Bioethics is an important subject—it’s too bad it gets sidetracked with nonsense driven by religious dogma and ignorance. One issue is the use of human-animal chimerae in research, which was enough to get our flibbertigibbet idiot of a president incensed, but I don’t see the problem. It’s not as if having weirdly modified experimental mammalian embryos in a dish is a danger to people—some devout Christian woman does not have to worry that she might bump into a lab cart and have a swine-man zygote splash into her vagina and crawl into her womb, but that’s exactly what the hysterics seem to fear. Ophelia has a good rant on the subject.
Why, exactly, does the creation of a certain kind of egg, which will be destroyed within fourteen days, undermine respect for human life? I want to know. What’s the thinking here? That thirteen-day old embryos might end up being dressed up in little outfits and enrolled in school? That they might start marrying people’s children? That they’ll make all the buses and movie theatres and supermarkets too crowded? That they’ll jostle us off the sidewalk and humiliate us? That they’ll want to spend the night in our houses and have their horrible unthinkable disgusting squelchy sex right there with us in the next room listening in fear and horror?
Somebody give me a real reason this is an ethical concern, other than that it conflicts with certain sects weird and absurdly wrong ideas about species purity.
That they’d probably vote Republican?
You make a thought-provoking point, PZ, but I give fundies a few weeks until they’re using this quote (wildly out of context, of course) to back up their regular claim: “if atheists ruled the world, they’d say it’s OK to have sex with sheep, or infants!”
Now, even that idea raises interesting ethical questions about the meaning of “OK,” which could spark further debate and discussion, but somehow that’s never the point with these people…
Anyway, mark my words. It usually happens far sooner than any of us fear.
AJ Milne says
That they’d probably vote Republican?
Log Cabin Manimals?
Bronze Dog says
Wish I could get some human DNA in me. Paws. Playing Zelda on my Wii would have been a lot easier if I had a pair of thumbs.
Fine, mock them if you will but isn’t that how Daleks got started? Look what happened with that!
The folks who worry about this sort of thing are basically concerned that research in this area may produce a manimal, say squirrelmen (homo sciurus), whose capacity for rational thought is similar to their own. Further, they fear that the law of supply and demand would kick in resulting in a worldwide shortage of nutbags. We, however, know quite well that the nutbag, nutcase and wingnut supply is apparently limitless. Good news for the World Nut Daily.
This post (+ comments) makes my sides hurt from laughter. Please, stop saying Manimal, for my sake. It’s just too ridiculous a word.
Bronze Dog says
Anyone know where I can hitch a ride to the Island of Dr. Hibbert?
Can you withstand the wrath of MANIMAL? I think not!
Aquaman is pissed…..
…she might bump into a lab cart and have a swine-man zygote splash into her vagina and crawl into her womb
I don’t know about the habits of devotely Christian women, but I find that simply wearing clothes in the lab protects against a number of dangers. Though I must admit that I haven’t encountered any swine-men in the lab (though sexist pigs are plentiful in labs as elsewhere) so I couldn’t make a definitive statement on the issue.
Because it is somehow, mystically connected with that bizarre human custom known as
which, as all true believers know, was designated by the burning bush to Noah on the Temple Mount on Easter, 4004 B.C. (right after condemning pork but before shrimp and teh gay) as being officially “icky!”
Manimal was one of my favorite shows when I was 12.
But really, I’ve never been able to figure out why the squeamishness. Nobody gets bent out of shape about mules or labradoodles.
Greg Laden says
You can never really know what the OTHER species thinks of the arrangement…
I do, as well as Min-Pins, but that’s because of the stupid, silly breed designation.
Now if they were called something like “Pocket Throat-Rippers”, well, there’s a name!
Pi Guy says
…as all true believers know, was designated by the burning bush to Noah on the Temple Mount on Easter, 4004 B.C. (right after condemning pork but before shrimp and teh gay) as being officially “icky!”
Aaaah. Now I know what people mean when they say Judeo-Christian.
