03 February 2006

human-animal hybrids and the culture of life

Okay, so after posting yesterday, thanks to a discussion with Greg and a link from Kim, I've learned that there is some truth to Bush's "human-animal hybrids" remark -- but that he or his speechwriter chose a pretty vague and misleading term to describe it. To say "human-animal hybrid" brings to mind The Island of Dr Moreau, or hybrid creatures such as satyrs, centaurs, minotaurs, or chimeras -- which is actually what the scientific community is calling the results of their research and experimentation. The images brought to mind by Bush's terminology are probably helpful in creating the opposition he desires, though: in mythology, these hybrid creatures were often dangerous or immoral, and in the case of Dr Moreau, those who create such creatures are totally insane.

But what Bush is probably referring to is actually legitimate scientific research, and potentially very useful, as this National Geographic article describes. As Greg reminded me last night, some animal parts are currently transplanted into humans, such as heart valves. The link Kim left in my comments describes how scientists are putting human genes into mice to study Down's syndrome. Scientists all over the world are combining human parts (for lack of a better, all-encompassing term) with animal parts to create these new chimeras. This research is being done to study human conditions to better understand how to treat them.

Now, I understand that there are ethical concerns in playing around with DNA and creating things that God or nature never thought of. But the more I know about Bush and science, the more I am convinced that his "culture of life" does not extend to actual, living human beings with actual debilitating medical conditions (unless, perhaps, they're practically braindead), or to those who've committed crimes, or to civilians who become casualties of war, or to women who find themselves pregnant and unable to continue the pregnancy for whatever reason, or to poor people in general, but is limited only to cells that have the potential of becoming human life. His inconsistency in being concerned for life continually astounds me, as his policies so often neglect those living people who are truly in need of help.

If medical research will allow us to save the lives of those who are already living, to improve the health of living people, then I think we're obligated to do whatever we can to help these people. Is it ethical to let them continue to suffer when we might have the technology to help them? It reminds me of the Plan B article I linked to yesterday, in the sense that some people in authority are so concerned about what some people might do (teenagers might have sex, scientists might get carried away), that they're denying lots of people the benefits of science and medicine that could change or even save their lives. And to me, that's not a culture of life.

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