Posts tagged with: chimera

This week will feature a five part series, with one installment per day, putting forth my presentation of a biblical-theological case against the creation of certain kinds of chimeras, or human-animal hybrids. Part I follows below.

Advances in the sciences sometimes appear to occur overnight. Such appearances can often be deceiving, however. Rare is the technological or scientific advance that does not follow years upon years of research, trial and error, failure and experimentation.

The latest news coming from the field of biology and genetics hasn’t happened “overnight,” but things are advancing quickly. Some of the more interesting, and indeed troubling, developments have to do with what are known as “chimeras.”

The Chimera, of course, is a fire-breathing creature from Greek mythology, with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a serpent. In the scientific community, however, chimeras are organisms most often created by the intermixing of species.

We are faced now with the possibility of new technological advances giving humans the ability to do radically new things. A scientific pragmatism is at work, which reduces elements of the material world to their practical uses, and ignores the basic structures of creation. (more…)

“A human brain trapped inside a mouse’s body — not a good idea,” says Anjana Ahuja in the UK Times.

Not convinced? Check out this piece of mine over at BreakPoint, “A Monster Created in Man’s Image.”

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
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Another round of stories are out about the possibility of creating a modern-day wooly mammoth, Jurassic Park-style.

The process would include injecting frozen wooly mammoth sperm into an egg of a closely related species. In this case, an elephant would be the logical choice.

And in case you were wondering what you would call such a thing, I’ve already explored the possibilities in a previous post on chimera nomenclature: it would be called a “mammophant,” with the full taxonomy being mammophantus snuffleupagus.

My piece on the debate over chimera research and the relevance of your worldview to the debate appears today at BreakPoint, “A Monster Created in Man’s Image.”

Drawing on the work of C.S. Lewis, and among the questions and conclusions included, I write, “Chimera research may indeed have some potential benefits, but we cannot ignore the question of potential costs. What toll does such research take on the dignity of human beings? Must we destroy the human person in order to save it? As a society, we need to question whether our technological reach has exceeded our moral grasp.”

This issue was thrust into the national spotlight when President Bush spoke about the creation of human-animal chimeras in his State of the Union address this past January: “A hopeful society has institutions of science and medicine that do not cut ethical corners and that recognize the matchless value of every life. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research, human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling or patenting human embryos. Human life is a gift from our creator, and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale.”

“Animals are less valuable than human beings,” says John Martin, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at University College London (UCL). This seemingly uncontroversial statement is under fire, as Helene Guldberg at sp!ked writes, “There seems to be an emerging consensus within the scientific community that we should reject the philosophical outlook that says humans are ‘categorically superior’ to animals.”

Keith Burgess-Jackson, who blogs at The Conservative Philosopher, says he is “an egalitarian about interspecific value,” and passes along the following quote:

For many philosophers, the consideration that may loom largest here is the stubborn conviction that the lives of normal humans must be of greater value than the lives of many, if not all, nonhuman animals. Perhaps that conviction is unjustified; it has not yet been very satisfyingly defended. (David DeGrazia, Taking Animals Seriously: Mental Life and Moral Status [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996], 248)

Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer is famous for equating the moral value of animals with newborn human beings, although he claims that “the aim of my argument is to elevate the status of animals rather than to lower the status of any humans” (Practical Ethics, p. 77).

In defending the position that humans are to be valued more than animals, Martin asks the right question: “What is a human being?” He argues that the answer “requires both a biological and a philosophical analysis – in tandem,” and that “what sets us apart from all other animals… is our ability to generate creative, abstract thought – ‘and with that, poetry, music and the social networks that bind us together’.” In this, Martin is partly right. But the answer to his question needs a theological as well as biological and philosophical analysis. (more…)

This feature from yesterday’s Marketplace looks at the “endless variations of designer hybrid dogs.” These new breeds crossing more traditional lines of dogs can command a large pricetag.

The “cute name” attraction, the possibilities of allergen free dogs, and the idea of getting the best of both breeds have put these designer dogs in high demand. My wife and I are currently considering getting a Cockapoo, a Cocker Spaniel and Poodle mix.

A labradoodle.

I’m bringing up these new breeds, though, as an illustration of what morally permissible creation of “genetic” chimeras might look like. I’ve blogged about chimeras on the PowerBlog previously, but very often there is great difficulty in determining what is legitimate and what is not.

I’m proposing that chimeras that can be created without direct genetic manipulation should generally be considered acceptable. So the case of mixed dog breeds that can mate and procreate naturally meets and exemplifies this criteria.

Update: We’ve decided to get the dog.

Jordan Ballor writes about the ethical and moral implications of creating genetic chimeras. Ballor comments on a recent New York Times editorial promoting chimera research, calling their thinking "scientific pragmatism" and criticizing the general lack of understanding of both human nature and athropology. "The creation of new kinds of chimeras, using manipulation at the cellular and sub-cellular level, raises the stakes considerably," writes Ballor about the level of public controversy involved with chimera research thus far. Pursuing further research without adhering to an objective set of moral and ethical guidelines could have a devastating effect on our humanity.

Ballor has written about chimeras on this blog before.

Read the full text here.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
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My more detailed response to last week’s NYT editorial defending chimera research is posted over at WorldMagBlog.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, April 28, 2005
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The National Academies of Science has issued a set of guidelines for human embryonic stem (ES) cell research. The guidelines also address the chimera phenomenon.

The guidelines open a path for experiments that create animals that contain some introduced human embyronic stem cells.

These hybrid part human, part animal creatures, called chimeras, would be “valuable in understanding the etiology and progression of human disease and in testing new drugs, and will be necessary in preclinical testing of human embryonic stem cells and their derivatives,” the guidelines committee said.

Chimeras might also be used to grow organs, such as livers, to transplant into humans.

Human embryonic stem cells should be introduced into nonhuman mammals “only under circumstances where no other experiment can provide the information needed,” the guidelines say.

The danger is experiments in which there is a possibility that human cells could contribute in a “major organized way” to the brain of an animal. These experiments “require strong scientific justification,” the committee warned.

Once again we can see that the overriding ethical principle is a scientific pragmatism. Almost no limit is viewed as absolutely impassable, as long as “no other experiment can provide the information needed.”

Blog author: jballor
Friday, April 15, 2005
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Hot on the trail of chimeras as a service to you, dear reader, I pass along this story about the offspring of a dolphin and a whale. Apparently these so-called “wholphins” have been found in the wild.

Wholphins, as whale-dolphin hybrids, are a less-famous form of chimera than more famous ligers (mules are the most famous). According to Napoleon Dynamite, a liger is “pretty much my favorite animal. It’s like a lion and a tiger mixed. Bred for its skills in magic.”

Now as alluded to in a previous post, I’ve done a theological examination of the phenomena of animal/human chimeras. I conclude that these violate the dignity of human beings created as image-bearers of God, as well as the dignity of animals which share with us the “breath of life” (see Genesis 1:30).

With respect to such animal/animal chimeras, however, my inclination is to find that such hybrids, which can naturally occur without direct human genetic intervention, are not morally objectionable. But cases in which humans must manipulate and artificially produce such animals raise greater moral questions.