Book Review: Chimera's Children - Ethical, Philosophical and Religious Perspectives on Human-Nonhuman Experimentation
Chimera's Children: Ethical, Philosophical and Religious Perspectives on Human-Nonhuman Experimentation
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN-10: 1444155806, ISBN-13: 978-1444155808
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Mythical ideas of 'chimera', or animals formed or forged of parts derived from various different organisms, have endured throughout history, from Greek folklore and Homer's Iliad through to contemporary science fiction.
In fact, organisms arising from human-nonhuman genetic combinations are already with us. In their book 'Chimera's Children: Ethical, Philosophical and Religious Perspectives on Human-Nonhuman Experimentation', David Albert Jones and Calum MacKellar present a holistic and up-to-date analysis of the ethical dilemmas that emerge when the sacrosanct human-nonhuman species barrier is breached.
The book opens with a history of humanity's fascination with human-nonhuman creatures, culminating in an overview of contemporary biomedical science and legal regulation. What begins pleasantly in fairytale and yarn leads quickly to an uneasy confrontation with chimera as an imminent reality and the myriad issues that presents.
For example, transgenesis, whereby foreign (human or nonhuman) genes are inserted into the genomes of other bacteria or animals, is today standard research practice. 'In most countries', we are told, 'no guidelines exist which specifically address nonhuman embryonic combination'. We are immediately led to ask: 'How human must a nonhuman combination be before human legislation applies?' The answer appears simple when the organisms in question are at great odds, as with the insertion of human genes into bacteria (to produce human insulin, for example). But consider a similar process, whereby human genes are inserted into the genomes of nonhuman mammals.
Mammalian species may be separated genetically by only 100 to 1,000 of their 25,000-odd genes (a meagre 0.4 to four percent genetic difference), but there exists a lack of any real understanding of which of these genes are responsible for the 'humanness' of humans. There is, therefore, a risk that such experiments could lead, intentionally or not, to the humanisation of animals and to real issues as to what (human) rights they should be afforded.
The next section presents a structured passage through the different procedures that exist, or could soon exist, to create human-nonhuman combinations: each procedure is described in lay terms, the current UK legal framework is outlined and examined, and the key ethical issues are discussed. The authors appear to succeed in their aim to present the procedures and surrounding issues with clarity, but without compromise on scientific accuracy.
We finish with a worldview on cultural and ethical perspectives relating to the idea of human-nonhuman combinations. The authors are again rigorous in their quest both for clarity and comprehensiveness; refusing to assume anything of the reader, they begin this final section by evaluating the connotations and makeup of the term 'culture'.
The issues are explored first from different religious and spiritual viewpoints, again in characteristic detail, introducing the reader to concepts he or she may have not fully considered. For example, the Christian belief that man's unique position above animals comes from the idea that humans were made 'in the image of God', but what does this curious phrase mean? These explorations are accompanied by secular worldviews, including evolutionary thought, materialism, humanism, Marxism and feminism.
This leads to discussion of the myriad of ethical issues that are borne out of notions of human-nonhuman combinations. Many of these are surprisingly practical and relevant within today's world - they consider the risk of creating new diseases, for example - while others are more philosophical, though no less valid, in their foundations.
The book concludes with several recommendations that emerge from the preceding discussions and an outline of the options currently available to society with regards to human-nonhuman combinations.
The book is both clear and comprehensive. Almost every page draws the reader to something that could otherwise be taken for granted and encourages reflection on some very weighty issues. That these are described with due justice within such an approachably thin paperback (215 'core' pages) is a credit to the authors, and makes this book entirely suitable for the lay enthusiast, as well as the professional.
The authors' pragmatism, unyielding to the final word, masterfully forces the issue that, far from being simply the fabric of legend, the issue of human-nonhuman combinations is very real and pertinent to today's world, and one that requires our immediate attention.
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