The New York Times published a frightening editorial in its May 11 edition, arguing that the creation of chimeras (human-animal hybrids) is “science, not a freak show.” The paper described chimeras as the “latest focus of apprehension over the headlong rush of biotechnology,” and acknowledged that scientists have raised concerns about “the nightmarish possibility of a human’s brain’s becoming trapped inside an animal form, silently screaming, ‘Let me out,’ or a human embryo’s being gestated by mice.” The next sentence is a monument to editorial glibness: “It is fascinating–some would say terrifying–to contemplate, but these weird, far-out possibilities should not distract us from welcoming more mundane experiments with chimeras that will be needed to advance science.” Some would say terrifying? The editors of The New York Times may find the specter of a human brain trapped inside an animal form to be “fascinating,” but they are surely in rare company. The point of the editorial is this: We should get over any qualms about chimeras and just trust the scientists. Where have these people been for the last century? Here is the real agenda: “Fortunately, real-world scientists have much more prosaic experiments in mind. In the superheated area of embryonic stem cell research, for example, they want to put lots of human-brain stem cells into mice to see how they perform in a real body as opposed to a laboratory culture, possibly shedding light on how to treat neurological diseases. The researchers appear to be proceeding cautiously, and the scientific community is erecting ethical barriers to guide such research. This is hardly a freak show. If stem cell therapies pan out, the Food and Drug Administration will almost certainly require animal experiments before they can approved for the public. Research that some consider scary today may be required by regulators tomorrow.” So, it’s really about embryonic stem cell research. We are instructed to get over concerns about the moral status of the human embryo and accept the “ethical boundaries” now being erected by “the scientific community.” No thanks. Back to chimeras–the paper suggests that we have already come to accept pig valves in human hearts and putting “human fetal tissue into mice.” That’s quite a statement. In reality, there are major concerns about putting human fetal tissue into non-human animals. As for the editorial’s last sentence: “Research that some consider scary today may be required by regulators tomorrow.” That cold statement could have been made in Berlin in the 1930s. Anyone worried?
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