The potential of increasing humanization of animals with emergent human mental and psychological capacities is the risk no one is sure of.
A chimera is a living being composed of cells mixed together from two different organisms, either from the same or different species. Scientific research currently uses chimeras in the form of humanized mice to study inflammatory disease, cancer, infectious disease, and hematopoiesis. By adding thymus and liver cells from an aborted human fetus to a living mouse, its immune system is transformed facilitating research studies. Humans and animals have mixed throughout the Ages in various ways; so, beyond an initial repulsion, what makes a chimera, a human-animal melding, so morally controversial, so potentially threatening to life on Earth?
The mythical Greek chimera is a fire-breathing union of human and animal. Traversing millennia, it now thrives in U.S, UK, and other research labs growing tissue that may end up as liver, kidney, heart, or other transplanted organs. Despite ocular, neurodegenerative, and other applications, fiery controversy attends this mixing of human-animal stem cells or genes.
Based on stem-cell biology and gene-editing technology, scientists can alter the DNA in sheep or pig embryos to circumvent tissue development in favor of the organ they wish to grow. When human stem cells are introduced into the animal, it is hoped that the human cells will assume formation of the missing organ, thus creating a human liver, kidney, heart, etc., which would then be harvested from the animal for use in a transplant operation. Currently, however, scientists merely gather preliminary information observing cell growth and cell fate, about how great the contribution of human cells is to the animals’ bodies, and then they destroy research samples in 28 days. A pig is born in 114 days by contrast.
These are potentially exciting medical advances, particularly if you are on the receiving end. Chimera researchers and scientists began inserting human cells into early sheep and pig embryos in 2014. MIT Technology Review states that 20 pregnancies of pig-human or sheep-human chimeras have been established during the last twelve months in the U.S. Another three dozen pig transfers have taken place outside the U.S. Yet, biological humanization balances tenuously against the risk of moral humanization; the great fear being creation of a novel sentient being with human qualities.
Thinking Pigs and Standing Sheep
Stanford University stem-cell biologist Hiromitsu Nakauchi experiments with human-sheep chimeras. Offering a disturbing analysis of potential outcomes, Nakauchi noted current contributions by human cells to the animals’ bodies appear to be relatively small.
“If the extent of human cells is 0.5 percent, it’s very unlikely to get thinking pigs or standing sheep,” he says. “But if it’s large, like 40 percent, then we’d have to do something about that.”
With 123,000 people on waiting lists for transplant organs and growing daily, the market is poised for a solution. Besides, discoveries may yield other uses and other markets to exploit; this is big business and the free market in action.
“Desperately ill people on organ waiting lists might someday order a chimera and wait less than a year for their own custom organ to be ready. I really don’t see much risk to society,” Nakauchi says.
Michio Kaku notes,
“Since we are drowning in an ocean of information, the most precious commodity in modern society is wisdom.”
This is never truer than for health-freedom fighters today. We need an expanded definition of health freedom as prior delineations are obsolete in the face of novel life forms. In a recent interview, Stephen Hawking admits further progress in science and technology will create “new ways things can go wrong.”
“We are not going to stop making progress, or reverse it, so we have to recognize the dangers and control them. I’m an optimist, and I believe we can.”
But there are scientific and social implications to be considered; namely the humanization of animals. Chimerism concerns encompass crossing inviolable species borders. These are real concerns leading to real questions; particularly if brought to term, do we put this new creation in a zoo or allow it to live among us? Maybe our days of being human and being animal are numbered, the distinction forever blurred.
Stem-cell research was held up during the last Bush Administration due to fears it would encourage increased abortion rates. Criticism abounds, primed by that action, that the “religious right” which now includes Muslims due to the use of pigs in chimera research, will delay progress. Science unchecked against the moorings of ethics, human dignity, and sanctity is unwise particularly in the face of the sheer magnitude of unknown variables versus known benefits.
