Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Genetic Engineering

A few days ago Britain confirmed the legality of creating embryos using human DNA inserted into an empty animal egg. The press is calling the result a "human-animal hybrid," and the conservatives are having a fit. But everybody needs to calm down. This is not the start of Island of Doctor Moreau-type people wandering around with donkey heads on human torsos. All the DNAin these embryos is human; the embryos are destroyed within two weeks; it is illegal to implant them into a womb. The embryos exist for research purposes.

It seems that every step along the way toward genetic engineering raises cries of "creating monsters!" and "playing God!" and "Frankenstein!" I'm old enough to remember those cries from 1978, when the first "test tube baby," Louise Brown, was born. Her mother's egg and father's sperm had been mixed in a petri dish and implanted in the mother. Screams of protest, wild-eyed editorials ("Is She Really Human?") Today there are tens of thousands of people walking around who are the result of in vitro fertilization. No one can tell who they are. You could be one of them.

Ask your mother.


Shannon said...

I actually have a novel out on the query-mobile now that addresses this issue of creating a human-ape chimera and what the social implications are for that creation. How human would the chimera have to be to have rights, for example.

I wrote it after seeing an article about a scientist named Stuart Newman who tried to patent a human-ape chimera, not because he wanted to create one but just because he wanted to force a legal precedent. It took the US patent office seven years to decide to turn down his patent, though they have allowed patents for other chimera creations.

I think this is one of the important things about science fiction, we can address these kinds of topics and create dialog about them before we ever get into the situation.

Daniel said...

Just my two cents...

I guess that's what happens when not-so-bright people write the headlines, and other not-so-bright people read them.

Same thing happened when they were going to slam that big chunk of copper into that asteroid or whatever... a lot of uninformed people thought it would blow up or crash on earth or something.

Those that report the science- and scifi-related news should do more to report the relevant facts, to avoid ignorant hysteria.

Just my two cents.

cd said...





The Analog Kid said...

" avoid ignorant hysteria..."

Unfortunately, it's in the media's best interest to promote ignorant hysteria. And it's awfully convenient for them that being lazy with science facts is one of the easiest ways to do so...

James A. Ritchie said...

Most of what newspapers print is hysterical ignorance, but anyone who thinks this brave new science won't be abused may be well versed in science, but they don't know people very well.

The trouble with science is that scientists are people, and have they have just as many failings as any other group of people.

As for 'it is illegal to implant them in a womb", well, I'm all for genetic engineering, but if making something illegal could stop people from doing it we wouldn't need cops or courts or prisons.

Orion said...

Scientists are indeed people with human flaws, but the point that I think most people miss is that once you *know* how to do something, it passes out of the realm of science and becomes technology- just like the bow, the wheel and fire. It's available for anyone to use or abuse.

We now know how to genetically engineer human embryos, and we know how to implant embryos in the womb. If these two *technologies* were to combined and abused, it would be unfair to blame science or scientists. It's strictly a technical or engineering feat- although I don't expect the mass media to recognize this.