My cousin had a puggle, and it was the cutest thing I’d seen. It was basically the pug’s fur on a beagle’s body.
I wish I had one..
AJ Milne says
Aquaman is pissed….
Isn’t he always?
Well, if you think species (or “kinds”) are fixed and immutable, mixing them is against God’s plan, right? It doesn’t have to make sense. And it doesn’t.
It’s like “mixing” more egg into egg salad, considering that we are animals (and thus already “human-animal hybrids), but try telling the yahoos that.
There is an obvious answer to this, sad only because there really are those to whom this fantasy matters: there will be no way to know which embryos have souls.
Of course, to any thinking person, biology long since has shown that the fantasized gulf between man and animal actually is a web of complex connection. Human-animal embryos thrust this fact under the nose of those who want to keep the fantasized gulf.
“The folks who worry about this sort of thing are basically concerned that research in this area may produce a manimal, say squirrelmen (homo sciurus), whose capacity for rational thought is similar to their own.”
I thought that the people who are concerned about these thing already had the same capacity for rational thought as squirrels, let alone squirelmen…
Mark M says
What is the only thing Manimal fears when in his snake form?
Answer: A hoe.
*joke courtesy David Letterman many years ago*
Alex P. says
All jokes aside, stuff like artificial-insemination pioneer I.I. Ivanov’s attempts at hybridization in the 1920s does pose serious issues. Popular rumor had it that Stalin was attempting to make a man/ape slave race, pretty much (I would not put this past him, at all).
Crap in a petri dish is, of course, a loooong way from that, but *that’s* the kind of concern you have to address when you talk about “man-animal hybrids.”
Yeah, there is the concern that some nut might try to create a slave race, but how well do you think that would work with something far stronger than the idiot making it, possibly with claws, and a set of instincts that are not “human enough”? Still, the BS from the “protect the sanctity of species” crowd are thinking of stuff that has more in common with the *science* in Full Metal Alchemist and their concept of chimera than anything in the real world.
These activists fear that human-animal embryonic research will lead to adult hybrids and the introduction of animal genes into the human germline.
Turning Point Project’s full page ad in the New York Times, 1999: Who Plays God in the 21st Century?
“Who appointed the biotech industry as Gods of the 21st century… So far, there exist no half-human, half-animal ‘chimeras’ (like mermaids or centaurs) but we may soon have them.”
Some members of the Turning Point Project coalition: Sierra Club, Earth Island Institute, Humane Society US, Organic Consumers Association. Turning Point Project board members include Jerry Mander (International Forum on Globalization, Foundation for Deep Ecology), Andrew Kimbrell (Center for Food Safety), and Randy Hayes (Rainforest Action Network).
Jeremy Rifkin on human-animal chimeric embryos, 2005: “One doesn’t have to be religious or into animal rights to think this doesn’t make sense. It’s the scientists who want to do this. They’ve now gone over the edge into the pathological domain.”
In 1997, Stuart Newman and Jeremy Rifkin filed a patent application for a theoretical human-animal hybrid in order to prevent any from being created. Newman was a founding member of the Council for Responsible Genetics.
Marcy Darnovsky on “techno-eugenics”, 2000:
“Some even predict splicing traits from other species into children”
Darnovsky, who has contributed articles to The Nation and ZNet, is associate executive director of the Center For Genetics and Society.
The Rev. Jenner J. Hull says
It’s not the animal/man hybrids that have me worried so much as the animal/animal hybrids.
People starting mixing bears and sharks together and, the next thing you know, they’ve eaten everything on the planet…
Rev., that’s what tanks are for.
Uh, have you heard of Transhumanism?
There’s weirdos just waiting to reengineer the human race. That just weirds me out.
Bronze Dog: thumbs.
Rev. Hull: Owlbear!
Seriously: the legitimate concern with hybridization (advanced far beyond the current state of the art) would be when animal traits are being spliced into humans (I want my avian respiration damn it! Cephalopoid body can wait awhile, but it’s on the list) to the degree that the question of a legal dividing line becomes relevant, in much the same way as PZ has discussed it in relation to abortion.
