The modern world has never been more revolutionary. Diseases have been cured, skin grafts have become more accessible, medical science has never been more powerful. The world of science fiction is slowly becoming fact, with the newest advance in the form of animal hybrids. Specifically animals combined with human DNA.
This might not be as radical as one might believe. These animal human hybrids are simply mice with medically enhanced, or modified organs and genes. One of the most recent examples involved mice that have modified genes that are designed to “…correct learning and memory deficits.” Or animals that have been modified with human immune system genes. This was done so the mice could serve as test subjects for many different incurable diseases, such as HIV.
Despite the initial response of hopeful optimism with human-animal hybrids, there is always an issue of ethics. Is it ethical and moral to create new genetic species, simply for the purpose of experimentation? Author, moral philosopher and humanitarian Peter Singer believes there needs to be radical change in the way humanity treats animals. Some ethical researchers feel differently. U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, Governor of Kansas, has attempted to stop research into animal hybrids. Brownback said that the American government needed to stop these “…human-animal hybrid freaks.”
Despite the objections from Senator Brownback, many advances in modern medicine are credited to animal hybrids. Yet there are still serious debates in U.S. congress, and among animal rights activist to whether or not the use of these hybrids should be permitted.
Science has always conducted experiments on animals, going as far back as the third century with experiments performed by Aristotle and Erasistratus. Some areas of science require experimentation on test subjects, which can include animals. This could lead to animal-human hybrids as the next step in experimentation. Although there are people that feel scientist just need to look harder to find alternative test subjects.
These animals are called hybrids is because bio-geneticists are taking one very specific part of human DNA and integrating it into animal DNA. In the new organism the genes from both of the original organisms are expressed, creating a hybrid. These hybrids are often used to test against for an array of medical issues.
One example of this is the findings published by International AIDS Vaccine Initiative Report (IAVI), a company that deals specifically with the publication of AIDS vaccine research. They reported that animal hybrids, in this case humanized mice, “Scientists have also designed humanized mice that appear to recapitulate the persistence of HIV in reservoirs of latently infected CD4+ T cells. Such mice are likely to prove valuable to HIV cure research.”
The IAVI research team stated that “…when they increased the number of bNAbs to five, the virus had still not rebounded in seven of the eight mice after two months.” To put it bluntly, without hybrid animals to experiment on researchers would not be able to run tests as effectively. By narrowing in on what HIV-1 antibodies to target and what dosage to administer, they have taken a step into finding a cure for HIV.
Despite the advances that hybrid animals have allowed science to make, there are some people who believe this to be exploitation. Ethics philosophers, like Peter Singer, have argued that if animals can feel pleasure and pain, and hold a presence, then animals should be given the same rights as any human. In his book “Animal Liberation” Singer states that if something can suffer then it is deserving of life. One leading idea Singer has brought forward in the fight against animal cruelty is the idea of “speciesism.”
Speciesism is when a person assigns a value to a specific species over others. This could mean that the species is regarded more or less than other species. This idea often comes up when dealing with many animal rights groups. Some of these groups feel that no animal should be harmed no matter what species they are. This is where groups like P.E.T.A. and scientists differ. One group believes it is not ethical to experiment on animals, and the other believes it can be ethical.
To better understand why there is such a divide between these types of groups, one needs experience and a good understanding of ethics. Dr. Robert Basso, a chair on the Ethics Board at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario is such a person. Basso states that ethics does not always have radical changes. It takes time and many individuals making careful decisions in order for any research team to come to an ethical conclusion. This goes for any scientific research or experiment, whether or not it involves animals.
Basso also stated that “popular opinion of the masses usually doesn’t come into consideration when making ethical decisions.” This is because scientists want their research to be guided by scientific needs, rather than the wants of the public. However Basso did point out that “our guidelines do revive constant updates to make sure that everything is ethical. Every few years we review and produce another set of guidelines for our research.”
Basso does note that no researcher goes out of the way to cause harm, such would violate the ethical rights of humans and animals. If an accident ever does happen often the data collection process stops, along with the methods bring used. Basso further explains that most people can go online and find out what the researching teams ethics are. In many cases people can call them, and ask questions to answer any concerns they might have. Basso is attempting to show people that research by the scientific community is done with the best of intentions, and as ethically as possible.
Unfortunately, like all things that involve morals, people are going to have different opinions. Jacob Ritums, avid animal lover, understands animals need rights and should not be experimented on. But in an odd twist he cannot help but side with science. “I don't want any animals to suffer,” says Ritums. He goes on to say “but we have to realize that curing things like HIV or stopping different kinds of cancer needs to happen.”
Ritums stresses that many people, like himself, go out of the way to help animals, and end as much cruelty as possible. However sometimes you have to look at the big picture. Ritmus states, “I feel that nothing should be cruelly experimented on not people, not animals, not anything, but how could I stand in the way of a possible cure to HIV or grow potential organs to save lives.”
Ritums would do a lot to help out any animal, whether it is a hybrid or not. But he points out that if there was a way to end disease, then it should be pursued. Using animal hybrids for testing can save countless lives. Ritmus states, “I may not be the most ethically sound person but it would be wrong not to at least attempt to follow up on some of the amazing feats that animal human hybrid research could lead to.”
There will always be tough decisions to be made when science and ethics clash. Some people, like Basso, have put their faith in the committees that regulate research and testing. Others, like Senator Brownback, want the government to control what is right and wrong. No government organization on the planet has deemed it illegal to produce human-animal hybrids, or to experiment on them.
We cannot ignore the possibilities that human-animal hybrids can give us. To be able to cure disease, and improve quality of life for humans and animals alike is a great thing. However this should be handled in a way that is right and ethical to those involved.