Sunday, July 22, 2007

Of Mice and Men

So, say it's the future and you're adopted. You go in search of your genetic parents, only to find out that they are...mice! Yes, I'm talking about the squeaky, furry little lab tenants. What would be your reaction? Horror? Disbelief? Would you start looking for the hidden camera?

Is it far fetched? Perhaps. Is it possible? Entirely.

It's possible because of a little thing scientists like to call a chimera. A chimera is created by mixing cells from two different species. In a simplified version of the scenario above, you could inject human stem cells into some mice embryos and let the resulting mice be born. You are bound to get some mice born eventually that have human reproductive cells. Just mate a mouse with human sperm and a mouse with human eggs and you have a 100% human baby. Of course, the embryo would have to be implanted in a human womb, but that is a routine procedure now. Which brings me to a fascinating debate going on in England.

The British Parliament is considering allowing scientists to create chimeric embryos as long as they are destroyed after two weeks. They say it will be against the law to implant these embryos. The problem is The Catholic bishops have come out and said if these chimeric embryos are created, they have a right to life. They don't think they should be made at all, but if scientists do go ahead with it, then they should be allowed to live. Specifically, this is what the Bishop's say:

"It should not be a crime to transfer them, or other human embryos, to the body of the woman providing the ovum, in cases where a human ovum has been used to create them. ... Such a woman is the genetic mother, or partial mother, of the embryo; should she have a change of heart and wish to carry her child to term, she should not be prevented from doing so.”

Can you imagine?!!

Because this is the topic of my current book, I have asked a lot of people their thoughts on a non-human animal/human hybrid creation. I can tell you that the reaction is almost always something akin to "ick" or "are you crazy?" or "god help us if that ever happens" or "step away from the tequila." Actually, by the reactions I can honestly say I think these creatures are better off not ever being born. They would be outcasts, slaves, burned on stakes in horrible rituals, tortured, ridiculed and at the very least have no rights.

Here in the U.S. we tried to pass the Human Chimera Prohibition Act back in 2005. It never became a law. What we have instead is a National Academy of Science ethics board that scientists are urged to run experiments by before they attempt anything like this. There is also only regulations put on government funded labs. Private labs can do whatever they want.

So, now I'm asking you. If scientists are allowed to create human-non-human you think they have a right to be born? What if the creation had more than sixty percent human DNA and only forty percent mouse? Would that make a difference?


Gary said...

This is a hard question for me. I'm not inherently against it, but that stems greatly from the fact that I'm largely ignorant of the debate and have not, therefore, considered all its ramifications.

Since this is my first attempt to post, let me do so, and then I'll come back with my thoughts as I've debated them.

Shannon said...

Glad you found a way here, Gary! Don't worry, this isn't a question I expect people to have thought out or even know about yet. But, I don't think it should just be the scientists and the religious leaders debating it. We should all be involved as this will be affecting our children's future, if not our immediate one.
Looking foward to any thoughts you come up with!

Anonymous said...

The writer in me says, "Wow! Cool!" The human (and not to say that writers are non-human)part of me says: Beware! Did we learn nothing from Dr. Frankenstein?

Shannon said...

Yeah, Mary Shelly was definitely ahead of her time. What about the Island of Dr. Moreau? Well's may not have known the exact science behind it, but he knew we'd get there one day!

Shawn said...

Well, considering I'm a staunch believer in a woman's right to choose now, for human babies, I think I'd keep my stance the same.

God forbid, though, if these human-non-human hybrids are created. I hope they decide not to create them at all. That would just be creating even more drama to humanity, which is already tapped in the drama world.

Shannon said...

That's fair, Shawn. Maybe then they should have anonymous egg donors only and that would solve that problem.

Scientists have already crossed the human/non-human barrier, so unfortunately they will continue to push the envelope. Right now they've created and birthed mice with human neurons, pigs with human blood and sheep with human hearts. It's only a matter of time before someone gets really curious.
There have been positive's for human health that have come out of these creations, but there is no turning back, especially because --for the most part--no one is paying attention, no one is objecting, no one is thinking far enough into the future about the consequences.
Okay, end of sermon :-)

Gary said...

The problem with playing God is that we lack God's wisdom in handling what we create. Of course, if we do create these hybrids, how could we not extend to them their basic human rights. Really, though, that does not matter, as I think you pointed out, because even if we do, they'll still be the object of prejudice in society, probably unable to assimilate, ever. It reminds me more of Bladerunner than anything else, as that was the similar conundrum in it, wasn't it. I think the common sense we lack most as human beings is the fact that just because we can create something, does not mean we should. Sticky business this kind of thing, but, like you, I think it'll inevitably lead to a reality, rather than not.

Shannon said...

You know what's ironic about your comment, Gary is that the first line in my novel is "Are we playing God?"

Yeah, we've never been good at the "just because we can..." thing have we? Thanks for coming back to leave your thoughts!