This is of course extremely far removed from the current discussion, which seems to be another example of ‘yuck factor’ ethics.
Besides, what’s your point? Transhumanists presumably wouldn’t object to hybridization research. I have a hard time imagining that many of those who do object even know what transhumanism is. And any of the things that transhumanism might have in mind for hybridization are far enough off not to really be a factor in approving or disapproving of the research in question…
My guess is that the issue being raised is actually philosophical/psuedo-religious in nature – that by mixing the DNA of any animal (who do not have souls) with human (who do have souls), scientists are somehow being irreverent and disrespectful to the human species, who are, after all, created in the image and likeness of God.
Abbie, they’re not just weirdos, they’re arrogant weirdos. Their robot arms are obviously superior to you because they say so.
Just you wait until we have literal iron fists for you to cower beneath!
Great White Wonder says
How about making a cross between a Christian human being and a retarded dog that is inherently rabid?
In all seriousness, while I completely support a rational, informed approach to all fields of science, particularly the bio-sciences, I think the objection comes in two flavors.
One, the people who are worried about some sort of ridiculous “purity” or that mixing/injecting/splicing/whatever/experimenting with animal and human traits at the same time somehow demeans people. Frankly, these people are out of their gourds. I would love to have wings or those clear eye membranes that let you see more clearly underwater (like frogs, I think). This isn’t even getting into the issue of whether humans are innately pure or not (hint: they’re not).
Two, the far larger group of people who are worried about the future implications of human genetics tampering. Actually, I’m in this group, mainly because I worry about the fruits of such research not being distributed equally. However, I think there’s a further concern about creating human life solely for the purpose of experimenting on it, which is usually not terribly well expressed because of ignorance about the research. Whether or not there’s some “slippery slope” involved, it seems that having created a potential human life, something that might grow into a thinking, breathing, feeling person, we have a responsibility to do more than simply turn it into some non-viable form. Before I get jumped on, I realize this is not the best explanation, but it’s the best I can put into words. And yes, I do fully support abortion rights (because some potential person definitely should not interfere with the rights of an actual person) and no, I’m not some sort of creationist or other crackpot. As I said, on this issue I’m one of the many people who do not fully understand the matter, so if anyone could provide a brief and better explanation of what’s going on in this research, it would be appreciated.
junk science says
Well, if you think species (or “kinds”) are fixed and immutable, mixing them is against God’s plan, right?
Well, yeah. If we go around trying to make God look bad by creating things he didn’t think to create, and nosing around in his creation when we should be doing as we’re told, who knows what kind of spanking he’ll give us? He might even send us to our room without supper.
Calling Bush an idiot is giving him too much credit…
You mean that kind of research is actually going on?? Wow–I just assumed the president was making that up, that it was a nonexistent issue being drummed up to inflame the fundamentalist base.
That’s too bad–I rather enjoyed dismissing it as his “werewolf speech”. Now I have to go back to dismissing it as right-wing nonsense. So much for a change of pace.
Do chimeras offer an increased opportunity for diseases to cross a species barrier?
Maybe it has to do with the prohibitions against mixing things in Leviticus? (Growing two crops in a field, wearing garments made from mixed fibers, etc.) This would also tend to raise objections to mules or labradoodles (though the latter is really a crossbreed of two dogs, and we aren’t sure how specific this gets; I think mules are actually against the rules).
There is, however, a secularist ethical issue. It has to do with the legal rights that a human-animal hybrid would have, should one reach a viable stage. Do we treat it as an animal? What if it’s conscious? If we say that the border lies in the manimal having a human mind, where does that leave severely mentally handicapped humans? If we draw the line at any human DNA at all, we lose practical applications (e.g. engineering pigs to grow organs for human transplant) that we probably want to keep. If there’s no longer a rigid distinction between human and animal, how can we not give animals full human rights–and where does that leave those of us who aren’t ready to go vegan?
There is a legal and ethical distinction between human and animal, not just the religious one.