Playing With The Fire-breathing Chimera
The “retaining human dignity” argument is flawed, according to Ethics Committee publications. The human is not diminished by an animal becoming more human. This only holds true as long as research guidelines regarding in-vitro chimera studies not be allowed to develop more than the standard 28 days; after that looms the great unknown, namely animals starting to possess human characteristics and features. Others suggest that such characteristics as linguistic capacity, rationality, and a capacity for sufficiently social relationships are inherent only in human relationships. Animal sciences such as ethology, primatology, animal psychology, and behavioral ecology suggest otherwise.
Pablo Ross, a veterinarian and developmental biologist at the University of California, Davis, advises,
“We don’t want to grow them to stages we don’t need to, since that would be more controversial. … My view is that the contribution of human cells is going to be minimal, maybe 3 percent, maybe 5 percent. But what if they contributed to 100 percent of the brain? What if the embryo that develops is mostly human? It’s something that we don’t expect, but no one has done this experiment, so we can’t rule it out.”
Embryo complementation is a concern because the human cells can multiply, specialize, and potentially contribute at will to any part of the developing animal’s body. Coalescing of animal and human cells with the resulting blurred species distinction is one concern.
Despite the fact that these observational experiments are destroyed after 28 days, it is a grave concern they will not be. France reported a jelly-fish/sheep mix ending up in the food supply. There are religious, ethical, and practical concerns, such as cross-species diseases creating plagues to which humans will have no natural immunity.
In the “smart mouse” model, researcher Steve Goldman cites,
“Within a year, the mouse glial cells had been completely usurped by the human interlopers. The 300,000 human cells each mouse received multiplied until they numbered 12 million, displacing the native cells. We could see the human cells taking over the whole space.” Goldman continues, “It seemed like the mouse counterparts were fleeing to the margins.”
Otherwise said, the mice became measurably smarter. The team stopped short of putting human cells into monkeys and great apes due to ethical concerns. Wolfgang Enard of Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich in Germany, who has shown that mice are better at learning if they have the human Foxp2 gene, which has been linked with human language development noted, “If you make animals more human-like, where do you stop?”
The 1997 book and its 2007 film adaptation The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a memoir by journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby. After suffering a massive stroke that left him with “locked-in syndrome” he blinks his way through the alphabet with the help of a friend to write his experiences of being fully cognizant and unable to “get out.” This is the great fear of the results of chimera research, not for humans but for animals, and is one reason why great apes have been excluded as candidates. How would we know? Helen Keller found a way out. In Bauby and Keller we have sufficient reason to pause. A richer discourse is demanded when the ethics of a novel being are involved.
Despite the fact that scientists from other countries such as Japan move to the U.S. in order to conduct chimera research as it is allowed here (and in the UK with more stringent restrictions), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) – which controls the Federal expenditures on medically-based research – wisely exercised caution, withdrawing funding until ethical and social considerations could be addressed even though NIH was hit with criticism for a fear-based decision, impeding progress. Hiromitsu Nakauchi himself admits,
“What if the embryo that develops is mostly human? It’s something that we don’t expect, but no one has done this experiment, so we can’t rule it out.”
Ethics of Funding Chimera Research
Since the NIH denied funding, other funding sources including California’s State stem-cell agency were sought and came through. The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, a State agency instituted 10 years ago to bypass political interference from Washington, provided a $6 million grant for Nakauchi’s work.
Government funding in and of itself is a major concern. But when the military gets involved we have to ask “why”? Dr. Daniel Garry, a cardiologist heading a chimera project at the University of Minnesota was awarded a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Army to attempt growing human hearts in pigs. Dr. Garry was one of 11 who co-authored a letter in November 2015 criticizing the NIH for creating “a threat to progress” that “casts a shadow of negativity” on their work.
Instead, the NIH might be commended for exercising wise caution in regard to uncharted territory and animals that could possess human consciousness. Setting boundaries for ethical research allows research to flourish with constraints respecting both animals and humans. We do not have to fall behind in research when the rest of the World may choose to surge ahead despite these grave concerns. The same type of consideration presents itself with potential increasing amalgamation of robotics and humans.
The worry is that the animals might turn out to be a little too human for comfort, say ending up with human reproductive cells, patches of people hair, or just higher intelligence.
