Of Mice and Men

Recent news articles have brought to light disturbing new genetic experimentation the likes of which Gene Roddenberry or Ray Bradbury couldn’t have dreamt up. And when I say disturbing, I don’t mean necessarily immoral or unethical, though that may be the conclusion to draw from all of this. Scientists have been discussing, at some length, the moral obligations (if any) behind chimeras. The chimera was a mythical Greek character with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a snake–today it represents animals that have been genetically crossed with other species. This ‘interspecial genetic variance’ has brought about everything from a monkey with phosphorescent skin from jellyfish genes to a pig with human blood to a mouse with human brain cells; and it will not stop there.

One of the largest debates has been “how human is too human”. Most scientist don’t have a problem with growing human organs inside of animals to harvest for humans who need them. But what happens when you develop a human brain inside a chimpanzee. What moral status does a “humanzee” hold? Would the ever-present but never-quite-serious question posed by movies like Blade Runner and Artificial Intellegence be suddenly plopped on our front doorsteps, or worse yet, our maternity wards?

I am afraid that in venturing too far scientifically, we have, for lack of a better term, bitten off more than we can chew. In this new frontier the possibilites are endless, as are the moral dilemmas. I came across an essay by Mark Rossi on “technical giants, ethical infants” in my readings and thought his summary was particularly profound: “When science becomes God, man is just another beast in the jungle.”

Of course, this digression was a predictable result of evolutionary thinking. I’ve always been amazed that we tell kids they came from monkeys, but then we arrest them for acting like it. Without the basic premise that mankind was created by God, we have a meaningless past, and therefore, a meaningless future. The same force that brought us here (chance) is the same force that moves us forward; so why value life? With a Divine Authority in place, we know our boundaries on this earth. We understand that life is sacred and that humanity has been set apart. In light of evolutionary thinking, however, pragmatism rules supreme and we now add to the old phrase: “All’s fair in love, war and science.”