Of course, embryos don’t present this problem; only a viable, living manimal would do it… on the other hand, who doesn’t live in fear of swine-men splashing into her vagina and crawling up into her womb? I thought that’s where babies came from.
One of you scientists should figure out how to replace hair with grass. Then you could get some sort of energy boost just from sitting in the sun!
It depends on the kind of disease, actually.
In some cases, yes, in others, no.
Oh, that reminds me of the endless discussions we had about injecting chloroplasts into human embryos and growing plant-human hybrids that could supply some of their own energy.
That might just have been because we were D&D nerds, but it was a lot more fun than tag-team demolishing the objectivist randroid (who was actually a nice nerdy guy barring the selfish prick philosophy).
Can’t we just stone (to death) all the fundies who are wearing poly-cotton blends? I mean they’re trying to arbitrarily impose their myth based rules on other people, why can’t we arbitrarily impose their own myth based rules on them?
Of course. Didn’t you know Abe Lincoln was part Sasquatch?
Huh. Until this post I was all in favour of human-animal hybrid embryos, but now that I’ve learned that they aren’t going to make adult hybrids I’m very disappointed. Stupid scientists.
But animal-animal hybrids are okay, right? So there’s still hope for my dreams of an army of octoscorpions?
Human-animal chimerae? Yes.
On the human-animal embryo issue as with other biotechnology controversies, the battle lines are being drawn between left-right alliances on two opposing sides: pro-science liberals and libertarian technophiles on one side and bio-Luddite leftists and cultural conservatives on the other.
Conservative biotechnology critic Wesley J. Smith of the Discovery Institute is a longtime collaborator with Ralph Nader. Claire Nader, Ralph’s sister, was a founder of the bio-Luddite Council for Responsible Genetics. In 2001 Jeremy Rifkin, Stuart Newman, Francis Fukuyama and Bill Kristol were original signers of a petition against human therapeutic cloning.
Ronald Bailey: The Yuck Factor
lol octoscorpians wow.
Nomen Nescio says
why? we’ve already got pat robertson.
John B says
Someone’s been reading Shadow over Innsmouth before bed again.
billy pilgrim says
If it doesn’t help us get frickin sharks with frickin laser beams on their heads, I don’t see the point.
So. Joshua like dem catgirls.
“The Ballad of Lost C’Mell”, anyone? :-)
I was in favor of human-animal hybrids until I realized it would mean being showered with spam from dodgy companies offering to use human-animal hybrid biotech to make the customer ‘hung like a horse’.
I for one stand completely against TransSharkism and TransUrsanism. The last thing humans need is frickin sharks with frickin lasers or cyborg bear super-predators.
TransTheropodism is right out.
Chris Clarke says
How about making a cross between a Christian human being and a retarded dog that is inherently rabid?
Why? It’d just wind up commenting here.
Chris Clarke says
Damn you, Nomen.
I think we’re all overlooking the obvious applications here. Get the right mix of traits and you’ve got a commenter who can’t possibly complain, “But I’m not a troll!”
Olaf [as a troll]: “I’m not a troll, I’m Olaf!”
Townspeople: “Look! The troll is doing an Olaf impression!”
…dodgy companies offering to use human-animal hybrid biotech to make the customer ‘hung like a horse’.
“I’m sorry sir, we thought you said seahorse.”
The last thing humans need is frickin sharks with frickin lasers or cyborg bear super-predators.
The very last thing? Are you sure?
Can you imagine how the production of a human-chimp hybrid would have the potential to force fundies to accept that we have a common ancestor?
It would only take one.
David Barash has suggested that.
And there is evidence that our ancestors and the ancestors of chimps mated after our lineages diverged.
Blake Stacey says
I just thought of a wonderful way to resolve the Women In Science problem. Just make transgenic human male embryos with a dash of DNA from those West African frogs which can spontaneously change sex in a single-sex environment (you know, like in Jurassic Park). Farm them out to supportive families, wait until they start taking physics classes at MIT. . . .
I am with you in spirit, but… no. No, it wouldn’t. (Not even this one.)
