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Is It Ethical to Mix Man and Animal?

Is it ethical to mix man and animal?
One month from now, unless blocked by the US public, scientists will be able to receive funding to inject human stem cells into animals, thus creating man – animal hybrids. Have they considered the ramifications of their work?

The man ran to the life boat, as the ship he was on began to sink into the ocean. He was joined by two other men, who upon floating in the ocean for some time, eventually passed away. The man, half-dead, was discovered by a passing ship, whereupon he was nursed back to life. And this is where our story really begins. The new ship is on the way to an island, and upon reaching it, the man goes ashore with the crew. As the man is walking around the mysterious island, suddenly he realizes that the island is a strange place, full of strange creatures- distorted in shape, and even uglier in face. After a few days, the man realized that the creatures were half-beast, and half-man. Now, if you are asking if you remember this story, you probably do. Or at least remember something about the idea of a half-man, half-beast story. And most of those stories end-up on a sad note.

The story in question here, the Island of Dr. Moreau was written long ago, in the late 1890s, to be exact. But the idea of a hybrid creature goes back even further, to Greece, and possibly even earlier. Homer’s brief description in the Iliad was the West’s first recorded glimpse of the Chimera, which was, as wiki notes- “a monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature composed of the parts of more than one animal. It is usually depicted as a lion, with the head of a goat arising from its back, and a tail that might end with a snake's head.”

Fast forward to today, and scientists are seriously working towards creating a real-life chimera. In fact, last year, NPR ran a story that asked — “Should Human Stem Cells Be Used To Make Partly Human Chimeras?” Now, in that article, it was noted that-“Scientists have been creating partly human chimeras for years. Researchers use rats with human tumors to study cancer, for example, and mice with human immune systems to do AIDS research.” So apparently, work in this field has been going on for years already, and arguably, has helped to save lives already. Which is a good thing, right?

But, the article goes on to note that the difference, this time around is that –“What's new is putting human stem cells into the embryos of other animals, very early in embryonic development.” That’s right. Stem cells. And if you remember, stem cells were the cells that were able to become any part of the body. In fact, there is an entire business dedicated towards saving the blood from a woman’s umbilical cord after she gives birth, simply because, as WebMD points out — “…this blood is rich in stem cells — cells that have the ability to transform into just about any human cell — that could someday be used as treatment if your child ever became ill with certain diseases.” So, just think about that for a moment. On one hand, this field of work could possibly yield new cures and save countless lives. On the other, what are the ethics regarding not only this area of research, but the creatures that are created in the process?

The importance of this is explained in the article, as it quotes — Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, by saying-"The special issue here with stem cells is that those types of human cells are so powerful and so elastic that there's great worry about the degree to which the animals could become humanized." That’s right. Humanized.

In that same article, Françoise Baylis, a bioethicist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, says “the engineering of creatures that are partly human and partly nonhuman animal is objectionable because the existence of such beings would introduce inexorable moral confusion in our existing relationships with nonhuman animals, and in our future relationships with part-human hybrids and chimeras." The article also quotes Hank Greely, a bioethicist at Stanford University, by saying — “Another concern is that the human cells could end up in the brains of the animals. That raises the prospect that "this will somehow give the animal a human consciousness, human mental capabilities."

Another question that was posed is possibly even more troubling, “If you had a male mouse that had human sperm in it, that's going to be a concern to some people, especially if it's anywhere near a female mouse that has human eggs in it. To say the least, it's disconcerting to think about two mice making a human embryo." That’s right. In the strange and bizarre world that we are heading into, two mice could possibly have a human-ish offspring. In responding to this movement, Rod Dreher, a senior editor at the American Conservative, recently said that creating partially human creatures is a step too far, “Signs of the times, my friends. Read them, and prepare. We are a perverse and wicked generation who deserves what we are going to get.”

The Washington Times noted, that — “The US federal government is planning to lift a moratorium on funding for research studying the effects of injecting animal embryos with human stem cells, creating half-human half-animal hybrids. The general public reportedly will have one month to comment on the proposed change before the moratorium is lifted.” So, that’s that. It’s done. For the most part- Onwards, and upwards, right?

Although H.G. Wells might have been a pioneer of the Science-Fiction genre more than a hundred and 20 some years ago, it isn’t that hard to imagine that today, or at least in the not so distant future, some type of chimera inspired enhancement will be used on soldiers, coupled with some type of implantable or organic computer. Heck, maybe the entire process will be carried out in a lab, no mother or father needed. Picture that, a Minotaur type creature with super-human strength, completely amoral, controlled or enhanced with battlefield internet technologies, and equipped with state of the art weaponry and armor. It almost sounds like a Japanese Anime or a children’s Saturday morning cartoon, come to life, except that it is not possible to turn the TV off and walk away. And the chances that it will be like Groot or Rocket Raccoon, super-heroes in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, are slim to none.

So, what do you think, dear listeners — “Is it ethical to mix man and animal?”

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