November 24, 2004 5:27 PM   Subscribe

What is too human? The ethics of human/animal chimeras.
posted by homunculus (40 comments total)
I wanted to include the Electric Sheep Thanksgiving story in this post, but the domain expired!
posted by homunculus at 5:43 PM on November 24, 2004

It seems they renewed it.
posted by stavrogin at 5:52 PM on November 24, 2004

The inane dialogue in that comic strip reminds me of nothing more than Chick tracts.
posted by mek at 5:56 PM on November 24, 2004

while i'm all for cute white hyper-intellegent pan-dimensional beings, the whole thing does make me feel a little ookie...
...Steak and kidney pie may never be the same
posted by isol at 5:59 PM on November 24, 2004 did the turkey/human learn how to talk in the tank? And how did it survive the microwave?? It's the details that make a story come alive...(bad pun)

Personally, regarding the first two links, I'm all for it. The more we do this kind of exploration and everyday use of the tech involved, the more we understand it, and the less likely we'll have mutant turkeys starting a guevaresque revolution in the streets during the colder months.

Any more links on the issue? Chimeraic technologies is one area where I am relying on instinct to form an opinion rather than informed discourse.

It could be like industrialisation: the bulk of problems will be sorted out for the few, leaving the lower classes and third world to deal with undesirable side-effects.

(also: what do vegetarians and animal right activists think? It may stop people eating meat if they're 20% ursine. Putting a real homo-sapien element onto animals could prevent cruelty, increase the rights of the whole species, and make for some fascinating possibilities for communications. Just typing out loud here.)
posted by kamus at 6:11 PM on November 24, 2004

I hear Dr. Moreau's island is nice this time of year.

Vaguely on-topic, from the fringe, here's a short related bit from M. Hoffman:

An analogy can be made with our contemporary scientific geniuses who are
full of mathematical and mechanical knowledge of the universe, but who
possess no spiritual prescience or insight, hence they lend their
imprimatur to the currents of extinction which first began with that
supposed pacifist sage, nuclear bomb-father Albert Einstein. These
currents culminate today in those "men of science" who have created what
are objectively laboratory-conceived monsters, but which are termed in
the current jargon, hunimals (swine carrying human genes at
pharmaceutical organ farms), justified on the basis of circumventing the
"harsh" justice of nature by the false messiah -- the
doctor/scientist-god who "compassionately rescues" the aged and the
self-poisoned from the wages of sin and death -- by cross-species,
xeno-transplants of organs.

hooooo-boy! *plink!*
posted by undule at 6:26 PM on November 24, 2004

if sticking some of my cells into a sheep will give me a new liver (doing an end-run around the whole stem cell clusterfuck we're currently stuck in) that's pretty cool. if it'll give me a new liver made out of my own cells, so that i don't have to worry about organ rejection, even cooler. if it gives me scrapie or some other prion disease in the process, hell no. there are too many possible disease exchange mechanisms already... if they do this, they better be damn sure they're not exposing people to more problems due to cross-species transfer of disease vectors...
posted by caution live frogs at 6:30 PM on November 24, 2004

Paul DiFilipo's amazing collection Ribofunk is a pretty wild meditation on splicing (and everything else) gone haywire. Makes today's bio-ethics issues seem like the good old days. The kids in the universe of Ribofunk don't annoy thier parents with clothes or hair or music; they get antlers implanted instead.
posted by Scoo at 6:47 PM on November 24, 2004

Considering that someone would become 20% ursine by the ripping the liver (or whatever organ) out of a bear that was currently using it, I find it unlikely they'd be more likely to exercise compassion toward bears.
posted by Vulpyne at 7:07 PM on November 24, 2004

"Now Weissman says he is thinking about making chimeric mice whose brains are 100 percent human. He proposes keeping tabs on the mice as they develop. If the brains look as if they are taking on a distinctly human architecture -- a development that could hint at a glimmer of humanness -- they could be killed, he said."

That's just not fair to the poor mouse. (Yes, I am serious.) The chimera still wouldn't be intelligent enough in a human way to be any threat to us; what you'd have would be a very interesting mouse. I'm not any kind of scientist so I don't know if such a critter could reproduce -- even if one (or more) of each sex was created, that is I think you'd have a freak rather than a new species -- but still. But as to creating human-brained chimps or other "higher" apes, no, I don't think we should do that as the ethical implications would be too heavy. A mouse with human neurons remains a mouse because that brain would not allow the mouse to use its mouse body in human ways, becoming in effect an odd mouse's brain, while a chimp with a human brain would have to count as a hominid because the anatomical differences between us are comparatively minor.
posted by davy at 7:21 PM on November 24, 2004

It may stop people eating meat if they're 20% ursine.

Hey kamus, do you mean you think bears don't eat meat? Some (like grizzlies) do, and some (like pandas) don't. There was even a case in Alaska recently where bears ate people who loved them.