Since when does physical evidence have any impact on the beliefs that are already assailed by the mountains of evidence that already exist in support of Evolution? They would dismiss any such hypbrid as an abomination. They already dismiss the genetic similarity between humand and chimps as being equivalent to the similarity of design between a Corolla and a Camry.
Good lord, I need to spend more time proof-reading. That was just … ugly.
Blake, add some tree frog genes and we’re good to go. Before you know it, comely physicists will be scaling the sheer glass face of the Hancock tower just to enjoy the view.
Rev. Raven Daegmorgan says
Bah! We all know the only reason Prof. Meyers is up in arms about this is because he wants to be able to have a perverse, minaturized, human-squid hybrid and name it Cthulhu. And who wouldn’t?
Well the Cthulhu plushie companies, I suppose, since who wants a plushie when you can get the real thing? Course you can’t cuddle a hybrid, they’re rubbery and smell like fish. So maybe the plushie companies don’t have so much to worry about.
I for one am impressed with the taste of the pharyngulites.
This thread has gone on for 68 comments, and despite the local fascination with tentacles, no-one has yet mentioned Transpenism.
Edward Prendick says
Somebody give me a real reason this is an ethical concern
Are “Scientists” above The Law? Are they not men?
AC Serrano says
I, for one, welcome our giant isopod overlords.
Looks like the chimaerae are on their way.
As a transhumanist, I consider it a more questionable practice to radically modify the food supply than to alter one’s own genome in a heritable way. There is evidence that transgenic or otherwise modified crops will propagate in the wild uncontrollably; this potentially affects many more people than a human choosing to self-modify perself, who after all can only affect perself and per’s descendants.
(Aside: “per” is a gender-neutral pronoun I picked up from a sci-fi novel whose name I can’t recall. It beats having to be politically correct and writing ‘his/her’ all the time, or being politically incorrect and just sticking with ‘his’. Two cents…)
That said, I am not against either of those activities so long as suitable precautions are taken (for a suitable definition of “suitable”), and the decision as to whether or not to consume genetically modified foodstuffs or to alter one’s own germline is taken freely by each individual. I do think that altering the human genome needs to be a “viral” right (in the sense of the GNU GPL) in that it needs to be heritable as well, so that my descendants have the faculties (no slope-crested slave race) and the facilities (accessible/affordable) to alter themselves as well.
Alex P. says
No, because you have to explain it. ;)
This is what “they” is for already — it’s been actively used as a third-person singular pronoun for ages, and is pretty much classified as such these days. Following natural linguistic drift is a lot better than picking up words from random sci-fi novels, because other people will actually understand you. Explaining that, yes, “they” counts as acceptable grammar is a lot easier than explaining this “per” thing, and you’ll have to do it way less often.
Besides, the correct futuristic science-fiction gender-neutral pronoun is ‘ver’.
1)slave race, as already mentioned
2a)the creation of beings with capacity for fear, pain, self awareness, but not the capacity for other functions to deal with that.
2b)the creation of beings with human intelligence but a in body that cannot live as their intelligence would need
2b) Birth defects, crippling injuries, denial of right-to-die
I actually started by using “they”, but couldn’t get over the awkwardness of writing “themself” (or should it be “themselves” even when referring to an individual? Or “theirself”? Arghh). In my frustration I decided to lead the linguistic drift instead of follow. :) I don’t mind the explaining bit since it often kicks off an enjoyable discussion.
I’m glad to hear there are options available. Maybe we can import a bit of Chinese, and use “ta” (the Chinese pronouns for him/her, which sound the same though they’re written differently). Many native Chinese speakers I have met have trouble selecting the appropriate gender-specific pronoun when speaking English, so “his” book belongs to a woman for instance. Odd as it sounds, I would prefer that sort of imprecision in language. If it really matters where someone’s dangly bits are located, gender can always be specified explicitly…
I’m not sure I see how these arguments tell against the creation of chimaerae (especially the ones that never make it out of the petri dish), when each of these points afflicts plain ‘ol h. sapiens:
Slavery has been (and is, surely) practised using race as justification, without needing human-animal hybridization as a precursor.
