Combining animal and human genes provokes unease among some philosophers, theologians, and ordinary citizens. Currently, scientists want to inject the nuclei of human cells into animal eggs-generally from cows and rabbits–that have been stripped of their nuclei to create cell hybrids, or cybrids. Human eggs are hard to come by and expensive whereas animal eggs are plentiful and cheap. The aim is to produce embryonic stem cells for research.
No one knows if such cybrid embryos might grow into human babies if implanted in an appropriate womb. Would such cybrid babies suffer some physical or mental problems as a result of their animal genetic heritage? That heritage would basically be the energy producing mitochondria derived from the cytoplasm of the animal cells into which the human nuclei were inserted. Since cows and rabbits live much shorter lives than do humans it might be that any cybrid humans with cow or rabbit mitochondria would not live as long as normal humans. In addition, the operation of animal mitochondria in cybrids might mimic some mutational mitochondrial diseases that already afflict people. These real risks of creating physically and mentally diminished human beings mean that it would be immoral to grow human-animal cybrids into full-term babies.
But let’s flip the question-instead of diminishing humans, what about uplifting animals by boosting their intelligence and physical dexterity? Uplifting animals to human-like sapience has been explored by many speculative writers. For example, in H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), humanized animals are commanded to follow Moreau’s law: “Not to go on all-fours; Not to suck up Drink; Not to eat Fish or Flesh; Not to claw the Bark of Trees; Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?” But they are not Men and they eventually revert to their beast natures and destroy their hubristic creator. Even worse is Pierre Boulle’s novel, The Planet of the Apes (1963), in which uplifted apes are now the masters of animal-like degenerate humans. On the other hand, in Cordwainer Smith’s Norstrilia (1975), the underpeople, humanlike beings created from animals, struggle for their rights and are morally superior in many respects to their human masters.
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April 2, 2008 at 10:28 pm