Republicans Again Attack Human-Animal Hybrids

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At a previous blog I recall mocking George Bush for talking about banning human-animal hybrids in his 2006 State of the Union Address.  I found it a strange position coming from a man who is half-human, half-chimp:

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Senator Sam Brownback has introduced a bill, which has the support of 9 Republicans and 1 Democrat (Mary Landrieu) to ban the creation of human-animal hybrids. P.Z. Myers has explained the actual science:

One teensy little problem: these clowns do not understand the science. We actually aren’t planning to creating a slave-race of beast-men; the technology isn’t there, for one thing, and for another, that’s really not at all an interesting goal. No one is planning on operating on any human persons, or even violating them; the focus is all on cells and molecules. This is routine stuff. In one hand, you’ve got a dish full of human cells — it doesn’t talk, it can’t sign a consent form even if it had the capacity to understand one — and you want to know what makes them tick. In the other hand, you’ve got a collection of hard-won tools you’ve gathered from work in mice or worms or flies; interesting vectors, genes that act as indicators or switches, ways to basically reach into a cell and toggle states. Scientists have had these for years, and we’ve regularly used these tools to manipulate cells and puzzle out what happens.

Another example: we want to know what genes on different human chromosomes do, but it is highly unethical to do random mutagenesis on human gametes, bring them together, and then raise up the fetus in a volunteer’s womb to find out what interesting ways it might go kablooiee. One technique that has been used is to make mouse-human hybrid cells: use a little ethylene glycol to weaken the cell membranes, push a mouse cell next to a human cell, and presto, they fuse. They then recover and go through cell divisions, and the hybrid cell begins to lose pieces of the unnatural excess of chromosomes it’s got. You can then screen the resultant cells and correlate the presence or absence of gene products with the presence or absence of specific human chromosomes.

I know. It sounds so nefarious.

One more example: scientists have made transgenic pigs carrying five human genes. The idea is to create animals that can be a source for xenografts — transplanted organs — in humans with a reduced level of rejection. These pigs would become illegal under the Brownback bill, because they mingle a blessedly human H-transferase gene with pig cells. This is not to argue that there are no ethical considerations in these kinds of experiments, since there certainly are: we can argue about the ethics of creating species of pigs with the specialized purpose of providing organs for human use (it’s about as great a moral dilemma as raising pigs for meat), and there’s also the concern that hybrid pigs will also be dangerous incubators for training viruses to respond to human epitopes. But the ethical debates aren’t the domain of crude science-fiction versions of the science that these clueless lawmakers think them to be.

I’d like Brownback to answer a simple question. Does putting the human insulin or growth factor gene into E. coli violate the dignity of the human person? If it does, he’s suggesting shutting down a good chunk of the pharmaceutical industry.

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9 Comments

  1. 1
    Fritz says:

    I opened this entry and coffee hit keyboard.  Well done!
    Someone has been reading too much Cordwainer Smith.  Or maybe they *should* be reading Cordwainer Smith.

  2. 2
    Eclectic Radical says:

    We’re dealing with people like Sam Brownback, who thinks Cordwainer Smith probably sounds like a company in Texas that makes big hats. He probably read ‘The Island of Doctor Moreau’ once and had nightmares for weeks.
     
    Though, thinking about H.G. Well’s views about the universe and God, even that might be thinking too well of Brownback.
     

  3. 3
    izacentar says:

    if aw human married a animal would their baby be a half human half animl

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Biologically they wouldn’t be able to have a baby, but if by some freak chance it worked then it would be half human half animal.

  5. 5
    robert says:

    Love Cordwainer Smith.  Norstralia here I come!

  6. 6
    Will C says:

    Open your eyes. It’s happening now all over the world.
    In the UK
     http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2017818/Embryos-involving-genes-animals-mixed-humans-produced-secretively-past-years.html?printingPage=true

     

  7. 7
    Ron Chusid says:

    The Daily Mail is a tabloid–not a real source of information. They also have lots of articles on UFO’s and other off the wall topics. Your link isn’t working right now so I don’t know what the Daily Mail is saying, but the law in the UK which allows such research also requires that the embryos not be allowed to develop for more than 14 days. This is not to create actual human-animal hybrids but to provide material with stem cell research due to the shortage of human tissue.

    See the explanation in the above post.

  8. 8
    Will C says:

    Ok. How about the Brookings Institute:
    http://www.brookings.edu/papers/2011/0309_personhood_boyle.aspx

  9. 9
    Ron Chusid says:

    Quite interesting. That is pushing things far further than research at the time this post was written. Still, keep in mind that they are talking about something which is being contemplated, not actual research. Plus, while more advanced than the actual research being discussed in the post, there are still strict safeguards: “Weissman notes that the mice would be carefully watched: if they developed a mouse brain architecture, they would be used for research, but if they developed a human brain architecture or any hint of humanness, they would be killed”

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