Tuesday, May 3, 2005

If it walks like duck, talks like a duck...

and has human neural cells, it's still a duck.

My old roomie (props) sent me news of some human-animal neural splicing techniques on the rise. I have neither the time nor the acumen to say much about this "development", other than, first, it really is just a development. Any sense that it is a radical, ethical, genetic, totally innovative move is over-the-top. It's pretty much the next step in a long line of genetic splicing.[1]

The more immediate goal of this technology is for human organ harvesting, such as when a sheep can donate a human liver or a pig, a human heart.

A longer-term goal is, as stem cell scientist Irving Weissman says, to “provide unparalleled insight into how the human brain develops and how degenerative brain diseases like Parkinson’s progress.”

Second, I think it's hasty to say this is a Frankenstein project that threatens the very foundations of human identity. The MSNBC article says:

But the biological co-mingling of animal and human is now evolving into even more exotic and unsettling mixes of species, evoking the Greek myth of the monstrous chimera, which was part lion, part goat and part serpent.

In the past two years, scientists have created pigs with human blood, fused rabbit eggs with human DNA and injected human stem cells to make paralyzed mice walk.

Particularly worrisome to some scientists are the nightmare scenarios that could arise from the mixing of brain cells: What if a human mind somehow got trapped inside a sheep’s head?

Putting human brain cells in an animal is NOT equivalent to implanting a human mind. Human neural complexity is a necessary but not sufficient condition for true human consciousness. As I say, I make no claims to theological, medical or ethical expertise here, but this classical distinction -- between mind and brain -- seems pretty elementary. I am very interested in some competent Catholic, or generally Christian, discussion of this technology. Any leads?

Can you hear me now? Can you hear now?[2]

A third point I'll mention is that, if you're interested, a great fictional (well, apparently now semi-fictional!) look at this biomedical turned is Margaret Atwood's _Oryx and Crake_. Heck, I enjoyed the book so much I even blogged a review (and then essay) about it on this here blog some months ago. Have a gander... or a goose, or a humanzee or a liger, what do I care?

[1] Beck predicted this all in “Loser”: “A slab of turkey-neck and it’s hangin’ from a pigeon wing...” [props to Paul]

[2] [more props to Paul]

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