Monday, June 18, 2007

Pushing the Limits of Speciesism

I heard about a lot of hybrids, but never of one involving humans, except in fiction stories. Now, those stories are becoming truth, may be sooner than I expected. Britain has dismissed the plan to outlaw an effort to create a human-animal embryo. Under the new guidelines, Scientists are allowed to create three different kinds of embryos. The Gurdian notes :

"The first kind of hybrid allowed under the bill, known as a chimeric embryo, is made by injecting cells from an animal into a human embryo. The second, known as a human transgenic embryo, involves injecting animal DNA into a human embryo. The third, known as a cytoplasmic hybrid, is created by transferring the nuclei of human cells, such as skin cells, into animal eggs from which almost all the genetic material has been removed."

The scientists will be allowed to grow such an embryo for only two weeks - to develop new treatments for incurable diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. It also restricts the creation of "true hybrid" embryos, which would involve fertilizing a human egg with animal sperm or vice versa. It would also be illegal to put them inside human womb (don't know about the animal one). This kind of embryos would be the major source in the stem cell research.

The moral brigade is already started shouting against it. I got a few letters on the internet those describe it as 'Frankenstein science'. However, they might not know that Chinese have already created such an embryo for a similar purpose. Other experiments are proceeding quietly in research facilities around the world. At the Mayo Clinic, scientists created pigs with human blood. Stanford University in California is considering attempting to create mice with 'human' brains.

The new regulations came as a U turn over Britain's last decision to outlaw it. Many scientists like Dawkins put huge efforts behind it - to set morality free from religion. Dawkins said once that a human embryo is 'biologically nothing different from an Amoeba', yet we shout against its use in stem cell research as it is 'would-be-human'.

However these researches will definitely push to revisit our ancient way to describe a 'human-centric' morality. As Darwinian Evolution said and Genetics later verified, we are very closely related cousins. These experiments are taking that view a bit further. A rat with a human brain might possibly be able to suffer similar emotional pain to that of a human being. So, a 'human-centric' morality can be called an example of 'speciesism'. In this video, Dawkins talks in favor of animal rights and against speciesism.

"Today we live in a specisist world. We are automatically, without thinking, without question assume that there's one law for Homo sapiens and one law for the rest of the animal kingdom. That is speciesism. Now of course, if you object the speciesism, you are in a sense letting yourself wide open to reductio ad absurdum when people will ask - where will you stop? Should you care for cabbages because there is an evolutionary continuum between us and cabbages if you go sufficiently back? You'd be starved to death, if you are that insistent upon rejecting specisism. My answer to that is that we should not be any kind of '-ist' of that kind. We have rather a continuum as a sliding scale from Gorillas and Chimpanzees being very close to us and cabbages being very long way away. And there is no way why we should erect a wall at any particular fence. There are some animals who suffer, can think, can reason, can suffer emotions which deserve and must have a greater moral consideration from us than other animal."

He continued to make a case for other animals to be treated with minimal morality or to stretch the morality of our perception:

"What I am saying is that it's a matter of a merest accident that the intermediates happened to be extinct. That's the only thing that enables us to erect this great fence around Homo sapiens to say that there are humans in one side and the whole of the rest of the animal kingdom on the other side. It's very hard to make a purely scientific case for conserving any particular species. ... The only case I can make is the emotional case, and what's wrong with that? We are emotional beings. I feel emotional about it. I want to save gorillas, to save rhinos; I want to save these magnificent creatures which are built up over millions of years of evolution before they go forever. It's an irrevocable thing and that is an emotional argument."

I wonder what position the religious people would take on this since it cannot be called a 'human'. Will it have a soul? I'm pretty sure that liberalist and extremist religious people will fight once more. Let's wait and find out what their stance would be.

Reference : Dawkins write up on Speciesism. The list of books on speciesism at Amazon.

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