go my hopes of chimeric playboy bunnies

    And millions of furries cried out in despair…

  10. But we have the basic principle established that there’s no inherent natural right to create a human-animal hybrid monster, and the government can under some circumstances step in to prevent such an eventuality.

    Why are human-animal hybrids necessarily monsterous? I know people with pig valves in their hearts, and they aren’t monsterous at all.

  11. This “prevention of monster hybrids” issue comes down to the definition of “monster”, as Replay touches on — While creating a human who could only breathe via gills, or had some hideous attributes that interfered with normal social functioning or basic sustanance of life, might well qualify as “monsterous”, how about sensory or other features that would arguably _enhance_ quality of life? Would a human with shark-gene-derived resistance to cancer be a “monster”? How about someone with feline night-vision?

  12. “simple anti-nonhuman bias.”

    Bias against entities which (as far as we know) don’t even exist yet! The frontiers of multiculturalism keep advancing.

    “Why are human-animal hybrids necessarily monsterous? I know people with pig valves in their hearts, and they aren’t monsterous at all.”

    I don’t think I said that having pig valves in your heart automatically makes you a monster. I was commenting on some pro-regulation passages in Mr. Bailey’s old article, such as:

    “Presumably one goal of Brownback’s ban on mixing human and animal gametes is to prevent the birth of a creature that is in some sense a diminished human being. Since combining human and non-hominoid animal gametes will most likely not result in viable hybrids, banning that practice seems superfluous. I don’t think that any Institutional Review Board would approve of an experiment that was designed to create a live hybrid by means of fertilizing human eggs by chimpanzee sperm or vice versa. *But if banning such experiments would make Brownback happy, let’s do it.* [emphasis added]”

    and

    “We can afford to wait until we hear that a Harvard or Stanford institutional review board has approved an experiment to produce a humanzee before Congress needs to act.”

  13. Yo,Jimbo: Actually, I generally have a wait and see attitude with regard to such experiments. I don’t want prior restraint, but I will need specific details about any such experiments before I decide one way or the other. I am against deliberately producing individuals that would be in some sense “diminished human beings.” Using biotech to enhance human beings physically and mentally is morally OK.

    But where do researchers cross the line when they “enhance” animals or human-animal chimeras to the point that they unquestionably exhibit human traits that call for special moral consideration and the granting of rights? That’s what I don’t know and I believe we can’t know without specific cases being proposed. I think that relying on casuistry rather than a priori principles would work best in helping people to decide which chimeric experiments are morally acceptable.

  14. I can’t help thinking of the catchphrase of the Two A-Holes on Saturday Night Live: “He looked like a rabbit.”

  15. Ron Bailey,

    Thank you for your reply. I agree that the main problem is the creation of diminished human beings — either for fun, for research, or for more sinister, Dr. Moreau -style enslavement.

    If I were geeky enough, I’d probably be able to cite numerous instances of sci-fi scenarios becoming reality, but as it is, the only example which comes to mind is the tank, foretold in H. G. Wells’ story *The Land Ironclads.*

    I think the subhuman-slave scenario is another plausible scenario of fiction becoming reality, and the sci-fi writers (usually non-fundamentalists) tend to express concern.

    If I were a slaver looking into the possibilities of transhumanism, I would start out by “enhancing” people by giving them arguably positive traits like strength and a capacity for loyalty. Spinning these as enhancements rather than degredations, I would work on enhancing the loyalty and decreasing the intelligence (insert political humor about Republicans, Democrats, etc.). By the time people cottoned on to what I was doing, I’d already have a group of loyal servitors and the government regulators would be presented with a fait accompli.

    That’s a key reason why I’m sympathetic to the idea of nipping this sort of thing in the bud with a broad-based ban on chimeras.

  16. IIRC it’s The Land Dreadnaughts.

    Anyway, suppose this kind of work had been possible (a) 25, (b) 50, and (c) 75 years ago. Do you think there would’ve been significant opposition?

  17. I saw some humans enhanced by animal qualities the other day. They were monstrous. One had a coat made out of fur to protect against cold weather. One had the feathers of a bird for adornment. I’ve heard that some use animals for sustenance and gastronomic/culinary gratification. Sick I tell you. One such monster had an animal teathered to it for enjoyment while walking through a park!

    Anyway, it appears to me that the less integrated an animal enhancement, the more socially acceptable it is.

  18. Yo, Jimbo!
    You make an interesting point. Given there is no substantial difference between the two, where does one start to define “subhuman” or “enhanced” human?

    Just to play devil’s advocate, would duplicating a natural genetic mutation via “chimeric” means imply the creation of something “subhuman?” If not, then what is the purpose of the ban? If so, then why not ban reproduction of the natural “subhumans?”

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