Ethics War

Like Lindsay, our class on chimeras really got me thinking.  This field of genetic experimentation has so much promise… but should the distant goal of miracle cures allow us to do whatever we want with test animals?  Creating a mouse with a functioning, thinking, and feeling human brain would be cruel.  I went on to the nat geo website to learn more about this controversial subject.

In 2005, a mouse with functioning human brain cells was created.  But, only one tenth of one percent of all the mouse’s brain cells were human.  This is not enough to make the mouse have a “human” brain, but it proved that embryonic human stem cells can grow functionally in a foreign environment.  This information is amazing, as it illustrates the amazingly promising versatility of stem cells.  Scientists hope that one day stem cells can be used to cure many degenerative nerve diseases.  In order to prevent ethical debate, they carefully monitor the subject mouse’s brain activity, to make sure that it doesn’t display any “human” brain activity.

But even if a mouse does not have a totally functioning human brain, is it ethical to put even a small amount of human brain cells into a mouse?  Machiavelli would say it is.  But many bioethicists say it is not.  The opposition to this research dubs it “inhumane,” and that it “crosses the natural border.”  Is this overreacting? One researcher states that “A few thousand human brain cells will not turn a house pest into Mickey Mouse.”  Maybe this is true, maybe it isn’t.  I honestly haven’t formed a concrete opinion on this issue yet, because both sides have such valid arguments.  Are we impeding the progress of finding miraculous cures to life-threatening human diseases in defense of mice?  Or are we putting innocent creatures through insufferable pain and defying Nature itself?  There are definitely boundaries to how much science should interfere with the life of an animal, but I think this early brain cell testing is ok for the time being.  The mouse is still a mouse with a mouse brain, just with a few human cells thrown into the stew.  Just like Robin Williams with his new bovine-valve heart is still human, the mouse is still a mouse.  The genetic change in its brain hasn’t changed how it lives (as of now).

Mickey mouse hasn’t been created just yet, and hopefully never will be.  There are many laws setting regulations on research such as this, defining just how “human” you can make an animal.  In Canada, it is forbidden to create a human-animal “chimera.”  Are there loopholes in laws such as these though?  At what point does an animal become “too human?”  Everything is very subjective.  I expect even more debate to emerge in the coming years over this controversial issue.  My advice for the scientists: cure the sick and ailing parents of the bioethicists with the results of your stem cell research.  That should quiet them.  My advice for the bioethicists: Keep a careful eye on those scheming scientists, but actually learn about the research being done before you condemn it.  Come off as educated people, not hippie-nazis.

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