Unreal Nature

October 27, 2009

The Distinction

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 4:06 pm

This is an interesting twist on the subject of animal research that Felix Grant talks about in his post of a while back, Soul Searching. Is it okay to make human-animal embryos for research purposes? In an essay, Chimeraphobia in The Philosopher’s Magazine (Oct 26, 2009), Anthony Cox discusses the “Yuck” reaction to this, and whether or not a 99.9% human embryo is to be treated as human:

… Another, perhaps more plausible, explanation however lies in the concepts of boundaries that humans create to order their world, and the taboos that operate to avoid mixing items from distinct categories. By being neither human nor animal, cybrids* threaten such social and moral concepts and boundaries — which are what set mankind apart from other creatures. They become an abomination and threaten our human identity. Andrew Ferguson from the Christian fellowship puts it thus: “We are creating a being that is not completely human. We should not alter the whole future of what it means to be human. We should not blur the distinction that’s been there in nature since the dawn of time.”

Really? There has been such a distinction? Says who?


In brief, the animal embryo (rabbit or cow) is cleared of its resident genetic material, and human genetic material is inserted. The resultant embryo is 99.9% human, with a residual amount of genetic material remaining in the cell structure making up the remainder. The resultant egg is stimulated to create stem cells for research. After the stem cells are extracted, and before it reaches 14 days of age, the embryo is destroyed. These embryos are called human-to-animal hybrids, or cybrids — a term considered more accurate by scientists in the field, since it avoids the suggestion that a true hybrid organism is being created: only 0.1% of the embryo would be animal, only a few cells would be created, and there is no intent to produce a viable foetus which would become a hybrid “animal”.

[I’m blogging in the afternoon (gasp!) because it’s pouring rain, and I can’t go for a hike. Grrrr! … ]



1 Comment

  1. I must confess, I’m mystified by the revulsion at chimerae.

    I understand both the objection to use of animals and the objection to use of human embryos … but the visceral reaction against chimerae by those who have no objection to the former but totally reject the latter seems strange.

    Perhaps the boundaries thing is the explanation. It challenges the myth of human separateness.

    Comment by Felix Grant — October 27, 2009 @ 5:17 pm

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