“We are not near the island of Dr. Moreau, but science moves fast,” NIH ethicist David Resnik said during the NIH’s November meeting. “The specter of an intelligent mouse stuck in a laboratory somewhere screaming ‘I want to get out’ would be very troubling to people.”
The last thing we need is to turn over this vital and crucial decision-making process to government, the pharmaceutical sector, the medical sector, or the Pope. Research must progress but within the bounds of respect for the life of the human, even the fetus human, and of the animal as there are animal rights issues also at stake, which are addressed to a certain extent but not if a novel life form is created. We need an expanded definition of health freedom as prior delineations, which apply to human-only models and human-only post-embryonic stage, are obsolete in the face of novel life forms. This will be glaringly obvious if and when boundaries of embryo development are ignored. The potential of increasing humanization of animals with emergent human mental and psychological capacities is the risk no one is sure of. Boundaries for research will allow the World to move forward in progress that respect life and prevent life-forms from appearing that could wreak havoc on this Planet with consequences yet unknown but fully imagined in many science-fiction films.
Old British Common Law and Emerging Biotechnology
Richard Maybury, in World War I, The Rest of the Story and How It Affects You Today, expounds on two legal principles making peace, liberty, and civilization possible. These two laws have been the basis of the old British Common Law and are inherent in all main religions. The first forms the basis of contract law: to do what you say you will. The second: to not encroach on humans or their property. The disregard of these laws undermines civilizations and starts wars.
Despite Ethics Committees disregard of the “human dignity” argument, the sanctity of life is sacrificed on the altar of scientific research and the creation of novel life forms potentially wars against these basic foundational legal principles. There is too much risk in contract-law violations for simple trust that the chimera will indeed be destroyed in 28 days. In a theoretically lucrative and competitive climate or one theoretically or actually fueled by the Deep State, the Military-Industrial Complex, Big Pharma, Big Medicine, Wall Street, greed, and basic human need for innovation more reliable, firmly accountable boundaries need to be set with strict penalties for their disregard.
In 2012, I asked how the health-freedom community would protect against runaway technology in my book review of Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Future. Kaku cited radical futuristic changes, advancements in technology, robotics, and the amalgamation of species including enhanced humans. In that review, I cited the need for a Constitution for the Race of Mankind, fresh guidance, and intervention in a New World, much the same as our founding fathers like Jefferson saw the need for a new set of standards and guidelines in the New World of his day.
Novel-lifeform creation is comparable in magnitude to the need for international nuclear warfare restraint. If new lifeforms with a strong resemblance to human beings, either emotionally or physically, begin to appear and even populate on Earth, our lives will be forever changed. We are already integrating life with robots but we understand they are artificial and not actual intelligence. They do not have the rights of humans or animals. We are fast sailing into uncharted territory with no safe harbor in sight.
This places a greater responsibility and agreement among nations in regard to chimera development. The tenuous trust and shared vulnerability seems too great to continue without firmer boundaries should these two principles of law be violated, and if history serves, they will be.
A Gizmodo article titled “The U.S. Military Wants A Chip To Translate Your Brain Into Binary Code” shows the trend toward coalescing humans and robotic parts/machines. From chimeras to “genetically modified” children potentiated with designer-gene selection, humans melding with machines beyond the simple hearing aid or prosthetic, chimera/robot melding is a potential as well and emphasizes the immediate need for caution and intervention. Perhaps we need not a Constitution but a Bill of Rights: The Bill of Rights for the Race of Mankind and Animals and not merely the recommendations or proposals Ethics Committees provide, which may or may not be adhered to.
We have crossed the threshold into yet another Brave New World populated by chimeras, cyborgs, enhanced humans, and potential combinations of these. Technology sweeps over us like a tsunami and yet we are making judgments as we go along integrating new research, data, and applications with scarcely time to consider their long-term impact. Together, we must consider carefully in the creation of this New World and speak out with respect for health, health freedom, and the basic laws of civilization as new life forms challenge current models and boundaries. Critical thinking, of which I have written much in the past, must be applied here to prevent any disasters by government or business.