If you're talking about purely intellectual ethical considerations then having any non-human parts is unnecessary. Oh, I heard the Dalai Lama is not a vegetarian, by the way.
posted by davy at 7:32 PM on November 24, 2004

Vulpyne: Considering that someone would become 20% ursine by the ripping the liver (or whatever organ) out of a bear that was currently using it, I find it unlikely they'd be more likely to exercise compassion toward bears.

Granted, but I was focusing more about the gene therapy options available rather than straight-out transplant. Also, the wonder of having bipedal dogs, animals and humans fucking communicating as co-workers, complimenting each, makes my head spin.

Perhaps my example should have been a creature that is 20% homo-sapien (through genetic manipulation) and thus people may see them as more human rather than disposable meat.

To clarify: I foresee a period of dark times and experimental fuckups resulting in the suffering of sentient entities, but I guess I am looking beyond the inititial hit-and-miss phase to a time where we are more advanced in our understanding of the science involved. The long-term benefits might be worth it.
posted by kamus at 7:40 PM on November 24, 2004

You read my mind, undule. "Not to chase other men; that is the law.  Are we not men?  Not to eat flesh or fish; that is the law.  Are we not men? Not to go on all fours; that is the law.  Are we not men?"
posted by nanojath at 7:43 PM on November 24, 2004

Davy, I actually meant the closer 'meat' gets to being human, or humans get to animals, the less likely people will be to harvest it en masse. More of a psychological phenomenon than a scientific one.
posted by kamus at 7:51 PM on November 24, 2004

Mom... Dad... How come the turkey's talkin'?

I always had a vague suspicion that that traditional giant bird-carcass-thing on the table was gonna get up and start talkin' and screamin' at us out of it's puckered little neck-hole thing.

I kinda wish it would, sometimes.
posted by loquacious at 8:06 PM on November 24, 2004

Electric Sheep Thanksgiving story

I know that this is supposed to be some statement about how bad genetic engineering is or satire or something, but that just sounds AWESOME.
posted by majcher at 8:21 PM on November 24, 2004

[T]he closer 'meat' gets to being human, or humans get to animals, the less likely people will be to harvest it en masse.

I don't see it. I count myself as an animal of the species H. Sapiens, not as some kind of demigod or "spiritual being having a human experience", and I eat meat damn near every day. Our species is omnivorous after all, within certain limits anyway: however "unnatural" some people might say human meat-eating is, it's simply not on the same order as eating styrofoam -- or grazing like horses -- as, unlike meat, neither packing peanuts nor bluegrass would nourish us. I would favor gentler raising and killing methods, but the current dispensation doesn't stop me, any more than it'd stop a fox from eating squirrels.

Besides, your argument looks two-edged to me: the closer "meat" gets to being human, the likelier people are to eat people too. As it's not that I eat pigs or chickens because I have anything against them, it's not that that I don't eat people because I like our species more -- only that custom has taught me not to, that law reinforces it, and that I've never been so hungry I've had to risk my conscience and the courts over it. Strictly speaking, there's nothing less natural about cannibalism than there is about chomping carrots; again, we're pretty damn wide-ranging in what our bodies can use as food.
posted by davy at 8:33 PM on November 24, 2004

Now we know. The annual Turkey pardons are pro-life.
posted by dhartung at 8:36 PM on November 24, 2004

I have enough trouble just figuring out 'What is human?' even before thinking about 'What is too human?' It was complicated already when my mother told me 'You are what you eat.' Yes, humans are creatures containing human genes. But what about the human-human chimeras in which two twins are fused into a single person? What about recognizing that we are all co-dependent human-bacteria hybrids and not just human gene organisms?
posted by nrgee at 8:47 PM on November 24, 2004

If god didn't want us to eat animals, then why are they made of meat?
posted by mek at 8:49 PM on November 24, 2004

Yeah, it's those dark times you refer to that I worry about. It's going to be horrible in pretty much the same way when computers reach sentience. Those that benefit from exploiting them are going to put up quite a fight to keep them from getting rights.
posted by Vulpyne at 9:05 PM on November 24, 2004

davy, that's the flipside of the same coin I was considering - my prior statements were made on the (faulty) assumption that because you are closer to one animal, you would feel closer to all animals - ignoring inter-species competition, rivalry, etc. It could further divide humans into sub-groups depending on the species of animals they're most akin to.

I agree it could go either way, which it what makes it so interesting. The blurring of lines in any social difference (race, religion, subculture) can lead to either increased harmony or sub-tribalist divisions, or even fluctuations between both. This might be the same with species.

People don't eat humans for many different reasons. I tend to think centuries of conditioning against cannibalism among humans would make the average person more disturbed by food becoming human, rather than hungry. But that's a matter of opinion.

Depends on other factors, too - availability of food with 'no human content', for one. When you're messing around with actually force-evolving/devolving the human race, the whole rulebook changes.

Vulpyne: fear of creating a slave sub-race is a major reason many people oppose this kind of thing, I'm sure.

