(THE CONVERSATION) — If you needed an organ transplant, would you mind if it had been grown in an animal from human stem cells? Or would you do it but deep down find it frighteningly unnatural? This may all sound like science fiction, but scientists recently managed to implant human stem cells into a pig embryo – pushing us a step closer to such a future. There are also other important applications from such research, such as the study of developmental processes and diseases of many kinds.
We are, at minimum, several steps and several years away from being able to create fully grown human-animal chimeras. But worries over the ethics of chimera research have been with us since the beginning of the 21st century. Ethicists have begun to map the space of difficult moral questions surrounding this issue.
In a useful recent survey, Robert Streiffer identified several distinct concerns and discussed whether they were worthy of attention. Many readers will share these concerns, although they leave me fairly cold. One is that creating chimeras is wrong because it violates boundaries between species – it is in some morally problematic way unnatural. Another is that the creation of chimeras will threaten social practices that depend on a strong human-animal distinction, such as the farming of animals for food, and so create moral confusion. Many people also believe that chimeric research will threaten human dignity.
Advertisement - story continues below