All humans lack the capacity to eliminate fear and pain from their lives, though the more successful (intelligent?) ones seem pretty good at mitigating them. Again, snouted beast-people are not required.
I fall into this category myself… My intelligence would be served greatly if I could fly, had cat-like reflexes, or could incorporate the admirable attributes of many members of the animal kingdom. I’m told squid have some interesting neural properties… I’m particularly interested in the prospect of regenerating nervous system tissue. On that note, we need more of this kind of research, not less.
Seems like you have valid ethical concerns, but they aren’t conditioned on whether or not this type of research goes forward.
You state exactly what their problem is. “species purity” otherwise known as POE – Purity of Essence
As I see it, the problem the fundies have with human-other hybridization is the same that they have with same-gender marriage: It makes it impossible for the fundies to keep some concept they hold dear into the neat little pigeonhole they have for it. They might have to think about it.
“Nobody gets bent out of shape about mules or labradoodles. Posted by: obscurifer
The labradoodle-doo is not the same as a mule. Mules are hybrids. Dogs are dogs. Apples and oranges.
As for the anti-science types, why is it that they have no qualms about enjoying the results?
No, there is a lot of whining and crying about how it *could* happen, almost no evidence that it actually would, and even less evidence that it would have any negative impact on the ecology, or at least not any more of one that what happens with “existing” species when they develop a new trait. I seem to remember a while back some people panicking over some flower they thought had been either a) introduced from some other place, or b) some form that was produced in a nearby lab, which had rapidly spread over a wide area, displacing existing plants. Turned out the damn thing was a “local” flower, which just developed a unique random mutation that caused it to propigate faster than it normally would have. The whole mess of them where traced back to a small patch of flowers with the same genetics, which had until that point *only* been found in that one small area.
The only question is, “can we predict the result to be bad?”, not “could it happen”. It could, but not just by human intervention, nor with modified crops. Hell, we could just as easilly plant thousands of some drought resistent species in an area, then one year suddenly find that 90% of them are dying, only to discover that some genes from a “local” species had invaded and displaced the one we wanted, possibly with one that had a trait that made it bad for “everyone”, not just humans. The problems cut both directions, and imagining the worst coming from human intervention is often silly, not at all certain and could actually have the “opposite” result of the negative predictions. We just don’t know, which is why we try damn hard to prevent “all” cross contamination, not just from our new types into the wild, until we are fairly sure about the outcomes.
I’m a computer geek, not a biology geek, so I can’t speak with any authority on the likelihood of these types of things happening, or the magnitude of any potential damage. I have to rely on material such as this description of the Percy Schmeiser case that took place in Canada–a farmer’s crop was contaminated by seeds from a nearby field that were the “intellectual property” of a large corporation, who took him to court after the seeds were found growing in his field without his having paid for the privilege–to suggest that problems lurk for the unwary.
To my mind, this kind of thing illustrates quite nicely that the problems with genetic modification of the food supply are larger than just the scientific question of how healthy the resulting food is, or if there will be unfortunate biological knock-on effects. My concern for the ethical question of modifying the food supply stems just as much from the possibility that some corporation will “own” the rights to our daily bread, or that some other unintended consequence will bite us on the collective posterior.
Even if there is only a miniscule chance of Bad Things happening as a result, the fact that any problems would potentially affect a large number of people who had no voice in making the decision as to whether or not to tinker with their food suggests that some caution and humility is in order. As I said before, though, I’m not opposed to these practices in principle, I am just concerned with the implementation details, and ensuring that I and everyone else retains the right to choose for themselves what goes into the cookpot.
It’s funny though: usually if I make the argument that tweaking humans is less ethically questionable than messing with corn, soya, etc. people get right up my nose. I think this is the first time someone has bypassed that argument entirely, to focus on the cross-pollination premise.
Mike Fox says
There are children starving in Africa and you’re wasting eggs on WHAT?!?!