(The M. Hoffman site undule quote from is hilarious...that review of the Craig Heimbichner book killed any cred it had for me...graduating from Freemasonry to OTO as a succession? Gimmeabreak.)
posted by kamus at 9:10 PM on November 24, 2004

Here's a previous post on cannibalism.
posted by homunculus at 9:34 PM on November 24, 2004

In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe there is a large dairy animal the begs to be eaten, extolling the virtues of its hind and flanks. It was funny to watch as a TV show but I wouldn't want it on my dinner table.
posted by tellurian at 9:36 PM on November 24, 2004

chimera: the other other white meat
posted by Hands of Manos at 9:44 PM on November 24, 2004

If diminished humans become a reality, the problem of what is ethically considerable becomes enormously complex. Considering the current debate on abortion, I don't think it's a problem for which a consensus could realistically be expected--at least not for the foreseeable future.

However, I do think that these kind of dilemmas will force a serious examination of what factors are important when making this determination. Out of this, I would expect to see sentience, affective response and capacity for moral reciprocity to become the deciding factors. How these qualities are to be judged is another matter entirely. I certainly don't foresee some kind of Turing Test to determine who is worthy and who is not. Maybe I'd just prefer not to think about the possibility of such a mechanism.

Nonetheless, the technology to bring us there is fast approaching. I doubt there is anything that can be done to entirely prevent this issue from being forced as taxonomy ceases to be a dividing line in the moral sand.

P.S. I am a long time lurker, first time poster. Hi everyone.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 10:30 PM on November 24, 2004

Fear of creating a slave sub-race is a major reason many people oppose this kind of thing, I'm sure.

That would bother me too -- I'd be arguing for human rights for "semi-human" chimps. (Between bites of goat meat.)
posted by davy at 10:37 PM on November 24, 2004

Eat me!!
posted by Balisong at 10:39 PM on November 24, 2004

Eat me!!

Wasn't there a case like that in Germany this year?
posted by davy at 11:05 PM on November 24, 2004

Fear of creating a slave sub-race is a major reason many people oppose this kind of thing, I'm sure.

posted by homunculus at 11:16 PM on November 24, 2004

Ah, the first thing that comes to mind:
B'dikkat, heedless of the danger from dromozoa, stood beside Lady Da and Mercer, shouting.
"You're real people. I just a cow. I do my duty. My duty does not include this."

posted by jokeefe at 11:56 PM on November 24, 2004

whoops. "I'm" instead of "I"
posted by jokeefe at 11:56 PM on November 24, 2004

Uncanny Valley.
I wonder if this would also be applicable to animals "becoming" too human. That is, if there is a point where harvesting organs and such from animals becomes repulsive rather than useful (or viewed as such). It'd be interesting to see where that dip in the graph ends up, and whether it'd be dependent on physical composition, sentience, or some combination of the two...
posted by Tikirific at 12:02 AM on November 25, 2004

It's already pretty repulsive and horrifying for me. But then, I'm one of those weirdo vegans. More disturbing than "harvesting" for meat to me, though I'm not sure why.
posted by Vulpyne at 12:22 AM on November 25, 2004

I salute all my sheep-livered fellow n00bbs. May our minds and livers be forever one.
posted by stirfry at 12:42 AM on November 25, 2004

Damn you all to hell!

Am I the only one who read that article and sensed a vague connection to Planet of the Apes?

I'm all for ethical animal stem cell research, even at the organ level, including neurons. And completely opposed to any wayward scientist creating a new slave race of demihumans. That's the last thing we need.
posted by Colloquial Collision at 4:31 AM on November 25, 2004

Not that I think this is a good idea, of course, but the outrageous thing is that I can actually come up with a positive effect of creating a subhuman slave race: It would put an end to racism as we know it. With a nod to Terry Pratchett, black and white would live in perfect harmony and gang up on green.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:28 AM on November 25, 2004

Here's one suggestion that's occurred to me. Pregnancy and childbirth are dangerous, painful and scary for humans. Why do we still have to do it? Use an animal instead.

The fetal/parent interface at the placenta doesn't allow passage of cells and tissue, just nutrients, so we don't have a contamination problem for the fetus. Use something like a cow or a large pig. You'll have to do some monkeying around with the immune and regulatory systems of the parent to do things like keeping the pregnancy at human-appropriate rates, but you might be able to acheive this with simple brute-force measures like a hormone implant. If you can grow a human liver in the very body of a non-human animal and in the thick of its immune system, you can surely grow an embryo in its uterus: there is already a presumption that the embryo will be a different organism from the parent.

When nine months is up you can destructively recover the new child with a rapid operation, since you don't have to worry about the survival of the non-human parent, and hand the kid straight to its new human parents.
posted by alasdair at 8:33 AM on November 25, 2004

Alasdair is on the right track. Here is you baby, and here are some ribs.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:38 PM on November 25, 2004

posted by trappedinabay at 7:59 PM on November 25, 2004

« Older 1001 Self Portraits   |   RaLouche in '07! Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments